MR. CHAIRMAN: We are ready to commence four hours of the Committee of the Whole House on Supply. It is now 2:29 p.m. and the NDP has the floor.
The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect. There are 27 minutes left in your time.
MR. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: I welcome this opportunity to share a few thoughts, some of them mine, but I should be very candid with the minister opposite, knowing that many of these questions, points of view and opinions are the result of ongoing consultation with people that I had the pleasure to work with; even young people who I had the pleasure of teaching because I do know that this has been an emotional topic for all of us and it is a roller coaster that I think we should look at with some specifics.
I welcome the new deputy minister from New Brunswick. I am sure with a last name like mine, he realizes that we have mutual connections in the Picture Province. Aside from that, I have some specifics. I would like to begin by dealing with an issue that I have brought up in past comments and that is textbooks. I think members opposite are aware of the fact that as a school administrator and a classroom teacher, it is bread and butter issues that I am concerned about.
All rhetoric aside and pink slips and photo ops and those various other things, I am aware of the fact that in many classrooms - and I notice some young people here today - throughout this province, there are not enough textbooks. Then, of course, the teachers are put in positions and I think members present should be aware of this, that on many occasions about the first week in May, we run out of the photocopying budget, we run out of paper. Because we have gone in, and particularly in a subject such as math, we have photocopied our little hearts out because we are putting together a particular stimulating work for students that maybe quite aren't up to scratch and some other students in math who perhaps need extra help.
So, Mr. Chairman, we have situations with textbooks throughout this province that are real crucial issues and I am aware of the fact that as I look at the budget estimates and if I could draw the minister's attention to the Supplementary Detail, and I am referring to Page 7.10, I am looking at the Nova Scotia School Book Bureau budget. I realize that there have to be some tough decisions made, but it does concern me from what I see on that page, that is Page 7.10, that we are looking at a sizable reduction.
Madam Minister, Page 7.10 says to me that the Nova Scotia School Book Bureau has suffered a major cut. Considering the fact, when it comes down to textbooks and the fact of what textbooks are about, how important they are - I will come back to the subject of math - and knowing what a good textbook costs these days, I am concerned about the fact of the reduction in that particular line item. I am wondering if you could respond to that? What do you see as the future role of the Nova Scotia School Book Bureau in your department?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Education.
HON. JANE PURVES: The reductions in the Nova Scotia School Book Bureau are actually some staff reductions. The line item for textbooks is actually on Page 7.11 and it is called Credit Allocation and Costs and it remains the same - $7.6 million. I agree with the member about textbooks. I understand that there are some teaching methods that discourage the use of texts and that may be all very well, but students need books and that item in the budget has stayed the same.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I was going to come to that item on Page 7.11, but I am interested in the quality of service from the Nova Scotia School Book Bureau. Having had the responsibilities in the past of determining what textbooks are ordered for the upcoming school year, usually a time delay of - in some cases, with the good service that I have had in recent years - a month and then those textbooks would be made available to you so that you could be bringing, particularly if you were looking at a new topic, to the attention of your staff sometime during the summer that those textbooks had arrived.
With those cuts in staff, do you see that there could be further delays in meeting the orders that are placed for textbooks. I know when they go in and I know when the books arrive, sometimes it can be tight. Sometimes you could be in September and the boxes of books are arriving and you are jealously guarding them because of the fact that you want them to be with the right teacher in the right class. Or, let me put it so that students would make it the right class set so that it is in the hands of a teacher who is going to take care of them. So, with that cut in staff, do you foresee that there will be an even greater time lag of getting these textbooks into the hands of the young people in our classes?
MISS PURVES: I don't anticipate many delays. Obviously, we will have to monitor that very carefully. I do know that there were some fewer sales last year than there had been in previous years. I also anticipate that with the slowdown in introducing new courses into the schools, that there will be perhaps less hectic need for the books. Obviously, the textbooks have to be in the hands of the students for them to do any good and we will monitor that situation.
MR. ESTABROOKS: From the reaction the other day in this House, on Friday, when the member for beautiful Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley had his 15 minute intervention which we look forward to so much, I can assure you - obviously, some members of the teaching profession have been following Hansard rather carefully, because I was asked if I could bring this to your attention this week when I had the chance to speak with you here.
During his comments, the member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, on Page 4336, and I have it here specifically, he begins to speak on Thursday, that reductions at the Department of Education level all seconded staff. Then he informs us, "Did you know there are between 30 and 40 teachers who have been seconded by the Department of Education for things like junior high and senior high networking, science, language arts."
