Planned class-size cap stirs anxiety

Strain from influx of newcomers feared

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The province's plan to cap class size at 20 kids for kindergarten to Grade 3 has trustees nervous.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/03/2012 (3796 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The province’s plan to cap class size at 20 kids for kindergarten to Grade 3 has trustees nervous.

“There could be unintended consequences” if the rules are rigid and inflexible, Pembina Trails trustee Dianne Zuk told the annual convention of the Manitoba School Boards Association (MSBA) Friday.

What if classes are capped at 20, and immigration brings more kids to a school throughout the year, asked Brandon’s Pat Bowslaugh: “We’d have to deal with the situation where classrooms would have to be split in the middle of the year.”

“Teachers will tell you they want 20 (as a max),” warned Claudia Sarbit of Seven Oaks.

Western’s Brian Fransen said Morden schools have no room for additional classrooms: “We have only seven Grade 1 classrooms,” he said.

Trustees overwhelmingly want the province to impose the cap on 90 per cent of K-3 classrooms, and let the rest take the numbers needed to avoid space and staff problems.

And they want the NDP government to pay all the operating and capital costs of capping class sizes.

Louis Riel trustee Wayne Ruff said Ontario has flexible class sizes for 10 per cent of its early-years classrooms, up to a limit of 24: “They told us to avoid a hard cap.”

Brandon trustee Kevan Sumner said the cap places a burden on schools that have no space left, thanks to massive immigration.

“Our schools are bursting at the seams, even as we try to maintain a class size of 25,” Sumner said.

Floyd Martens of Dauphin-based Mountain View said he’s heard disquieting comments that smaller class sizes could mean smaller classrooms — which helped propel delegates to demand no change in the current 860 square feet.

MSBA excutive director Carolyn Duhamel said the province has promised to keep kindergarten at 1,000 square feet, but as for grades 1-3, “There is a potential for reduced classroom space if the numbers are less than 20 students, and that is what we are trying to avoid,” she said.

But while trustees raised the alarm about space problems and a financial squeeze from capping class size, they also rubber-stamped a plea that could mean schools will need to double classrooms and teachers for kindergarten.

The MSBA wants Education Minister Nancy Allan to fund full-day daily kindergarten for any division that wants it — though how much it would cost was never mentioned.

“The research indicates this is of further benefit to children already starting with a disadvantage,” Brandon trustee Linda Ross said.

Continuing a day of little debate and few disagreements among trustees, but plenty of enthusiasm for other levels of government paying for their wish list, Bowslaugh said the province should provide support for severely disabled students through Manitoba Health, instead of leaving it to school divisions to pay.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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