first_imgThe following is an op-ed piece by Education Minister Ramona Jennex. On Feb. 8, I met with chairs from the province’s eight school boards and announced the school board budget targets for next year. These targets are designed to put children and learning first while ensuring the province continues to live within its means by matching funding levels with the decline in student enrolment. As a former teacher with 30 years in the classroom, I have always said that we need to put children and learning first. The budget targets I announced this week reflect that belief. Conditions attached to funding will direct boards to achieve savings primarily through teacher and staff retirements and significant reductions in administration, while maintaining quality in the classroom. In a letter to chairs, I requested boards achieve their targets under several parameters, including achieving teacher and support staff reductions to the greatest extent possible, through retirements and attrition. This will keep the student-teacher ratio below 15 to 1, which is the lowest ratio in a generation. Provincial supports for students with special needs must also be protected. The province will maintain funding for special education at $125 million, the same level as 2010-11. I am also requiring the boards target at least a 15 per cent reduction in administration in 2011-12 and plan for a 50 per cent reduction in board consultants over the next three years. Key programs like O2 and Healthy Living are important programs for students and that is why provincial funding for these and other targeted initiatives will remain at 2010-11 levels. Helping students learn and excel in reading is critical to the success of students and that is why I announced that government will redirect a portion of funds for Reading Recovery, which will be phased out, into early reading intervention programs that will better meet the needs of students. The new program will be able to serve more students who need assistance with reading intervention and will be developed in consultation with all the school boards. As the Minister of Education, I must ensure the considerable investment in education matches the needs and numbers of students. Between 2000-01 and 2010-11, funding for school boards increased by more than $320 million or 43 per cent, even as enrolment dropped by almost 30,000 students. Over the next three years, about 1,000 teachers will retire and close to 7,000 fewer students will be attending school, creating big challenges for boards. The province will reduce the $1.07 billion in total funding Nova Scotia’s eight school boards receive by $17.6 million, for an overall reduction of 1.65 per cent. The new funding targets are in keeping with a provincial enrolment decline next year of two per cent, or 2,500 students. Like other departments and agencies funded by government, boards will also have to manage their own cost pressures. In the weeks ahead, I expect advice and recommendations to come forward from Ben Levin , a respected educator who has been retained to help us plan for the future. The information he will provide will help government and boards maintain quality while managing change brought on by enrollment decline. I look forward to working with school boards and our education partners to maintain a strong education system for our children. -30-last_img read more