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Federal government disagrees with CRPS funding calculations for Exshaw School

"For us to extend that to another year, it’s a shame, but I have to worry about the mental health of my staff. That piece [mental health] is not just the staff, it’s the families too.”

EXSHAW – The Canadian Rockies Public School division says the federal government has agreed to maintain the Exshaw School's current funding formula for one more year, however officials say it’s not enough.

Canadian Rockies Public School (CRPS) division officials said it received an email Thursday (Dec. 12) from the department of Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) indicating it would fund the educational institution until the end of the 2020-21 school year.

In August, CRPS received notice from the department that a funding agreement dating back to 1973 for students from the nearby Stoney Nakoda First Nation to attend the Exshaw School would be terminated at the end of the 2019-20 school year and future funding would be made available through the Stoney Education Authority.

“I think after the initial part where you think this could be a positive move, you realize quite quickly that we have a scenario where we have a number of families, as well as staff, who are in flux and in turmoil with regards to what is transpiring," said superintendent Chris MacPhee.

"For us to extend that to another year, it’s a shame, but I have to worry about the mental health of my staff. That piece [mental health] is not just the staff, it’s the families too.”

As a result of the funding change, which CRPS said would result in a $1.6 million shortfall at the school, the board was considering its options for 2020, which included closing the school.

Since that time, community members from Exshaw and the Stoney Nakoda First Nation have expressed concerns over the possibility of the school closing.

Stoney Education Authority’s superintendent Bill Shade told the Outlook in early October that the on-reservation schools don’t have the capacity to accommodate the 195 Stoney Nakoda students who currently attend Exshaw School.

In addition to this, MacPhee said many of the schools in Canmore are at, or close to capacity as well.

Mary-Luisa Kapelus, the assistant deputy minister of education for the federal government, said in a phone interview that she believes the entire situation is a case of miscommunication.

“Fundamentally this is a lack of communication issue, I honestly believe it’s nothing other than that,” she said.

“Getting the right folks around the table to make sure everyone’s still on the same page is the most important thing.”

Kapelus admitted she'd only been alerted to this issue in the last two weeks and said it is simply a change in administration, that no numbers have been provided to CRPS as of yet.

“I can assure you, without a shadow of a doubt, the change that is happening that we are on the foyer of, is an administrative change only,” she said.

“No amount of money in terms of tuition payments that we pay has changed this year nor next year, so this $1.6 million, we’ve never seen that number, we’re not aware of that number … I don’t know who they’ve received that from but I can tell you it’s not from us.”

An ISC spokesperson echoed this sentiment in an email sent Monday (Dec. 16) indicating it notified CRPS that SEA would be taking over administration of the provincial tuition starting in September 2020 and that the $1.6 million funding shortfall is inaccurate.

"The calculations for this have not yet been completed for subsequent years due to the time it will take to re-negotiate a new agreement between Stoney Education Authority and Canadian Rockies School Division," the email said.

"Throughout this transition, the Department has worked in partnership with the Canadian Rockies School Division and the Stoney Education Authority to obtain clarity on the true costs of the education services and supports at Exshaw School.

"Funding for the Exshaw School will remain status quo as the Department will be providing funding to the School Division based on actual costs for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year as well as the 2020-21 school year.

"The reported $1.6 million shortfall is inaccurate. There will be no funding shortfall and the students at Exshaw will continue to receive the same high quality education. The only change is in the administration at this point."

However, MacPhee said the funding numbers were supplied to CRPS from ISC after the initial letter was received in August, and that those numbers paint a different picture.

“Indigenous Service Canada has shared with media outlets that our calculations of a $1.6 million shortfall is inaccurate. However, this is not the truth based on the funding numbers that have been supplied to our secretary treasurer. On Aug. 21, 2019, CRPS received the email from ISC terminating the ongoing tuition agreement starting in September 2020,” he said.

“In response to the email our secretary treasurer requested ISC provide us with what the new funding formula would look like.

“On Aug. 22, 2019 an email was received which outlined the proposed funding structure. After using the numbers supplied and utilizing the 2018 enrolment numbers we calculated a $1,687,241 shortfall if these rates were to be used after the termination of the current agreement.

“To date no other funding formulas have been discussed. In fact there has not been an opportunity for SEA, CRPS and ISC to sit down and discuss a potential tuition agreement despite many request on part of CRPS to do so.

“Furthermore, they have recently offered an extension of the existing agreement for one year. All this accomplishes is our families, students and staff being under duress for another year and takes the pressure off the federal government to live up to the directive from the Prime Minister. We need a long term viable tuition agreement to maintain continuity and stability within the entirety of CRPS.”

He said it is only a funding extension and the school would be better served with a longer agreement.

“We would prefer that the agreement maybe be a three to five year [agreement], so we have some sort of continuity for a period of time, not just one year where we’re rolling through this challenge again right into next year, continuing the stress on the system,” he said.

Kapelus said a longer agreement isn’t off the table. She said nothing has been decided at the moment and once all parties sit down at a table together and discuss, she expects more clarity will emerge.                                                                                           

“We’ve seen models like this … Again, we are not the driving force between these conversations, we are the facilitators, and what we’re trying to encourage is a dialogue between the community and the school board district, whatever entity they’re interacting with, to just make sure they have a supportive environment to talk about what a new situation could like for them.”

“It could end up being exactly the same and it could be ‘you know, we’re not sure what we want, we might want to keep this going,’ … It could change, it could decrease, it could increase, it could stay neutral, it just depends on the outcome from those conversations.”

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