Feud over program could prove costly


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“I’m sure if we had infinite money that we would do that. But we don’t have infinite money.”

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“I’m sure if we had infinite money that we would do that. But we don’t have infinite money.”

— Brandon School Division board chair Linda Ross

“It is unfortunate that the Trustees @BrandonMBSD choose to use students as a pawn in their relationship with government, and now won’t back up to do the right thing. Given that they did fund Health Care Aide for so long nobody is buying this line about ‘mandate.’”

— Assinboine Community College president Mark Frison via Twitter

A genuinely popular and useful program that trains high school students for future positions as health professionals in our community is being sidelined because of an apparent lack of co-operation between the Brandon School Division and Assiniboine Community College.

And based on ACC president Mark Frison’s choice to go public with his criticism of the Brandon School Division board and its chair, Linda Ross, over the board’s decision to cut the popular Comprehensive Health-care Aide program from the division’s upcoming budget, it has come to the point of open hostility.

And quite frankly, this unnecessary feud is going to cost us.

Stating that paying the fees for post-secondary education was not part of the school division’s mandate, Ross confirmed Monday the program would be cut, despite its overall popularity among students and staff.

It was a curious decision, to be sure, as the province just this month significantly increased funding to the division with a $6.3-million boost, part of a larger $100-million bump for school divisions across Manitoba. At least part of that money, according to the province, was earmarked to help the school division address inflation and other cost pressures.

Additionally, the province set aside $24 million for grants to compensate divisions the equivalent of a two per cent hike in local fees, and updated the annual funding guarantee from 98 per cent to 100 per cent so the board could be assured it would continue to have the same dollars it received one year prior.

It’s also true that for more than a decade, the school division did consider the Comprehensive Health-care Aide program part of its mandate. And as Frison asserted on Twitter yesterday, Ross — who is also acting dean of Health Studies at Brandon University — has been a long-serving BSD trustee, and would likely have been part of all decisions to fund the program in the past.

In his online comments on Monday, Frison seemed to suggest that both Ross and the division were using students as pawns in their relationship with the province. Of course, there are always politics involved at every level of administration. Like it or not.

But there is some just cause for Frison’s irritation. It was only last year that ACC’s administration stepped up its funding commitment to the Comprehensive Health-Care Aide program at Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School, after the school division was forced to cut funding to the program as one of the many budget reductions necessary to address last year’s $1.2-million deficit. But this was not meant to be a permanent fix.

Though the next budget has yet to be approved, the division estimates there to be a $500,000 surplus in 2023-24. However, Ross told the Sun that much of that money has already been allocated to hire more staff, as the division experienced a large student enrolment spike of 328 pupils over the last school year.

As a result, the board has decided to hire 55 additional full-time equivalent teaching and support staff positions in the upcoming budget.

Of course, this is an election year, and based on the current popularity of the governing Tories, there’s every reason to believe that a change of government may be in the offing come fall. That also puts in jeopardy any political and fiscal promises made by the current government, and there is no assurance that BSD will have enough funding to keep the program going next year. It’s not bad policy for the school division to hedge its bets.

Frison has already stated the college can’t be expected to fund the program moving forward, but with the school division icing any funding for the program, the ACC president says that puts pressure on his institution to find a way to make the program work.

The error being made here has to do with a lack of co-operation at the local level. Both the school division and the college see the value in the Comprehensive Health-Care Aide program, but they’re squabbling over who has to foot the bill. We’re not talking millions here — it costs $45,000 to run the program.

While this unnecessary kerfuffle continues, the province continues to get away with underfunding both education and health care in our community. This is happening at a time when the Stefanson government is struggling to address an ongoing health-care and nursing shortage in rural and urban hospitals across the province.

Why must a perfectly good training program continue to find itself on a funding roller-coaster when education officials in Brandon should be working together as a team to push for funding from the province?

And why can’t people of good conscience and institutions of learning find a little common currency for the benefit of our community?

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