May 2014: On location NSSBA AGM, Membertou

Board member Cindy Littlefair reporting to you from Cape Breton where its school board is hosting the provincial AGM. So far I’ve had conversations with the executive directors of the Canadian School Boards Association and NSSBA, Outgoing President Jamie Stevens, and heard from DEECD Minister Karen Casey, all of which have left me once again feeling quite heartened to be part of education in Nova Scotia and Halifax in 2014. If you’re at all about education, now’s the time to be taking part. And on that note…

*****It’s survey day! The Minister’s Panel on Education wants to hear from anyone who has an opinion, a suggestion, or a thought about “setting a bold new direction for our public schools.” So far 10,000 people have completed the survey. Have you always thought that summer vacation should be in winter? Four months instead of two? Cursive writing should be resurrected? That report cards should be thrown out or schools student run? How about a course on civics? Or maybe just that corrections to your child’s homework should be made in green ink instead of red as was recently introduced in Britain? Now’s the time to say so. Use this opportunity to share every practical, progressive, or seemingly farfetched thought you’ve ever had on the topic of public education because for the first time in 25 years the invitation is out there. Don’t let it go unanswered. And if you want to wax eloquent beyond what the survey provides, the deadline for written submissions is June 13. While you’re at it see what the Nova Scotia School Boards Association has to say on the topic.*****

About HRSB’s budget. The portion of the budget, $321m, that deals exclusively with staffing was approved May 7 in order to meet the many staffing related deadlines that flow from the budgeting decision. The new classroom cap of 20 students in each P to 2 class triggered a significant increase in teacher numbers (80) that was offset by reductions resulting from retirements (25) and enrollment decline (25). At the end of the day, targeted funding aside, cost pressures associated with the General Fund continued to present challenges. As can be imagined a $433m budget is not a simple beast to understand or wrangle. Within the General Fund there is targeted funding (restricted) and untargeted funding (unrestricted). While the Province’s overall allocation to HRSB is in fact greater than it ever has been it remains the case that there’s less in the General Fund for covering naturally occurring, year-over-year cost pressures such as salary increases, heating fuel cost, and transportation. That said staff has produced a balanced budget, the staff portion of which has now been approved, and the balance, $112m, will be discussed and approved before June’s out.

Members of the governing board and Liberal caucus met on May 21 to talk about the ways we do and might work together and how to add value to those relationships whether as board member to MLA or as HRSB to Government. The same conversation is taking place with city council and councillors. Bottom line: all three levels of government need to be working together far more closely. The results of the newly overhauled school review process, the Minister’s current Education Review, Ray Ivanny’s “One Nova Scotia”, and discussion papers such as the NSSBA’s contribution to education review point to the need to pool resources and thinking to a far greater extent than is currently the case. From facilities to curriculum the Municipality, the Province, and the Board each bring to the table the pieces that together will form a greater whole, serving the present and future of our children with everything at our disposal and in the most effective possible way.

The Capital Projects list submitted by HRSB to DEECD in May once again included Inglis Street Elementary. At the Province’s request a maximum of seven instead of ten projects were put forward. First approved for Additions and Alterations money in 2009 Inglis Street was shelved along with every other capital project that was on the Department’s books back in 2010 while a new process for submitting capital requests was developed. Had the original approval stuck there’d now be signs of construction at the corner of Inglis and Robie. As it is the school remains in need of a major overhaul and is once again before the Province for its consideration. J.L. Ilsley H.S., into which some of this district’s schools feed, has also been a previous entry on the capital projects list and recently received $1m. in funding under Capital Repairs to renovate the building envelope, administrative space, and grounds.

The Site Selection Committee for the replacement Le Marchant-St. Thomas Elementary is going full throttle, has now held two meetings, and is hoping to be in a position to make recommendation to the governing board by the end of June. The committee is made up of voting members supported by non-voting members and resource people. Voting members come entirely from the school community. Typically a committee is required to produce three recommendations, approved by the governing board, from which the Province then chooses. In acknowledgment of the fact that three sites aren’t always available the Minister has said it can be fewer. Keeping in mind that the Committee needs to work within the existing Le Marchant-St. Thomas catchment area that news is particularly germane.

Belated congratulations to  Gorsebrook Junior High for snagging a $30k municipal grant for various improvements to its grounds. Waye Mason’s participatory budgeting process has been particularly fertile ground for our district’s schools, Saint Mary’s Elementary have received the same amount last year for schoolyard improvements. Thank you, Waye. And thank you Gorsebrook and Saint Mary’s for having assembled such compelling cases for funding.

Any lingering questions about exactly what school boards do? The NSSBA puts it very succinctly.

And give Superintendent Elwin LeRoux’s May report a look for a snapshot and taste of activity board-wide and as representative of the strategic plan.

June will be tremendously busy with the boundary review involving Park West and Grosvenor-Wentworth Park schools. And graduation ceremonies! In all likelihood I won’t be back to you before end of June. Enjoy your summer, may it be sun-full and relaxed.

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