(News Bulletin file)

(News Bulletin file)

Nanaimo school trustees decide not to establish COVID-19 contingency fund

Up to $1.5 million for continued enhanced cleaning and mental health supports had been proposed

Nanaimo-Ladysmith school trustees debated the idea of creating a COVID-19 contingency fund in the event the pandemic is still prevalent come September, but ultimately decided against doing so.

At a meeting May 12, trustee Greg Keller introduced a motion asking staff to prepare a proposal that would include up to $1.5 million to maintain cleaning levels, a temporary increase in mental health supports for students and staff, and any other beneficial supports. Money was to have come from surplus.

The board previously passed a motion directing Charlene McKay, board chairperson, to write various government levels for a continuation of specialty funding to deal with the pandemic, as it was not expected to be available next school year.

“With the loss of approximately $6.5 million in federal and provincial COVID-response funds and a significant amount of uncertainty, with respect to what conditions will look like in September, we need to start planning ahead…” Keller said. “I believe the proposed funds are required to support the transition back to bricks-and-mortar schools and prepare and respond to heightened anxiety and other mental health concerns that are likely to arise with changing public health requirements and the gradual transition back to normalcy.”

If COVID-19 funding from government were to be continued, Keller said the contingency fund could be reallocated for other purposes at that time.

While they appreciated Keller’s motion, Stephanie Higginson and Elaine Wilkinson were among trustees speaking against.

“I believe that we need to be able to be responsive to mental health supports for students to ease the transition back. I believe that we need to have continuity of cleaning services,” Higginson said. “But I think it’s too early for us to start asking for these things and I think, if anything, we’ve learned through the past year, it’s what we can do and what we did do last year, on very short notice to implement the cleaning regimes that we did.”

Wilkinson said if the money is needed in September, then trustees can discuss it then.

“We’ve already talked about making sure that we keep increased cleaning if we need it, but we’re at the point right now where we just don’t know what September looks like and so, for that reason I think that we need to be a little bit more conservative and keep these things on the back burner,” said Wilkinson.

Along with Wilkinson and Higginson, Bill Robinson, Chantel O’Neill and McKay voted against. Keller, Lisa Marie Barron, Tania Brzovic and Jessica Stanley voted for.

RELATED: SD68 board to ask governments for continued COVID-19 funding


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