Well, yes I am aware of that, okay? The credibility that your department has, minister, with practising classroom teachers, is the fact that your department has, and hopefully will continue to second teachers from the classroom who have the expertise, who have the hands-on experience, who are aware of some of the current demands in the classroom and that these teachers in the past have been seconded to your department. I am wondering if you can comment? The last thing I need is the member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley commenting further on this sort of stuff, but he says that he was quoting a 28 year veteran teacher from Musquodoboit Rural High School who had called him about this and said that was one of the types of things that your department should consider, i.e., not seconding these teachers anymore.
Now, minister, all humility aside when it comes to the member for the beautiful Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, I must say, he is wrong and I know the value of those people, or I assume that they have value in your department, in my opinion they have value, and I am wondering if you could comment on whether your department will continue this
program of bringing in new blood, if I could use that expression. The last thing that teachers want more of is - and I hope you are not offended by this - the ivory tower in the Trade Mart that has a true arm's-length approach to classrooms because many of your staff, Madam Minister, haven't been in a classroom in a dog's age, whatever that expression means.
I would like you to comment and clarify for teachers the importance of bringing staff in from classrooms throughout the province in the current way you are doing it through seconding and that you plan to continue this?
MISS PURVES: We obviously have to continue secondments. They are a good idea. We will be ending roughly 13 this year as part of our budget, but that is not an end to the practice. We have used secondments to bring people into the ivory tower. It doesn't feel much like an ivory tower over there though. It feels more like a bunker, but the practice will continue. We have used them in the past; for example, during school construction, people were seconded from Public Works over to Education and we used them to bring in expertise from the system that we may not have ourselves. Obviously, we have to continue that, otherwise the department will become much too isolated from the real world.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you, Madam Minister. I know that many times we tend to disagree on some things, but I would like to be on record with the fact that this is something which should be continued in your department, the specifics of that perhaps we can address another day.
If I may, I would like to go to the Supplementary Detail, Page 7.5. under Testing and Evaluation under the policy heading for this particular year, as opposed to what was in past years, there is a reduction to Testing and Evaluation. I am sure the minister is aware of some of the pressures that are on teachers. I look particularly at examples of teachers at the Grade 12 level. If we want to talk about ivory towers we can go to Dalhousie or Mount Allison just to be fair, and those university professors who look down their noses and, in more ways than one, point fingers at high school teachers who have not done their job. What are they teaching them in the public schools? Are you teaching them anything? They can't do this and they can't do that, and we go on at length, and of course, you have the problems in the first year in university, those big classes that the minister refers to, but let's not go there.
Let's look at the fact that, I assume that Testing and Evaluation continues to be an important role for your department, and I am aware of the fact, achievements tests aside - and I know probably there are some young people in the gallery who shake their heads about those achievement tests and say, oh, what a yawn that is - but I do know that when it comes to testing and evaluation, when it comes to evaluating, and this is what they are used for, and I might be chastised for this, but I do know that in some situations, particularly when they end up in the press, you end up comparing one school to another based upon achievement tests. Right or wrong, I do know having been in that situation, administrators do look at it and say,
well, we have a strength in language arts, have to come to math, of course, and we have a weakness in one particular area of math or other.
Now, Evaluation and Testing must continue to play an important role in your department. Yet I see it reduced. I am wondering if you could explain that. Is it a staff cut, because it is continuous? If it is going to continue to be credible when it comes to preparing young people for the job market or young people for universities, then that is something I think many teachers are concerned about. I want to address this for a moment if I may. I would be intrigued if I knew what the percentage was across the province. I know what it is at the high school where my young women had the opportunity to attend. High schools are not necessarily just preparing their graduates to go to university. In so many ways there are young people going to university who haven't the slightest idea of what they are about, but because their friends are going there or, as my daughter would say, the old man can afford it, off they go to that first year of learning - what do they say - to discover themselves, they have to find themselves. How ironic, I grew up in Sackville, New Brunswick, and my daughter had to go back to Sackville, New Brunswick, to find herself. It cost me $10,000, and she got a great education after four years.
Madam Minister, there are many young people, in my view, when it comes to that university placement, when it comes to the fact they are under the impression they are going to leave high school and they are going to be a dentist, that's it, the lights are on, the dollar signs are in their eyes, and they are dentistry-bound because they got 96.8 as their average in science-math or 441. But there has to be the testing to evaluate what the student from this high school gets in 441 as opposed to that high school grad, from whatever school, gets in 441.
