More than 70 parents, students and taxpayers protested outside the Turtle River School Division office in McCreary this week as trustees prepared to vote on the 2013-14 budget.
Students and parents of Turtle River School Division are upset that home economics and industrial arts won’t be offered to students in grades 7 and 8 next year.
Protesters gathered outside the Turtle River School Division office in McCreary on Tuesday. (SUBMITTED)
More than 70 people came out to protest against the division’s 2013-14 budget this week in McCreary, which was passed by a vote of 3-2. It will be the second year the middle years classes will not be available.
Craig Terrick, president of the McCreary Parent Advisory Council, said the main message the picketers wanted to send to the school board was for trustees "to start listening to what people need and want — the students and the parents and your taxpayers."
"They are voted in by us and they are supposed to be representing us, but that representation is not taking place," Terrick said. "It would have been understandable if they had a real logical reason for why they did this … there is absolutely no reason in my mind why it should not have been reinstated."
McCreary is located east of Riding Mountain National Park, roughly 130 kilometres northeast of Brandon.
Grades 7 and 8 home ec and industrial arts were cut originally from the 2012-13 budget. Terrick said there was much outcry last year and a petition was organized which garnered more than 350 signatures. Despite their efforts, the cuts were approved in the budget.
"Every time we find out it’s always too late, they do not interact or communicate with parents or the students or even taxpayers," Terrick said. "Everything’s hush-hush and tight-lipped, and it’s not just us. We’ve talked to the other (parent councils) in the division and they all feel the same way."
Terrick said home ec and shop courses offer valuable life skills that will be used by students in the future.
According to the parent council, it was believed that the province would be discontinuing the division’s tax incentive grant ($460,000), which resulted in the decision to cut the courses. But Terrick said the grant was never cut and overall budget funding has actually increased.
Turtle River School Division chair Fabian Gingras said the decision was made with the "children’s best interests in mind."
"The idea was not to cut staff last year, it was to refocus the staff," he said.
Gingras said core subject marks in TRSD are not where they should be.
"Provincially, math and English scores are poor," he said.
They decided to cut middle years home ec and shop, and refocus resources in an effort to bring up the students’ marks.
"We know that a base is formed for math and English before they go into high school," he said. "If children have a good base, they do better in high school, i.e. better marks, i.e. more graduates."
Gingras stressed that home ec and shop are still offered in grades 9-12.
The division is planning on keeping the plan as is for the next few years, which Gingras admits is something they may have forgotten to mention to concerned parents.
"We have to give this route a fair chance," he said. "We knew we were not going to get instant results."
Gingras said they will re-evaluate after a few years. If marks have improved overall, the plan will likely continue. However, if there are no positive results, they may reinstate home ec and shop and go a different route.
As far as the protesters, Gingras said he understands the group was exercising its right to free speech.
"Which was fine, but at the same time, there’s a large amount of variables that come into play that the public is not aware of," he said. "It looks very simple from the outside looking in, but our decisions are … always based on recommendations from our superintendent and administrators and whoever else is involved, and always in the best interest of all kids."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 15, 2013