Newly announced federal education funding should help the New Westminster school district provide staff for online learning programs and install outdoor learning spaces at schools.
The New West district will receive slightly more than $2.5 million of the funding announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Aug. 26 to help school districts across the country deal with the return to class in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That’s on top of the $488,000 the New West district has already received from extra COVID-19-related provincial funding announced in July.
“Of course this comes as a sigh of relief across the sector to have received an additional pot of money both from the provincial government and the federal government in respect of COVID-19 and the additional cost pressures districts are currently facing,” said Bettina Ketcham, the New West school district’s secretary-treasurer.
Ketcham presented information to the New West school board at its Sept. 15 education and operations committee meetings, held virtually via Webex.
The federal money will be coming to the school district in two instalments, one in September and one in January. Ketcham noted the district’s senior administrative team is still doing some detailed planning about how exactly that money will be spent.
On a big-picture level, she noted about $1.5 million of that money is earmarked for “learning resources and supports,” which covers such categories as implementing online and remote learning options and hiring additional teachers and staff. In New West, some of that money will help cover the cost of teachers and support staff for the district’s new and expanded online learning programs, as well as for the Hume Park Home Learning Program.
Just shy of $1 million is designated for health and safety – which includes a range of actions such as installing Plexiglas barriers, improving air systems, purchasing cleaning supplies, and supplying masks and personal protective equipment. That money has also allowed the district to purchase 15 electrostatic foggers, disinfectant sprayers that allow for more efficient cleaning of highly touched surfaces.
The health and safety money will also cover the provision of new “outdoor learning spaces” at schools. What exactly those spaces will look like is still being studied, but Ketcham said maintenance staff are currently researching options, costs and sites for more permanent-style structures to make space for outdoor learning at New West schools.
A much smaller amount, $6,000, is set aside for transportation. Ketcham noted this isn’t as big a need in the New Westminster district, which doesn’t rely on busing the vast majority of its students to school, but there is a limited amount of bus transportation provided to students with special needs. The extra money will cover increased bus cleaning costs as a result of COVID-19 protocols.
The federal money comes on top of the previously announced $488,000 in provincial COVID-19-related funding. That money has allowed the New West school district to hire five more custodians, install 30 portable pump wash stations and new sinks across the district, stock up on cleaning supplies for the year, and provide face masks and face shields for employees and students. It also includes more than $25,000 in funding for technology to provide devices and software for students who need them to pursue online learning.
The school district is currently awaiting details of a newly announced provincial fund that will cover the costs of mental health supports for schools. Ketcham said she anticipates New West’s share to be about $23,000, based on enrolment numbers; once a final allocation is known, the district will decide how best to use that money to support families and students through the COVID-19 pandemic.