Of course, I got off the topic, and I said this was an emotional-type topic for me, but I wanted to bring that to your attention.
Can you explain to me then, we have a reduction in Testing and Evaluation, and hopefully, it is about achievement tests, is it?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, what we have done here in Testing and Evaluation is we have left the Grade 12 testing the same, untouched, but what we have done is make the math and language arts assessments in junior high every two years instead of every year, so that one year we will do the math and language arts in Grade 6 and the next year in Grade 9. Actually, we approached the majority of the Education budget not in a way of trying to take a lot of programs away. We were trying to see where we could achieve savings without detrimental effects. We felt that the assessments in Grades 6 and 9 could be done every two years without harming the students. So that is the plan. That is about $183,000.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect, you have just over 10 minutes remaining.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Time flies when you are having fun, right. If I can just pursue that junior high decision. I made a few notes as you were speaking. I assume every other year math is going to be tested, is that correct, math one year, language arts the next? A point of clarification there, Mr. Chairman.
MISS PURVES: It will be Grade 6 one year and Grade 9 the next. So they would be tested in both language arts and math one year, and then Grade 9 would be the next year, for both subjects. It really becomes more of a systems test than a test for individuals, to make sure that the students overall, their learning is up to par.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you for that clarification. I don't necessarily agree, but I thank you for the clarification. I would like to turn to an issue we have talked about earlier. It is a topic that truly concerns me, and that is access to our schools. I don't want to necessarily look at P3 schools in this. The minister should be aware of the fact that so many of our schools are locked tight on the weekends, March Break, I know you have heard me go on about this. I am not for year-round education, let's not go there, but in many of our communities, our small communities, the school has to be much more of a focal point. I don't know if members in other parts of the province have to put up with this.
The first year and one-half of my teaching career I worked at Dorchester Penitentiary. They let me out on weekends, incidentally. I had fewer keys on my key ring at Dorchester Penitentiary then I have to have to get into my local, so-called community school. We don't have that access to our schools in the system where I worked. I think this is something that has to be addressed by your staff, and I know the department knows in terms of the community school people, whether it is the regional board here or other parts of the province, but it seems to be almost silly if on a Sunday, a church group that wants to use the school can't just be given the keys. We are talking about a church. We are not talking about an old-timers hockey team having a meeting or anything, we are talking about a church. On Sundays they cannot get to use that school unless there is a member of the custodial staff present. That is at a very local level.
That is the sort of issue that people in the rural areas I represent are saying. Getting into the school is like trying to get into jail. I am sure they would let you in, but they would never let you out. My concern comes down to this, is this not an issue that your staff can take some leadership on, particularly when it comes to dealing with regional school boards such as the one I worked for, and the opportunity to allow people to have greater access to our buildings? As we well know, they cost big bucks.
Now that I am on a roll, Mr. Chairman, the toughest day in the school system, minister, is the Monday after March Break - and I see my colleague, the MLA for Inverness nodding approval - when the kids come back, because dad has had the opportunity to take them skiing or wherever they have gone and you get the other little guy or girl who hasn't been anywhere. What they have done is they sat home and watched television, or they hung
out at the Green Gables. The point is, it is over March Break that our schools should be hopping in the computer room, the gymnasium. The classroom part, we really won't do anything with that over March Break, but I would like to put on the record and for your officials, second some teacher to look at it. I have all kinds of ones who have suggested to do it.
Community use of schools, it isn't happening in the Halifax Regional School Board. I don't know about other members whether it is a problem or not, but I do know it is a problem here, and I would like if you could respond to that please.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I am aware of the member's concern, and I share it. I know there are certain policies in place, and they are actually very reasonable, but sometimes they cause a lot of problems. In one of my other hats, at Sport and Rec, particularly the sport and recreation officials are doing an investigation and a report on community use of schools because it is very important for sports and recreation groups, as well as churches, to be able to use the schools. The biggest difficulty we have overall is not that we don't have a reasonable policy, it is that society has become so litigious. It is a fact that all groups using schools are required to carry liability insurance in case anything happens to any person on school property. Some groups find this onerous and don't really understand why it must be so, but this is a policy approved by and maintained by the School Boards Association. If someone, for whatever reason, should be hurt, whether they slip or whatever, the school is responsible for that.
