MONDAY, APRIL 28TH, 2003
Over the past six months, I have attempted to address the seven themes which underpins the Minister of Education’s document, “Learning for Life”. Tonight, I comment on the final theme - “Accountability to Taxpayers”. School Boards receive more than 813 million dollars to support public education. To fulfill the provincial responsibility for accountability, new financial controls have been, or are being, put in place including: a standard administrative and compensation structure, broader reporting requirements, board audit committees, restriction on commercial activity and protection against conflict of interest. This has manifested into two pilot projects which have been created in the Strait area and the Southwest Board. In these areas, the elected board members are responsible for educational matters and a Chief Executive Officer, who reports to the Department’s Minister of Education, is responsible for buildings, busing, budgets and human resources. The Department of Education is working co-operatively with all boards in ways to support effective financial and facilities management.
A standard administrative and compensation structure, and standard employment contracts for senior staff, will bring consistency and control of dollars spent on senior administration for all boards. Working committees have been struck involving the Department of Education and school board representatives. The final task was to establish compensation levels and a model contract for the following: Regional Board Superintendents; Chief Educational Officers , Chief Financial Officers, Directors of Education, in South Shore, Tri County and the Strait Districts. This work was to be completed in the fall of 2002. However, to this point in time, [as of the Spring, 2003], this has not been achieved. During the remainder of 2002 through to early 2003, the committee was to establish a standard administrative structure. The structure committee has still not completed its task, [as of April, 2003], but will work towards a completion date for early fall. In the interim, the school boards are to introduce changes, continue with framework that requires no changes, plan for changes that require a lead time and changes for which a board may request exceptions. School Boards, which now are required to report salaries and expenses, will now be required to report all benefits. The report will also be subject to an external review. School boards can no longer engage in commercial activities without the approval of government. In the meantime, boards have been directed to provide a complete report on any current commercial activities. Boards will receive information on the continuation or suspension of commercial activities during the school year. A working committee, involving the Department of Education and school board representatives, was established to review current conflict of interest policies that apply to staff and to develop a standard policy as a minimum guide for all boards. It is important to note that with regards to the future role of school boards, government supports the value of elected school board members particularly in the area of educational matters. At the same time, issues of declining enrolments and the need for appropriate accountability requires consideration of alternative models to manage facilities effectively and ensure financial controls are in place. A decision on the current pilots will be reached prior to the school board election in the Fall of 2004. This completes my comments on the Document, “Learning for Life, Planning for Student Success”. In the words of the former Department of Education’s Minister of Education, Jane Purves, “Learning for Life is not an overnight or magical solution to the challenges we face in education. It does, however, set a direction and focus that should enable us to work together in a collaborative way to help students do better”. I feel it is my responsibility to keep the Board up-to-date on the impact of the implementation phase of the “Learning for Life” document. The implementation of each of the seven themes requires constant monitoring and attention. Expectations of financial support has to be clearly articulated so that our community is fully aware of the resources allocated for each project.
We have received our draft budget for the school year, 2003-2004. The overall increase from last year’s budget is 3.7% over total funding from last year. We have $113,818,600. in total funding for our ensuing school year, 2003-2004. Although a modest increase will be available for Regional and District Boards, we will be able to direct extra monies towards primary class size mandates and some extra support for special needs students. Between these two initiatives, we will receive $460,300. representing targeted monies for class size initiatives and special education gap reductions. The gap reduction in special education is an attempt by the Department of Education to raise the level of support from where we are to where we should be. This $460,300. represents the first year installment of funding that will form part of a three year commitment to class size and special services. The Department of Education will maintain a commitment to fund the mathematics initiative which is reflected in our budget at $75,700. Repairs and renovations will net the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board $395,200. to support facilities upkeep. Cross Culture Understanding, Human Rights & Race Relations will see our share of $300,000. reflected in the budget at $50,000. This $50,000. is targeted especially at student support workers.
We are presently developing our budget for 2003-2004 and it will take some time to eventually arrive at our cost pressure for staff, programs, support services, facilities upkeep and transportation costs. The school board itself will have amble opportunity to articulate their priorities and concerns for continued support of a quality education for the children of the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board. When we receive our formal correspondence on our budget from the Minister of Education, we will have a sixty (60) day deadline to present a balanced budget to the Minister. The Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board has always informed the educational stakeholders on the allocation of revenues in a clear, consistent and effective manner. The Board will attempt, as it has in the past, to allocate all available resources in an equitable way while maintaining a focus on confirmed needs. We have tried to articulate to the Province of Nova Scotia, via the Department of Education, that students should be guaranteed access to equal opportunities regardless of where they live in Nova Scotia. Only then will all students be assured that they meet basic skills, high standards and personal educational goals and dreams. Again, I will state that money should be attached to the commitment to treat all of our children in Nova Scotia in an equitable way.