April reminds us to turn our thoughts from the darkness of winter to the brightness of spring. It is time again for all of us to start thinking of the budget for 2004 - 2005. The new budget for the Government of Nova Scotia will soon find the light of day. There are many who forecast a tight budget. Dollars are important to the task of maintaining quality services to our schools and subsequently to our students. We must ensure increased funding to maintain a quality education for our children. It seemed to be the major focus for all of our stakeholders in the Province of Nova Scotia during the Nova Scotia Lead & Achieve initiative survey.
There are two aspects of the funding for public education: the source and amount of total provincial funding and the application of a fair and equitable formula to enable regional boards to provide quality education for all of their students. Both sides of this equation are experiencing major pressures and problems in respect to adequately providing financial resources across the Province.
In earlier days, educational funds came largely from a mixture of fees, poll taxes and property taxes. In some areas of the Province, there are still municipal taxes available over the mandated minimum local taxes that provide for special services and programs within the municipality. From the perspective of an individual student, it can be argued that the quality of education ought not to be compromised by the inability of a specific region in which he/she may reside.
One of the most misinterpreted terms used in the educational field is the phrase, "pupil-teacher ratio". The pupil-teacher ratio is confusing because it is unclear whether the pupil-teacher ratio is related to actual classroom size or to some other measure. The pupil-teacher ratio is not a measure of a classroom size, but a ratio of full-time pupils to all certified educators in a regional board. In most provinces, this confusion is clarified by using the term pupil-educator ratio (PER) as the ratio of the total of full-time equivalent pupils to the total number of instructional personnel, including principals and supervisory staff, and not a measure of classroom size.
Over the past four years, our Board has directly or indirectly controlled our pupil-educator ratio through funding limitations directed towards staffing. It was on the insistence of the Department of Education that our pupil-educator ratio should be more in line with other boards. Presently, our pupil-educator ratio is 15.4 as opposed to other boards with a pupil-educator ratio ranging from 16 - 17.2. Some success has been reached in raising our pupil-educator ratio by reducing staff in an attempt to offset the ever-present enrolment decline. We have attempted to balance our staff compliment by adding staff through the Department of Education's document, "Learning For Life", and the Department of Education's commitment to add additional staff for specific initiatives. Those most notable were in respect to: Special Education, Class Size Initiative in Primary, Special Services and Reading Recovery. We will attempt, once again this year, to accept our current reduction of staff as it relates to our enrolment decline and, at the same time, adjust our staff commitments to the Department of Education's priorities and service mandates.
In spite of acute enrolment declines within the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board, we are committed to maintaining that critical balance among personnel reduction, student enrolment decline and maintaining the guarantee of quality education for our students. Now that we have reviewed the broad challenges to the educational finances of our regional board, it is our intention to detail very carefully, over the next few months, the best strategic direction we are able to take for the ensuing school year, 2004-2005.
Once again, I have decided to stray from my monthly report to comment on the parents and guardians of our students. Let's face it, if it were not for the parents and guardians, there would be no Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board staff and there would be no schools. While this seems to be a very simplistic statement, it carries behind it some weighty philosophy. We have schools in order to educate our youth because our founding fathers as well as all people of foresight and knowledge, knew the value of education. Yet, when a child enters school, he/she enters a new environment, but they remain part of the family from which they came. Throughout the school years, that family continues to be the child's base, the nourishing source that will help to shape the adult.
The school and the home - two mighty and powerful forces that have in the past, are now, and will in the future be, the shaping forces for our students. When the two are working together, the student cannot help but benefit, grow and learn in an atmosphere that tells him/her constantly that he/she is cared for, appreciated and loved.
One of the major initiatives this year is to assist all schools in developing, rejuvenating and creating school improvement plans which reflects the efforts of the school site to help pupils achieve greater success in their educational endeavors. The past months have brought forward a concern that has initiated a coming together of many community organizations. I make reference to the concern for illegal drugs within our community. The representatives of the school board, the regional police force, the health services, the R.C.M.P. and the Pharmacists met and started preliminary talks about the increasing levels of illegal drugs in our community. It is the interest of this steering committee to create an awareness of the drug problem and to develop a working paper to help advise our communities of the challenges facing them and the solutions to some of these issues.
There was a time when the problem of drug abuse among the young was not considered to be a problem. If one or two juvenile delinquents used drugs, that was regrettable, but hardly something to get upset about. After all, that happened only in the slums of the city or in terrible homes where parents didn't care. Certainly, it could never be a cause for concern for us, the people who maintained good homes, who gave our children the best educational opportunities, who loved our children and cared about their welfare. Sadly, we know today that drug abuse among the young touches every segment of society. It is not a problem reserved for the city or the poor or the broken home or the ghetto school. In the best of our nation's schools, in the finest and most nurturing of families, in the most affluent of homes, in the loveliest of suburbs - drug abuse is present. Not only is it present, but it is a major problem of such proportions that there is no strata, no segment of society which is unaffected by it.
Madame Chair, the addendums to my report represent and reflect the many and varied successes and celebrations related to our students. Please take some time to read and provide feedback to the schools that have made the effort to contribute these articles.