It happens sometimes in some of the newer schools the private developer gets the blame for requiring this insurance, because groups find it so onerous; in point of fact they are merely obeying the rules that all other groups are supposed to be obeying as well. While I appreciate what the member opposite is saying about the schools being locked and people not being able to get in, it is a fact of life that groups have to be insured because our school boards, our education system in general, cannot leave itself open to any liability that may be incurred, and it could be great should an accident happen in a school.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect, you have just under two minutes.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Under the Supplement to Public Accounts, Page 57. I see - and it is a dollar and cent world we live in - under Oliver's Coffee, there is $37,000. Wow, that was a java hit for sure. I want to point out that when it comes to such things as $37,000 over the run of a year being spent by one department on coffee, and this is on Page 57, I look at the fact that - this is where the emotional part takes over - a young teacher doesn't make $37,000 a year. I know in the offices where I work, the day of free coffee is over; you put your loonie in there and you pay for your coffee. That $37,000 is one sort of expense, along with another expense on that page somewhere, the Flower Cart, where there was $6,988
spent on flowers, and Madam Minister, with the few moments I have left I would suggest there is a lot better way to spend our money than to buy $37,000 worth of coffee.
I would like to draw your attention to the Markers Fees on the same page. Markers Fees, where there is $116,000 spent. I assume those are for correspondence courses and for achievement tests or however else they are done. We are cutting back on some things, but something such as $37,000 worth of coffee through your department, in my opinion, is out of line.
Mr. Chairman, my time is up and my editorial is over.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Clare.
MR. WAYNE GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I would like to begin today to talk about the Canada Health and Social Transfers to the province. In the last federal budget on February 28th - and I will just provide the minister with a copy - the federal government announced the transfer of a further $2.5 billion to the provinces to use over four years for post-secondary education and health care. My question to the minister is, could she inform the committee how much extra funding for post-secondary education will Nova Scotia receive over the next four years?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I believe more properly the Minister of Finance could give a better answer to the question, but the answer I will give is that it is my understanding that the CHST transfer goes into general revenues and is used as the Minister of Finance directs and officials direct, so I cannot say what proportion of that is actually directed at post-secondary education. We spend money, obviously, on post-secondary education, and it comes out of the province's general revenues, but this was not a pie that so much was handed off to health and so much was handed off to post-secondary education.
MR. GAUDET: Just to clarify, the funding that basically is provided by the federal government with the CHST transfers, it is entirely up to the province to decide how much will be spent in health and how much will be spent for education? Is that correct?
MISS PURVES: That is the . . .
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, so, assuming that this is correct, that the federal transfer payment that comes to Nova Scotia is left to the Minister of Finance to decide, how much of this funding will actually be provided to health care and how much will be provided to education is strictly left to the Minister of Finance to decide. If that is the answer to the question, I guess we are going to have to wait down the road.
Based on the current financial situation, could the minister indicate to the committee how much federal funding Nova Scotia is receiving now for post-secondary education? Could the minister indicate to the committee how much money is actually being spent on post-secondary education?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, as I said, the money goes into general revenues and then the province provides money to post-secondary education out of those general revenues, so I cannot answer the question of how much specifically is federal and how much is provincial.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I find it very strange that federal funding is actually transferred to Nova Scotia to help with the health costs, and to help with post-secondary education, and the fact we know exactly how much money is being transferred to Nova Scotia from Ottawa but we have no record to show how much of this funding actually goes to one department or the other. I find that very strange; maybe that is how the system works. If the minister is basically indicating that ultimately our provincial Minister of Finance determines how much funding will actually go toward post-secondary education in Nova Scotia, maybe I would encourage all of our post-secondary institutions following this debate to put a request in to this government to find out exactly how much money is coming forward and exactly where this money is being spent.
