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In recent weeks teachers and parents have been raising concerns about staffing and program cuts at schools across the province.
For example, in the Halifax RCE alone 20 Early Literacy Support (ELS) teaching positions were recently eliminated, meaning less specialized instruction for students in Grades Primary to 3 who are struggling to learn how to read. Similarly many school communities will have less support from guidance counsellors, resource teachers and O2 instructors next year as a result of staffing reductions.
Since details of these cuts started to hit the news, government first denied they were happening at all. Next, it set out to defend them. Originally it claimed that there had been no cuts or changes. After more details emerged, the reallocation of staff in response to declining enrollment was given as an explanation.
On Thursday of last week the Premier used his post cabinet scrum to accuse teachers of spreading misinformation. Finally, late Friday afternoon, as Nova Scotians were heading home for the Victoria Day long-weekend, the Liberals added a new twist to their evolving narrative.
In an interview with CBC, Minister Zach Churchill announced his government has adopted a new funding formula and that’s why staffing reductions were happening at many schools.
Up until CBC broke the story, this funding formula was kept a total secret from parents and teachers. There has been no public consultation. No letters or emails have been sent to parents. No standard media conference has been held. In fact, other than announcing the existence of the new formula to CBC, the McNeil government has yet to disclose any specific details. What this formula looks like and how it is being applied remains hidden from parents, teachers and the public at large.
For a major decision involving a $1.3 billion budget impacting close to 120,000 students at more than 350 schools, this is a shocking lack of transparency.
Parents deserve to know how decisions affecting their children are being made, which is why I’m asking government to do three things immediately:
1. Release all details of the formula to the public. Like any government policy, this formula should exist on paper. It needs to be fully accessible to the public, full stop.
2. Disclose when the Regional Executive Directors for all Regional Centres for Education and CSAP received the formula. The government must explain why they kept it hidden from parents.
3. Ensure parents in every school community are consulted on the formula in a public forum before the end of this school year, and not just through an internet questionnaire. If the public has concerns, government needs to be prepared to address them.
Given the way this new policy was announced, it’s not surprising that many are raising doubts about the government’s motives. The NSTU has long advocated for staffing decisions to reflect student need ALONG WITH enrolment. While this new formula may move in this direction, due to government secrecy it’s impossible to determine the effectiveness of a policy shielded from public view.
“Needs based” funding models implemented elsewhere in Canada have resulted in significant reductions to student supports. This change could well prove detrimental to student success in Nova Scotia if poorly conceived. The Minister needs to share this vital information as soon as possible to put parents and students’ minds at ease and ensure the changes being rolled out behind closed doors are truly in students’ best interests.
– Paul Wozney