‘Our students need more support, not less’: Social worker cuts considered in Seven Oaks
The Seven Oaks School Division is considering making cuts to its divisional support team.
The division currently employs eight social workers, but some could be out of a job in the fall.
“We want to make certain that we’re making the very best use of our resources,” Seven Oaks superintendent Brian O’Leary told CTV News Thursday.
O’Leary said the division is looking at reducing the number of social workers it employs and allocating some of their workload to guidance counsellors and learning support teachers.
“We’re changing how we’re supporting kids,” O’Leary said. “But we’re in fact adding to our teaching staff to keep pacing with enrollment.”
In March, Seven Oaks announced a tax hike in an effort to avoid staff and programming cuts – blaming cost and wage pressures on the increase.
Homeowners in the division will see a tax increase of $118 on the average home valued at $314,000. The division said the increase will be reduced by the 50 per cent education property tax rebate and follows several years of tax decreases.
“We’ve also cut some bus service, we’ve trimmed some other areas,” O’Leary explained. “We needed to hike taxes to keep pace, but we’re barely keeping pace.”
He said no cuts have been made, but the division is working to identify where full-time support staff are needed instead of having social workers float between schools.
“We’re early in the process,” he said. “We’re exploring both with our social (workers) and with our schools. At the end of the day, we want to strengthen supports to students, not weaken them.”
He said a decision should come by mid-May.
The possibility of firing or reassigning school social workers is concerning for those who work with youth in Manitoba.
The head of the Manitoba College of Social Workers (MCSW) said caseloads in schools are already high, and removing clinical support services would be detrimental.
“This is going to have a significant impact on students and families at a time when we are in a mental health crisis in Manitoba,” Barb Temmerman, MCSW’s executive director said.
Temmerman said social workers address mental health and behavioural issues, and connect students and their families with other supports in the community.
“That engagement really supports students in their academic success and creates positive academic outcomes,” Temmerman explained.
She said eliminating positions could lead to reduced attendance, increased mental health concerns, and more violence in schools.
Sherry Gott, Manitoba’s Advocate for Children and Youth added there’s a risk of offloading work to other school staff.
“Social workers have a special set of skills to be able to do the assessments, send referrals, and provide that resource that is needed in the schools,” Gott said. “Students need immediate supports while they’re in school.”
Gott is also concerned the move could create a barrier to care for some families.
The Seven Oaks Teachers’ Association’s (SOTA) president is also concerned about the division’s decision to cut back on social workers.
“The impact of this loss will be felt in the schools as we continue to face increasing challenges with our students. Our students need more support, not less,” SOTA president Jeff Cirszecki told CTV News in an email. “There are also concerns that the remaining school social workers will be assigned to single schools, leaving the professional work normally done by school social workers at the remaining schools to be now an increased responsibility for teachers.”
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