NSTU prez: Education cuts ‘just impossible’

Wendy
Wendy Elliott
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Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union president Alexis Allen: “Why settle for a little less for our children?”

BY WENDY ELLIOTT 

Kings County Advertiser/Register

After spending a day visiting six schools in West Hants and Eastern Kings counties, Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union president Alexis Allen says there are lots of good things going on in education.

But, since last month, the worry always in the back of her mind is the provincial government’s threat to cut education spending by 22 per cent - $200 million - over the next three years.

“It’s just impossible,” she says. “We’re not even back to where we should be after the cuts of the Savage years.”

The union leader points out the government could save a million dollars by jettisoning standardized testing. Few teachers view such tests as pedagogically sound.

Paperwork and bureaucracy start to pile up on teachers’ desks, she has been told, beginning with the mandatory Grade 3 assessment. According to Allen, a two-year survey the union has underway is indicating 48 per cent of teachers’ professional time is not spent teaching.

“We’re following 850 teachers and, after year two, we’ll take the results to the department.”

When asked about the number of consultants at the board level, “we want teachers in the classroom,” Allen responds, although she does acknowledge early career teachers do need some support.

In 2007, the provincial department of education indicates on its statistical website the Valley region employed 20 consultants. Three years later, the Valley board’s web directory now lists over 30 consultants.

Allen is so fully behind having trained teachers in classrooms she is not even keen to boost the number of educational assistants: there are about 10,000 teachers in Nova Scotia and 2,300 EAs.

“Why settle for a little less for our children?” asks Allen, if three years of cutbacks are ahead.

Why settle for a little less for our children? Alexis Allen

Because of the composition of large classes and students not receiving one-on-one teaching, Allen sees a trend toward greater numbers of private schools. At the same time, enrolment in public schools is declining by about 3,000 students each year.

The union president knows some school boards have already asked for suggestions about where to cut. The thought of no one on lunch duty or reduced busing scares parents. The union is just beginning to pull its partners together for that discussion.

Allen tells the tale of a Cape Breton high school that lost 10 teachers last year. This fall, the diversity of course offerings has disappeared: students and parents in some parts of the province are now waking up to the implications.

“We can bankrupt education to help the economy (or provincial debt),” but, Allen says, only at the expense of a well-educated population. Nova Scotia cannot bill itself as a champion of the knowledge economy while getting set to make drastic cutbacks on what it spends for education.

“I worry about continuing to get a quality education in this province. To focus on the deficit is risky for education,” the former Grade 9 teacher says.

Meanwhile, many schools find themselves focused on food. Breakfast programs are essential now, Allen points out. She speaks of a Yarmouth area principal who discovered only three days of food support resulted in behavioural problems in the classroom on the off day.

welliott@kentvilleadvertiser.ca

 

Geographic location: West Hants, Eastern Kings, Nova Scotia Cape Breton Yarmouth

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  • Andrea Jolly
    January 11, 2011 - 07:38

    Dear Sir/Madame, I don't even know where to start...I am appalled but not surprised. I wonder how long it has been since the people who make these decisions have been in a classroom or worked with children both eager or unwilling . The thought of making classrooms larger, cutting the physical education program and possibly cutting support to children with learning difficulties is unbearable not to mention the remainder of the cuts. What possible future will our children have? They are having a hard enough time learning in the system we have now. I wonder why our government thought this was a decision to make without the help of front line teachers and concerned parents. Perhaps they are looking to force financially able parents to have their children privately educated to alleviate the budget....sounds a little like what they are trying to do to the health care system. I am so angry and disappointed. A concerned parent of 3 school age children, Andrea Jolly Amherst, N.S.