As I was preparing for my remarks, I rediscovered a poem I loved as a child. Ninety years ago, one of America′s pre-eminent poets - Robert Frost, wrote, ′The Road Not Taken′. It still speaks to me about many of the hard choices we face in modern life, and it ties to the underlying message that this Board had chosen eight years ago. Let me read you the opening lines:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Back in 2000, this Board came to the proverbial fork in the road, and made a profound choice about the direction they wanted our local education system to travel. The information they based their decision on was clear. Eight years ago, we had a problem reaching a balanced budget. Our programs were in jeopardy; we had to severely cut staff; our buildings were in poor shape and our transportation services needed support. It was not an easy journey; but, most importantly, we knew in our gut that there was a right thing to do. So, we began to navigate a path.
Has that been a most inviting, most comfortable path? I don′t think so. I don′t know about you, but I feel like I have been beating my way through a few thorn bushes in the past number of years. It has been a tough path, but it has been the right path. We were able, with the assistance from our parents, our students, our staff and the dedication of the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board, to continue our journey on this road less travelled. As well, we needed both a sense of urgency and compassion.
Our greatest detractor was the enrolment decline. Money followed students and our student decline was the highest in the Province of Nova Scotia. We had made up our minds that we would work in unison with the Department of Education in order to build a structure that would eventually bring success. Our first task was to get past the fear and anxiety that was in our way. I believe much of that fear came from not worrying about ourselves, although that is part of it. It comes from not wanting to let the kids down. Again, we resigned ourselves to working together with the Department of Education on a sensible course of action that would get results.
We devised an agreement with the Department of Education that would allow us, over four years, to balance our staff reduction with the student decline.
This Board held firm to that commitment and, within the four years, the fate of the Board changed. The past four years found this Board enjoying some modest surpluses. Over the last two years, chiefly due to inadequate funding, we were able to balance budgets and, in the last year, we began to experience a small deficit.
As this Board comes to its final meeting, it can look at its accomplishments with honour. Within those years, we developed a strategic plan; we created a technology plan that is the envy of other boards and we have successfully melded together the policies of the two preceding boards. Also we have experienced the building of a number of new school sites; we have made tremendous strides in minor and major repairs to our existing facilities; we have met most of our gap services for our special needs and our student services are equal to, and in some cases better than, anywhere in the Province. Personnel policies maintained their objectives to increase their effectiveness by providing conditions of work that are both stimulating and satisfying to our employees. As well the major unions: the Nova Scotia Teachers′ Union & the Canadian Union of Public Employees have over the years contributed to the success of our Board. This Board has not found itself in fiduciary problems nor has it ever been brought to task for governing inconsistencies.
Tonight I will forego my special theme to parents & students in order to give proper focus on our retiring Board. Tonight is a time for this Board to take centre stage - for its commitment, its dedication, its courage and its responsibility to the students and communities of Cape Breton & Victoria County.
Madame Chair, I ask the members of the Board to read the attachments to my report that contains the celebrations of our staff and students within the school sites of our Board.