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MVSD waits for direction on federal education dollars

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While the federal government announced $2 billion to help provinces and territories reopen schools safely last week, it remains unclear how the money is going to benefit Mountain View School Division (MVSD).
“So as of today we haven’t received any correspondence from the province, or from the federal government, about how the funds might be used to support schools in reopening during the pandemic,” MVSD superintendent/CEO Dan Ward said.
In announcing the funding, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the money is meant to allow provinces and territories to work with local school boards to implement measures to protect students and staff from COVID-19 by adapting learning spaces, improve air ventilation, increase hand sanitation and hygiene and buy extra personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies.
Funding per province is based on student population which equates to $85.4 million.
The money comes with no restrictions on how it is to be spent, the prime minister said, pointing to the fact that education is a provincial responsibility.
“We respect the Constitution, but we needed to find a way to help Canadians, and that’s what we’ve done,” he said, adding the money will bolster provincial plans for reopening.
“What we realized when we saw the level of anxiety and preoccupation that parents across the country had still, even with those plans in place, we realized that we could give the provinces even more resources. Some of it could go forward right away, some of it might be able to help out if there’s a second wave later in the fall.”
Most students have been learning from home since the COVID-19 outbreak shut down schools and businesses in mid-March.
Trudeau said returning kids to school safely is critical to restarting the economy, allowing parents to return to work without worrying about their children.
“Our children must be safe in the classroom. That’s non-negotiable,” he said.
“No parent should be losing sleep because they have to go back to work, but aren’t confident schools are properly prepared.”
To this point MVSD is certain only of previously announced support from the province amounting to the $52 million announced last week and the $48 million in savings from last year’s budget, realized through the suspension of classes in March.
“I think the expectation from government is that we utilize those funds first off, our COVID savings, and then the additional funding that we would have to consult with them on,” Ward said.
“We don’t know how that’s going to roll out yet either, except that there’s going to be a conversation with government once we run out of our COVID savings with how we would like to access those additional dollars to continue on with the enhanced cleaning, staffing and all those other pieces that we need to continue to have in place.”
Ward added the division has accessed some funding through the Manitoba Conservation and Climate Fund to upgrade air handling and heating units to make them more energy efficient.
Having access to the federal funding announced last week would be a bonus, he added.
“We’re not quite sure if this is going to be along the same lines and how it would be accessed, whether it’s be through the province through PSFB (Public Schools Finance Board) to enhance ventilation systems. I think the province will have to figure that piece out prior to us knowing,” Ward said.
“We could definitely use the dollars to enhance our ventilation systems and upgrade our air handling units. And then there’s a myriad of other projects that we could do.”
The federal funding will be provided in two instalments with the first payment expected this fall and a second to arrive early in 2021.
Trudeau said provinces will need to advise the federal government on how the first batch of cash was spent money before the second payment is made.