Free supplies for secondary students put on hold until board gets feedback

School board trustees have walked back a decision to provide school supplies to high school students free of charge, choosing instead to hear from stakeholders first.

School District No. 46 (SD46) trustee Maria Hampvent made the motion at the year’s first regular meeting of the Board of Education on Jan. 8.

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“I’ve been listening to community when I’m on my travels,” Hampvent said, before presenting her motion that the board “suspend purchasing school supplies for high school aged students in the 2020 to 2021 budget until we receive thorough feedback from stakeholder groups, teachers, support staff, parents and students.”

It’s the unprecedented nature of the initiative, said Hampvent, that prompted her to make the motion. As of this year, both elementary and high school students receive free school supplies such as pens and paper, but Hampvent told the board she hasn’t “heard a ton of positive feedback” at the high school level.

“It’s our fiduciary responsibility to assess and get feedback from the people who actually use the idea to assess if it was the most efficient and best way of spending,” she said.

That observation was later echoed by trustee Tonya Ste. Marie, who said she has heard positive feedback at the elementary school level, “and negative at the high school level.”

Hampvent, who chairs the operations committee where budget discussions take place, said she brought up the motion now since budget consultations are underway.
But timing was a concern for secretary-treasurer Nicholas Weswick, who is overseeing consultations, saying it was “a bit alarming” for such a motion to come “out of the blue.”

“We’re right in the middle of that consultation right now. Should we start that over? What should we set aside in order to start that over? Where is the focus on school supplies coming from?” he asked. “Because I haven’t heard that and it hasn’t been raised in operations committee.”

He and superintendent Patrick Bocking said the motion didn’t make clear how the feedback would be gathered and used, while Hampvent and Ste. Marie suggested those details could be ironed out at operations committee.

Chair Pammila Ruth suggested the motion may not be necessary, since “when we first voted in that regulation, it was made mention that we would keep tabs on everything. It is already unofficially there.”

When trustee Samantha Haines asked whether staff could bring that information forward, Bocking said he was not aware of any concerns this year. Weswick, who acknowledged his information was “fairly anecdotal,” said while concerns were raised last year, this year feedback from principals and students was favourable.

The motion carried with vice chair Stacia Leech opposed, citing the School Act. “It’s difficult for me to support the motion just because I really supported the rationale behind that funding in the first place, which is about removing any barriers to education.” She also had concerns about gauging feedback.

Ruth did not vote and later told Coast Reporter she had not taken a position on the matter.

Providing free school supplies was a point of contention during last year’s budget. Ultimately, the board voted for approximately $180,000 of surplus funds, which works out to about $55 per student, to be spent on supplies. Before that vote, Hampvent told trustees adequate time hadn’t been given to collecting input. The board also heard from education assistants, who suggested the money should have been spent on hiring support staff instead.

 

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