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Province pays $4M for more teachers

Trustees worry about classroom space

The Selinger government will spend $4 million in the coming year to hire 69 full-time teachers as it attempts to cut class sizes in kindergarten to Grade 3.

But some Manitoba school trustees are worried about where they're going to find the new classrooms that will be needed.

During the 2011 election, the NDP promised to cap class sizes in early elementary school years at 20 by 2017. Last year, it provided $3 million to 31 school divisions to hire 79 teachers.

"Investments in smaller class sizes will improve the quality of our education system by allowing teachers more one-on-one time with students," Education Minister Nancy Allan said at John M. King School Monday.

She said only school divisions that need the money to get class sizes under the cap will receive it. "We have six school divisions right now that are compliant (with the cap)," she said.

But Carolyn Duhamel, executive director of the Manitoba School Boards Association, said covering the costs of additional teachers is one thing -- being able to supply new classrooms for them is another.

"The concern that we are hearing in spades from many school boards right now is the issue of space in schools," Duhamel said. "It's certainly a large concern in those divisions that are really tight for space."

In some cases, divisions will have to reconfigure grades and perhaps bus older kids to different locations to accommodate the new class-size targets, she said.

Twelve of the 69 new teachers to be hired this year will be allocated to the Winnipeg School Division. A division spokesman couldn't say Monday what effect that would have on cutting class sizes, as staff was still crunching the numbers.

During the 2011 election campaign, the NDP said capping kindergarten-to-Grade 3 class sizes at 20 in Manitoba would require 240 more teachers at a cost of about $20 million a year. The NDP also estimated it would cost $85 million to expand schools to meet the new requirement.

There was no mention Monday of how much money the government would set aside this year to fund additional classroom spaces. Allan said because of the teachers hired last year, there was a 20 per cent reduction in the number of K-3 classes with 24 or more students and a 13.7 per cent increase in K-3 classes with 20 students or less.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

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