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Parents angry at new school program fees

Parents in St. Adolphe are angry with their local school division for introducing new program fees midway through the school year, leaving them scrambling to find daycare or eat the additional cost.

Chad Kessler's daughter attends kindergarten at Ecole St. Adolphe. For half of the day she is in class, learning from her teacher in structured lessons.

She spends the other half of the day participating in the Kids at Play (KAP) program, which was offered to the Kesslers by the school at the beginning of the year at no extra cost.

"It's offered for the opposite half of the day for kindergarten, for the children to learn with some hands-on play and things like that," said Kessler.

Kessler was happy to enroll his daughter in the KAP program, as it provided her with a full day of engaging educational activities at school and removed the need for daycare. Kessler said his daughter absolutely loves the program.

"It's her favourite thing, she comes home just ranting and raving about it," he said.

On Friday, Nov. 3, Kessler and his wife received an email from the Seine River School Division (SRSD) informing them that new fees were being introduced for the KAP program.

"The email we received just said that they would be starting to charge for this due to some budget issues that they were having, they would be charging ten dollars a day starting in January," said Kessler.

On Friday, Nov. 3, Kessler and his wife received an email from the Seine River School Division (SRSD) informing them that new fees were being introduced for the KAP program. (Source: SRSD website)

The letter, sent to the affected parents and posted on the SRSD website, said the division had undergone a recent financial review, and "will be taking immediate action to ensure the financial stability of the system."

The letter said the division would be instituting a hiring freeze, as well as "scaling back on all nonessential expenditures across schools and departments."

In addition to now charging for the KAP program, the division is introducing a new bussing fee for K-4 students who take the school bus, also effective in January.

Kessler said the new KAP fees work out to around $190 per month for the remaining six months of the school year, the same cost no matter how much your child attends.

"So it was either an all or nothing kind of thing, you were either using it, and paying the full amount, or you're not using it at all," said Kessler.

He said daycare options in St. Adolphe are extremely limited, with only one daycare centre in town, and there are no before and after school programs offered.

Kessler said many parents are considering pulling their kids out of kindergarten altogether, since it would be the same price as full-time daycare in Manitoba. He also thinks the SRSD is charging too much for the KAP program.

"It's only two and a half hours and they're charging the same amount as a full day of daycare cost," said Kessler.

On Nov. 7, the school division sent out another letter to parents in response to the backlash.

"We acknowledge the difficulties associated with receiving this notice after the school year started, and that the changes will take effect in the middle of the school year," the second letter read. "This was something we wrestled with as a board and senior administration team in exploring all options for cost saving measures that would have the least disruption to student learning."

The division created a FAQ page on its website to address some of the common concerns.

Kessler feels the division doesn't seem to care about the problem it's caused for parents.

"Their first letter, they came out and said 'we know change is hard,'' said. "Well, it's not just about change being hard, it's about the financial burden you're placing on families."

Kessler plans to attend this week's SRSD board meeting to voice his concerns. He hopes the board will postpone the fee until the beginning of the next school year, "so people have more time to see what they're going to do and make arrangements."

Kessler has also reached out to his MLA's office, which said it would forward his concerns to the Minister of Education. He has not yet heard back.

He said many parents are taking it upon themselves to double-check the school division's budget issues.

"All the parents went on the website, they started trying to dig in to find the budget for the 2023/24 school year," Kessler said. "Well it wasn't there. It's completely missing from the website."

Their discovery prompted a third letter from the school division explaining why the current budget was not publicly available online.

The SRSD tells CTV News it recognizes the huge inconvenience it's causing for families, but it is trying to align its expenditures with revenues.

"Those are supplementary services that we have offered at no cost to families for a long time," said superintendent Ryan Anderson. "In light of our situation and the move to reduce spending in key areas … we decided we would introduce a fee for service in lieu of having to do maybe more drastic measures like cut or reduce the program."

Anderson said it absolutely would have been ideal to engage in a consultation with parents, but the board felt there wasn't time.

"They felt like it was prudent to address the scenario, as early and as transparently and as quickly as possible. And unfortunately, that notice came November 3," Anderson said.

Kessler just wants better communication with the school division, meaning it should be listening to what parents have so say. He feels there are better solutions out there.

"I'm sure there's many parents that would have been willing to do some extra fundraising if that was an option," he said.

"There's lots of people throwing out lots of ideas and lots of different things that we're willing to work with them."

The SRSD board plans to discuss all parent concerns about budget problems and new program fees at its next meeting on Nov. 14. Top Stories

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