With our province facing an unprecedented financial crisis, the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development has asked the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils not to come to the pre-budget process with a wish list.
He wants the NLFSC to make suggestions about how education can be delivered at lower costs. There is an expectation that we can find ways to reduce expenditures and eliminate waste while identifying ways to deliver better and more efficient services.
Budget cuts over the last three years have detrimentally impacted the front line delivery of education in our schools. The delivery of education had been cut to the bone. Teachers, administrators and programs have been cut consistently in past provincial budgets. These professionals are stressed and are now facing anxiety about their jobs.
We need teaching positions reinstated, more resources for inclusive education (not less) we need more mental health specialists in our schools, smaller class sizes, more literacy and numeracy supports, more guidance councillors, the administration allocation increased to where it was a few years ago and more resources for the fledgling inclusion model.
Simply put, there is no room for a 30% cut to the frontline delivery of education.
The government is committed to the introduction of a Full-Day Kindergarten program for September 2016. The cost of the implementation (as of Budget 2015) is $32 Million. Subsequent to implementation, the annual cost of the initiative will be $13.3 million for teaching and programming. As much as I have supported the introduction of FDK, it is hard to understand how government has money to spend on a new program when they can not seem to get the delivery of inclusion right - for budgetary reasons.
The minister has also confirmed that school board elections will not take place, at the earliest until this Fall, despite vociferous objections to further delays while in opposition.
I am as sick of elections as the next person, but having non-elected officials deciding the fate of schools, bus routes and the allocation of scare resources is as wrong today as was when the Dale Kirby told the CBC in September of 2015 that he wanted to see new trustees chosen before the Fall provincial election:
"They are basically violating the law as it pertains to public schooling in Newfoundland and Labrador, and it's antithetical to the notion of democratic school government,"
"Three years without elected school board trustees — that's absurd, that's ludicrous."
What about the comments made in this Letter to the Editor that was carried in both daily newspapers and nearly all of the provinces weeklies in April of 2015:
“The election of school trustees is one of the core foundations of any public school system. It’s time for government to stop undermining the foundation of our public schools. “
“School board trustees wield significant decision-making power on matters such as where students will attend school, which schools are prioritized for significant renovations, and where communities stand on the list of those needing new schools. That’s why they need to be elected by and accountable to the local communities they serve.”
We need elections this spring, so that democratically elected people are in place to represent students and schools. There is no accountability with the current handpicked board and that lack of accountability is as obvious today as when the minister was in opposition and calling for immediate elections when he was the education critic for both the NDP and the Liberals. A couple of more quotes from critic Kirby:
“It’s crucial that the governance of the school board be taken out of the hands of the education minister and given back to the people, through their trustees.”
“It’s really shocking that things have been dragged on as long as they have. And, unless more pressure is brought to this (issue), they’ll do as they like and continue to delay the process,"
I'll close with this quote from the minister:
“You’d think that if the government had any interest in democratically-functioning school boards then they would have something done. But there’s been no reasonable explanation provided only when they get around to it, it’s going to happen,”
· It is perplexing, to say the least, to understand what has changed. If the election of a democratic board was a serious issue that needed to be dealt with urgently with when Mr. Kirby was a critic, how do you square pushing them off until the Fall of 2016?
I I have not heard a plausible rationale for not holding the elections earlier, in fact with the Budget Crisis and schools already on the chopping block, the urgency is greater than ever.
Why can't the minister just provide a time table with a fixed date. This “within a year” commitment that suddenly popped up at the tail end of the election campaign sounds a lot like the old governments "when we get around to it approach." Let us not forget they promised elections would be carried out two years ago!
My suggestion, take the Minister's advice and ensure more pressure is brought to the issue of school board elections occurring sooner rather than later or they’ll do as they like and continue to delay the process.
It is more important than ever, as we head into this era of multi-BILLION dollar deficits, that the voice of school councils remain strong, informed and united towards our common goal of ensuring that all of our children receive a high quality of education.
We must ensure an accountable education system for our children.