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School board opts against spending reserves on EAs

Using reserve funds for a small, temporary boost to the number of educational assistants in schools just didn’t make sense, says the local trustee who voted against the plan this week.

Harold Paisley was part of the majority, as Waterloo Region District School quashed the motion when they met Mar. 21.

The Woolwich and Wellesley representative said the townships would not be affected by the outcome. Nor would schools in the cities, in his estimation.

The reserve funds for the remainder of the 2010-2011 school year total $179,000.

“To spend that little bit of piggy bank reserve money would equal maybe three full-time equivalencies,” he said. “We have 497 full-time equivalencies for EAs and this would bring us to 500, which spread over the 116 schools in the system is symbolic.”

Although the school board has about 800 EAs, because many of them work part-time, their hours add up to the equivalent of 497 full-time employees. Instead of hiring new workers, Paisley guessed the extra money would be used to increase the hours of EAs already working.

“If we increase those hours for April, May and June … in 2012 we would have to cut them. In September we’re right back to where we were before,” he said.

Paisley explained the school board, unlike other parts of the government, gets a finite amount of money each year and cannot exceed it without possible penalties from the Ontario government.

The reserve fund is used to ensure the budget balances at the end of the year, by covering unexpected costs, such as higher-than-expected sick days.

“That fund is also used for one-time special needs,” he said. “Possibly a student requires some special equipment, then that money would come out of that very small reserve fund.”

Principal James Bond at Park Manor Public School in Elmira said the school is not in dire need of more assistants and can operate for the rest of the year without the additional hours the money would offer.

Park Manor plays host to a congregated class of specially-abled students.

“You can always use more, but we are at where we should be to meet the needs of our students,” he said.

Paisley said one in five students across the region requires either full- or part-time special education and that number is the same in the townships.

Special education refers to children with learning disabilities, physical challenges, those on the autism spectrum or those who are gifted. In some cases educational assistants are also called upon to help children with behavioral issues.

Paisley said although the trustees refused to pass this motion, it has been referred to a committee looking at what can be done to further address the needs of these children.

“The number one thing I hear from parents is, is there not a little bit more support. We have that responsibility to try to meet the needs of each student and we don’t always have the resources required.”

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