January 13, 2016 by realrenewal
Regina Public Schools recently announced it will phase out universal lunchroom supervision, just eight years after stating board-funded lunchrooms were needed “to provide equity across the system.”
Universal noon hour supervision was created after parents complained about a patchwork system that was especially challenging for low-income families.
In the past, only students who rode the bus or were in special programs had access to lunchtime supervision by the school board. This left neighbourhood children with nowhere to go, unless they were lucky enough to have a parent-run lunchroom at their school.
Ten years ago, the Connaught School Community Council (SCC) – which was struggling to pay and manage lunchroom staff – contacted parents in other schools. Their telephone survey revealed a varying pattern of services, and a lot of concern.
“The patchwork of programs offered by the board and parent volunteers means students are segregated from one another and offered varying levels of service,” the SCC stated.
At some schools there was no supervision for neighbourhood kids at all. At schools with SCC-run supervision, fees were charged to cover costs, putting parents in the difficult position of hounding other parents for money.
The fees were a considerable hardship for many families. Meanwhile, classmates found themselves split up between different lunchrooms, creating social divisions.
“The Separate school board manages to find the budget to provide a universal free-of-charge lunch supervision program – why can’t the Public school board?” the SCC asked in a letter campaign.
The school board responded with a survey and study in 2008. The study confirmed the problem. While all high schools had board-funded lunchrooms, only 40% of elementary schools had supervisors paid exclusively by the board. The majority involved SCC funds of varying levels, with daily fees ranging from 10 cents to $1.90 per child.
Asked in a survey who should supervise lunch, the most frequent response was, “By school staff as they have student respect and are skilled in crowd control.” It was noted that there should be adequate benefits and working conditions, and that teachers need a break at lunchtime, so other school staff members should be offered the hours.
The board study concluded, “In order to provide equity across the system, all elementary lunch room programs should be funded by the school division.”
The total cost was estimated at $1.085 million for 2008-2009, an increase of $255,000 above the board’s existing portion. At the time, it seemed well worth the investment, considering the deficiencies of the existing system.
Now the board plans to enact an annual fee of $100 per student, saying costs have “ballooned” to $1.3 million in a time of tight provincial funding. In a Leader-Post interview, Mike Walters, deputy director of student services, said an online survey filled out by staff and parents alike found that people would support charging a fee to keep the program operational.
The board plans to save $300,000 – in essence, taking back the $255,000, plus change, that it took to fix the problems evident in 2008.
An SCC representative interviewed in the same article said it did not affect her personally and she had heard no complaints – suggesting that unless parents become active, history is bound to repeat past mistakes, with low-income families bearing the major brunt.
Both the Ministry of Education and the public school board have said they aim to provide an equitable, caring environment for all students. It seems reasonable to ask that they find the resources to do so.
Parent concerns (2006)
Regina Leader-Post (2016): Lunch hour supervision in Regina public schools going from free to 55 cents a day