Duncan childcare advocate queries axing of adult education

It’s now final; the Cowichan Valley school district’s board of education has balanced its $81.8 million budget.

It’s now final; the Cowichan Valley school district’s board of education has balanced its $81.8 million budget.

Despite that, achieving the closure by letting the axe fall on the Cowichan Adult Learning Centre still rankles with at least one of the school district’s other partner groups.

Mary Dolan of Growing Together Child Care Centre, during question period at the end of the May 3 school board meeting, urged trustees to take another look at deciding to get rid of the program completely as of next January.

Dolan said she had only heard herself that day about the coming closure, despite having students from that program using the Growing Together services.

“I understand about budgets and that some things need to be cut, but I want to ask the board, which partners did you talk to before you made this decision to take away such a service from vulnerable people in the community who are trying to better themselves and get out of poverty? Which partners said this would be a wise move for the district? I would also like to ask who is being helped and who is being hindered?” she continued.

Later, she pointed out that although she had seen young parents coming to drop off their children for daycare when adult-ed was in the old Charles Hoey School, there had been an increase when the adult program moved to the McKirdy Building at the old Duncan Elementary School site, across the street from Growing Together.

During the meeting, the board learned some of the details of a profitable program that sees the Cowichan Valley school district provide a selection of adult education courses to some inmates of Wilkinson Road jail, near Victoria, and that caught Dolan’s attention.

Dolan suggested that the funds raised by that program could be used to help fund adult learning for Cowichan Valley students.

“Please consider the benefits [of adult education] and find some other way of taking money rather than services offered to the vulnerable,” she urged.

Board of Education chairwoman Candace Spilsbury replied, “It was a heart-wrenching process to get to the decision of closing adult education. We know it’s such a valuable program. But, we had to find money.”

She told Dolan that trustees also took note that all the 162 responses in a recent public budget survey said, among other things, that adult education should be dropped if it was not recovering its costs.

“After that we looked at what we could do, at cost recovery, and we could have had two teachers trying to offer over 500 courses for the fees that were involved. We thought that was a really unfair expectation of two teachers.

“Another issue, of course, is that our primary mandate is with students who are in school. We had to look at it all,” Spilsbury said.

Vancouver Island University offers adult education and already knows that the kind of student that would come from the school district’s adult education program may be a little different from the regular student they enrol at the university, she said. “They have accepted that and are working to try to find a program that would best address the needs of those students.”

The district also recognized that the child care centre will still be there at Growing Together.

“We hope to have the students continue to bring their children there, and there may be an opportunity that another child care centre would be able to establish themselves closer to VIU,” Spilsbury said.

“We’ve made the decision tonight and it’s with reluctance, as I say, that we have to move on.”