Winnipeg school backtracks on asking parents to fundraise for COVID-19 resources

A Winnipeg school is no longer asking parents to raise money so their children’s school will be safer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont was taken aback when he received a mid-October letter from his children’s school, Earl Grey, which said proceeds from its annual fundraiser would buy 40 student shields, an extra hand-washing station and technology to support remote learning.

The price tag for the school’s “wish list” was pegged at $7,100.

“We are having a fund raiser to raise money for … some very important items that are needed not just for now but for the future,” the letter said.

However, Earl Grey families were told in another letter last Friday that the school found money for these items within its budget — one day after Lamont denounced the province on social media for a school having to fundraise.

He added the call for fundraising was egregious when $85.4 million from the federal government — specifically to help schools cope with the pandemic — hasn’t been spent by the province. 

“It’s unbelievable that me and other parents [were] supposed to sell chocolate bars to raise money for COVID protection, when the premier can’t say what he’s doing with $85 million dollars he got from the federal government.”

The Winnipeg School Division said in a statement Monday that the “fundraising issue” at Earl Grey “appears to be a misunderstanding” and was rectified. The updated letter to parents says the fundraiser will now support new technology in classrooms.

Two months into a school year altered by the pandemic, the Manitoba government hasn’t spent nearly as much money on pandemic preparations as critics would like.

Manitoba Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the funding set aside for school pandemic protections isn’t supposed to be blown in September, but last the months ahead. (David Lipnowski/The Canadian Press)

Of the $100 million devoted to schools, Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said in question period on Monday that $15.5 million had been spent by school divisions and independent schools for enhanced cleaning, transportation, technology and staffing, as of Sept. 30.

At the time, $1.5 million was also spent on masks and shields that the province provided to schools, a government spokesperson added.

‘Wasn’t all supposed to be spent in September’

The province has said it wouldn’t tap into the federal allotment until it exhausted the existing $100 million, half of which is money the school divisions were asked to save last spring when schooling went remote.

Goertzen said the province would spend all the money in due time. 

“It wasn’t supposed to all be spent in September,” he told reporters after question period.

“We’ve said to school divisions, ‘Bring forward the needs that you have.’ Of course, they had some of their own savings as well and expend those moneys as you go. The report that I had that about $15.5 million was spent in September is in keeping about what we would have expected,” Goertzen said.

Lamont said the funding commitment isn’t enough when some staff in the education system are struggling to keep up.

“Teachers are at their breaking point, teachers and staff, because the government has offered them nothing and actually not only offered them nothing, has failed to make people safe, failed to actually be clear about the investments,” he said.

The issue of school funding was raised in question period last week by the NDP. The party has asked the government to hire more teachers as students are spread out between in-person classrooms and their homes.

NDP MLA Matt Wiebe said Monday that teachers are stressed out, parents are worried and the government is more preoccupied with its bottom line than helping the school system.

“There’s simply no relief from this government,” Wiebe said.