Trustees vote to suspend tech centres 0
Bluewater school trustees agreed Monday night to suspend programs at the Bluewater board's four technology centres for one year while senior staff study other options, including a mobile tech truck to roam among schools.
The decision moves four teachers and four education assistants back into classrooms, but saves the board more than $600,000 in salaries and benefits by eliminating eight staff positions according to seniority. It also mothballs about $600,000 in mostly computerized technical equipment, much of it five or six years old and needing replacement.
For 10 years, the combination of creative programming and bookkeeping has kept the tech centres running without direct government funding after provincial curriculum changes cut shop and home economics programs at Ontario elementary schools.
Trustee Kevin Larson said the decision Monday has political implications and it would be raised eventually in meetings staff have requested with ministry officials about funding program flaws.
"There's a huge political piece here in a province that's crying for skilled workers and people who are good with their hands," Larson said.
The decision to suspend the tech pro-g rams saves the board $146,000 in related expenses and $76,000 it spends transporting all 1,500 Grade 7 and Grade 8 students to the tech facilities at schools in Hepworth, Hanover, Meaford and Kincardine.
Tech teachers Ralph Harding and Rob Davidson both said after the decision it was disappointing, but a suspension rather than a cut left some hope.
"You never know, with an election year," he said. "The board's done a very good job of finding money out of student services, which keeps kids in school. Our program is extremely effective for kids who don't function well in a classroom, because it's hand-on and it's self-directed."
"It's not our loss, the loss is for those 7 and 8 students and we feel bad for them," Davidson said.
Although the decision by the board's budget sub-committee must still be approved by both the finance committee and the full board at a regular meeting, with almost all trustees in attendance Monday it was among the final cuts as the committee works to trim $4.3 million in 2011-2012 spending and balance its operating budget by the end of June.
The committee moved into a closed session to consider staffing questions related to also closing two supervised alternative learning centres in Owen Sound and Walkerton. That would save another $331,000 in addition to the $842,000 saved by suspending the tech programs next year.
A last-ditch request from Kincardine Trustee Jan Johnstone to consider an idea Bruce Power workers pitched to her for a mobile technology program was too late for next year, the committee agreed. It would replace the tech centres with a large mobile classroom, saving bus money by bringing the program to the students.
Without an idea of costs and feasibility, trustees agreed the out-of-the box idea may have merit but should be studied and a staff report tabled in February.
Senior staff and some trustees were skeptical. They said the current program houses 18 study modules in 2,000- square-foot facilities. Students finish nine units in each Grade 7 and Grade 8 year, covering core curriculum while also acquiring tech skills.
Human resources manager Cynthia Lemon said staff don't have the expertise to cost out the suggestion, which some trustees agreed might actually provide much less program at more cost.
"I think it's a great idea, but we don't know enough about the concept to get the real costing," Lemon said.
A week ago, trustees cut almost $3 million at a similar budget sub-committee session, accepting almost every spending cut on a list proposed by staff and trustees.