This report is based on the assumption that the community has some idea about the unique problems facing the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board. My report will focus on how this Board has acted and what we do with the difficult problem of declining enrolments and the subsequent effect it has on adequate funding. The point is made very clearly that the strategies of other regional boards offers little guidance since their situations are one of affluence brought about by a greater share of the provincial educational pie and the reliance on surplus and reserve funds.
We have, over the past three years, attempted to stay focused on a ‘Transition Plan’ that was designed to reduce teaching staff in relation to student decline experienced over the past and within the current enrolment count.
We have all but exhausted the ability to save significant amounts of money through facility reviews. There is still some inefficient facilities but we will defer this option to another year. We still have the options of creating more complex arrangements in schools where reduction in administrative costs can be obtained.
The recent transportation audit by the Department of Education has been completed but our official report from the Minister has not been available for any action for this budget year.
The item-by-item analysis of the budget is still in progress. The official profile of our budget has been received and the clock is now ticking. We have sixty (60) days to provide a balanced budget to the Department of Education. We have calculated that we could finish our task within two (2) weeks.
Again, I must announce that the amount of monies, new monies, that we received within our budget profile is $1,700,000. It is important to note that the amount it will take to pay for the N.S.T.U./ C.U.P.E. projected wage increase is in excess of $1.7 million.
That brings us to another matter. If we have very little to add to our last year’s estimates and it takes staff reduction and budget item limitations to balance the accounts, therefore, we will have very little funding to support the ‘Learning for Life’ initiatives. Although we are not looking to reduce programs and student services, we are not able to expand in those areas. The constant reduction in teaching staff will impact on our class sizes and in creating new combined classes. We are able to secure the mandate for capping class sizes at twenty-five (25) or lessen all of our classes in Grades P & 1. Again, it is interesting to note that the cap on class sizes does have an effect on the creation of further combined classes. We have cut the classrooms by forty-three (43) teachers some of which will be re-invested in our commitments to the ‘Learning For Life’ gap reduction initiative. There is no painless way to reduce classroom teachers. If this trend continues, we will be harnessed with larger classes, fewer resources for special services and a projected jeopardy to our program services capability.
The Department of Education has indicated that a new formula would be devised to seek a more just and equitable sharing of the Department of Education’s resources. I am more than skeptical about formulas. If the economic pie remains the same and a new formula is devised that has little flexibility for uniqueness, we will again be in a position that by having the greatest student decline, we will be short-funded. I have advocated for a formula-free process. It may seem simple but the most just and equitable way to allocate limited resources is to base it on need. First, the Department of Education has to set a standard, mandate accountability and demand a quality of education for all students. Having set the prerequisites, it would be in order to visit the seven (7) boards and take a needs assessment that would guarantee the standard, the quality and the accountability of resources. The Department of Education, in consultation with the regional boards, would agree on the needed resources and the funds would be forthcoming. We will have time within the very near future to test this theory since a Consultant, who will visit each board, will be open to worthwhile input for regional partners.
Madame Chair, I had promised at our last meeting that I would try and capture the contributions that the board members have made over the past five (5) years. As the Board has spent several reports on the contributions, dedication and devotion of its staff, it is only fitting that we put aside some time and effort in respect to their efforts.
The Board has created a revision of the ‘Strategic Plan’. The plan enables the Board to manage the changes and provides the direction for all staff and community partners in respect to its dedication to the students and parents within that community. The Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board had participated in the “Lead & Achieve” initiative sponsored by the Nova Scotia School Boards Association. The very attempt to receive input from our parents and communities was a worthwhile venture. This initiative resulted in a number of considerations. These twenty-one (21) articulated considerations will enable the Board to incorporate these intentions in all of their efforts to increase student outcomes and achievements. There was a guarantee that future parental input would be solicited each year.
The Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board commits itself to a ‘Business Plan’ which is straightforward and comprehensive. It contains, in full view, the goals and objectives related to school board activities and the achievement levels of success from the preceding year. The fiduciary responsibility of the Board’s finances are transparent and monitored by the Department of Education on a monthly basis.
This Board knows hard times and has successfully accomplished advancement in programs and student services, even in the face of severe limitation of funds. This Board has taken the lead in the implementation of the BLAC Report’s recommendations and established standards for professional development activities in respect to sensitivity training and equity understanding. The Mi’kmaq program and services are apparent in our Board and the support for extended courses for all schools is a commitment that has been provided for all students. The Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board expends $15,000,000 on its inclusive educational opportunities for all students. The core services of Educational Psychologists, Speech Pathologists, Resource Teachers and Reading Recovery Teachers are recent additions to our support for special services and student needs.
The recent review and deployment of Central Office follows the Department of Education’s mandate and the regulations associated with its implementation. The principle of student outcomes and staff evaluations is founded in the very structure for Central Office support to the whole regional board.
The recent emphasis on school accreditation and School Advisory Council site improvement plans have been implemented and the focus for the next year will be even greater. We have two (2) schools that piloted the accreditation initiative - i.e. St. Michael’s Junior High in Glace Bay and Riverview High School in Coxheath. We have introduced all of our schools to the concept of School Advisory Councils and have created School Advisory Councils in 83% of our schools. The nine (9) remaining schools will be inducted this coming school year. A number of our School Advisory Councils have completed their school improvement reports and again, we expect to extend that to all of our School Advisory Councils. New regulations are coming out from the Department of Education that will extend and expand the parents’ role within the mandate legislated by the Department of Education.
In the past six (6) years, this Board demonstrated the ability to achieve desired results in new school construction. The following new elementary schools have been constructed: Cape Smokey; North Highlands; Boularderie; Jubilee; Riverside; Shipyard & Harbourside. We have one school scheduled to open in September 2004 - i.e. Brookland Elementary in Sydney. Over the next three years, three (3) schools are scheduled for construction: Glace Bay Junior High; Northside Elementary/Junior High and Rankin (P-12). The Board should feel proud of its accomplishments in this important area of school construction.
The Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board has excelled in effective and positive communications with the communities, the parents and guardians of our children. Newsletters, web-site reports and media presentations have all helped to attain this most important activity.
Madame Chair, in closing I would like to congratulate our Board for a job well done under very difficult circumstances. It is not often you receive the accolades that are due to you. It is most fitting that we should celebrate your performance when you are approaching the last few months of your elected mandate.
Madame Chair, I would like to direct your attention to the attached initiatives which have been submitted by Co-ordinators and school site administrators.