BY NANCY KELLY
Kings County Advertiser/Register
The Annapolis Valley Regional School Board - along with other school boards in the province- will have to tighten its belt and “find efficiencies” when devising its budget for the coming year.
After meeting with school board chairs February 8, Education Minister Ramona Jennex released the government’s plan to reduce the provincial funding grant to public school boards by close to two per cent in the 2011/2012 academic year. Jennex said declining enrolment and increasing school administrative costs over the past 10 years created a “difficult challenge” for government, but the budget was devised with the priority of “putting children and learning first.”
With the municipal education tax factored in, boards will be facing what amounts to a 1.65 per cent reduction in education funding. That translates into a funding reduction of $17.6 million: an amount significantly less than the 22 per cent cut educators were asked to prepare for in the government's fall budget exercise.
Prior to Jennex’s statement, Deputy Minister Rosalind Penfound spoke to reporters, detailing conditions of the government’s plan. She explained the province will not be funding increases related to inflationary pressures from rising salaries or operational costs. This could create an additional shortfall of $20 to 25 million for boards.
In order to achieve the budget target, school boards are being asked to cut non-teaching and administrative costs by 15 per cent and cut teacher mentors by 50 per cent in 2011-12 and reduce consultant fees by 50 per cent within three years.
The province plans to phase out the Reading Recovery program- an early learning literacy initiative- but plans to replace with it with a more cost efficient program that will benefit a greater number of students.
School boards were also given conditions for achieving the budget directives. Teacher and support staff reductions must be achieved, whenever possible, through retirements and attrition.
Provincial support for students with special needs will remain at $125 million in 2011-12 and school boards must fund programs and educational assistance positions at the same level.
Provincial funding for the International Baccalaureate and Healthy Active Living programs will remain at 2010-11 levels.
Primary to grade 3 class caps will continue to be upheld, but school boards will be permitted to add no more than two additional students per class in order to avoid split or combined classes.
Outside these conditions, Penfound reiterated, it is up to the individual school boards to find ways to manage the reduced their funding grants, which are based on enrolment.
“We transfer the money to them, but it is up to the boards to manage their costs.”