Catholic board passes budget

The Northwest Catholic District School Board passed its budget for the 2007/08 school year on Saturday, and remains in a balanced position.
“It was a good budget,” said Mary-Catherine Kelly, director of education.
“We had really worked hard in the fall to make sure that we had really planned appropriately to meet our budgetary obligations,” she added.
Last year, the board designed a three-year-deficit reduction management plan to help with their budgeting as well.
The Ministry of Education’s announcement of funding in March also helped the process.
“The government really did try to work with the administrations of school boards really well,” Kelly noted.
The ministry also gave boards a sense of what additional funding would be coming forward during the 2007/08 school year.
“We can start to look at [student success] projects and ideas in advance,” she said.
Administration presented a budget of $14.4 million, about 5.2 percent smaller than last year’s budget.
This was largely due to a reduction in staff due to declining enrollment. The board reduced expenditures by cutting 22 staff, most teachers and education assistants.
Enrollment at the board’s five schools is expected to drop by six percent next year, or about 77 full-time students.
A transfer of about $170,000 from reserves will also be required to balance the budget.
Also at the regular meeting in Sioux Lookout on Saturday, the board decided to eliminate Core French in its primary division (Grades 1-3) in all of its schools beginning this fall.
The ministry requires that French be taught from Grades 4-8 for all students in English-language elementary schools in Ontario, but does not provide funding for French instruction before Grade 4.
“We haven’t eliminated our teachers. What we have done is create more time in the literacy block,” Kelly explained.
This means primary students will spend more time focussing on their reading and writing skills in English.
“It’s a little bit sad for the Core French,” she noted.
“We feel that it will have a long-lasting effect on improving students’ skill sets,” she added.
Studies have shown that Core French taught in primary grades does not improve students’ literacy skills in French, largely because the lessons are taught in English.
“There’s not a lot of major growth of literacy skills in that area,” Kelly noted.
This is in contract to French Immersion classes, which are taught entirely in French in the primary division.
Kelly also noted the board has carried the primary Core French program for several years without ministry funding.
“There was a little bit of questions from parents and the community,” she noted, adding the board has drafted a letter outlining all the reasons for their decision.
The Catholic board made the decision to phase out its French Immersion program in March 2006.
Kelly noted there were a number of new initiatives going on at the board’s schools.
Teachers have formed Catholic professional learning communities (PLC) to “share strategies to improve students’ achievement,” she said.
“We’re so proud of our teachers.”
Also, NOEL (Northern Ontario Education Leaders) has enlisted the help of acclaimed education author Carmel Crevola to help develop an assessment tool for Kindergarten children.
The assessment be administered in the first weeks of school, giving teachers data on each student as they begin their school years.
“We’re very, very excited about that,” Kelly said.
The board will also be offering training for teachers in the “Gestures” program this fall.
The program is designed to show teachers how to use drama and music to teach French to their students.
“It’s been very highly successful in the south and eastern Ontario,” she said. “The kids get excited about coming to French.”
The Catholic board will break for the summer, and meet again on Sept. 15 in Stratton.