Another question I had was, could the minister explain technically how this transfer payment funding is actually being spent? If the minister is saying that, technically, whatever Nova Scotia receives goes into the general account of the province, it is practically impossible to know actually how much money is directed toward post-secondary education. I am just curious whether the minister could confirm if there are records in her department that show how much of this federal funding is actually spent toward post-secondary education in Nova Scotia.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I will get my officials to look into that to see what we can find, but I would like to restate that the policy of this funding going into general revenues and then being redistributed to various government departments, to the best of my knowledge, is precisely the same system that operated under the previous government and we continue to operate it that way. The federal funding goes to post-secondary education and health care, it is a health and social transfer but, as the former minister knows, as much as it seems to be, it is a huge amount less than what it used to be, and both departments and the province in general is suffering because of that.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I am not blaming the Minister of Education for the system that was set up in the past. I think the obvious question that comes to mind is, is there any federal funding that Nova Scotia is receiving actually being spent on post-secondary
education in Nova Scotia? I don't know, so I was just asking if there is a better accounting system we can introduce. I know the Minister of Finance has brought forward new accounting procedures for the government and I anticipate that maybe at some point in time we could clarify where the federal funding is actually being spent.
To the minister, I am going to the Supplementary Detail, Page 8.2, Grants to Universities, and I am looking at the operating budget for universities. Technically we are looking at a $4 million increase this year. Well, there are two sides to that, because universities were told three years ago they would be receiving $24 million over a three year span. Of course universities were planning on receiving $8 million this year, however that $8 million transferred to $4 million, so technically universities are being cut by $4 million this year.
I remember when that agreement took place with the universities three years ago, and there was an understanding that universities would certainly try to keep tuition fees down as far as possible, rather than increasing them. My question to the minister is, the fact universities were expecting $8 million in this year's budget, but in reality only received $4 million, can post-secondary students expect a substantial increase in tuition fees this year?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, again, it is up to the universities and not the Department of Education to set the fees. One of the reasons we did give the universities half of that $8 million commitment was to attempt to keep tuition increases to an absolute minimum. I am not certain precisely what the universities were expecting as a result of this budget. I think they were expecting perhaps to get none of that increase, but our hope and intention is that the universities, with that $4 million, will be able to keep those tuition increases to a minimum. Certainly the policy of the previous government of increasing the funding with that same hope appeared to have worked, even though we do have the highest university tuitions in the country. Last year the rate of increase in tuition was the lowest and that was a very good thing for the students attending university here.
We sincerely hope and the intention was - we have had good discussions with the universities, ultimately the decision is theirs - that by giving them some of this money they would keep those increases to a minimum, the way they had attempted to in the previous years.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, on that same page, under Capital Grants, last year there was $4.8 million spent, and in this year's budget we are looking at actually the same amount, $4.8 million. Looking at 1999-2000, $4.8 million was budgeted for Grants to Universities; that is the same amount that is budgeted this year. As the minister knows, universities' infrastructure needs some serious attention and additional funding in order to keep up with the maintenance of many of these buildings on different campuses, and I am glad to see the minister has not cut or reduced the amount allocated for universities to help them
with the infrastructure. My question to the minister is, could she provide this committee a list of what projects universities will be undertaking in this current year?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, it is actually a very short list. About $900,000 will be going to Dalhousie University, towards their Arts and Science Building, and the remainder was promised in the past, and that commitment will be honoured, to help St. F.X. with a project they are doing there.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I want to go back to Page 7.6, the Acadian and French Language Services. The minister has gone from an expenditure for 1999-2000 of $392,000 to a recovery in year 2000-01 of roughly $220,000. So, technically, we are looking at a net difference of $612,000. Is that correct?
MISS PURVES: Yes, Mr. Chairman, that is correct.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, earlier we were talking about transfer payments to Nova Scotia for post-secondary education. I know under Heritage Canada, Nova Scotia receives federal funding for public French education. Could the minister indicate to the committee how much federal funding Nova Scotia receives for French first language and French second language?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I will have to get back to the member with that information. We don't have it broken out by French first and French second language programs, but certainly the bulk of the Heritage Canada funding goes for French first language programs.
MR. GAUDET: I certainly thank the minister for acknowledging that she will provide us with the information on a future day. Am I to understand that the funding that is received from Heritage Canada is strictly for French first language?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the funding is for both, but the largest proportion is for first language programs.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I am looking at the line entitled Recoveries. I am looking at the estimate for 1998-99 that was a recovery of $3.788 million; I am looking at the estimate for 1999-2000, a recover of $2.014 million; and I am looking at the recovery for this year of $1.645 million. Could the minister indicate why the difference in these three different years?
MISS PURVES: Why? Mr. Chairman, the 1999-2000 forecast, the large amount there, the $3 million, was because of the large project in Dartmouth, the Carrefour. Grants we expect to receive this year are infrastructure at $900,000, supplementary funding $725,000, and an additional amount of $20,000.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, so the minister is saying for this year we anticipate to receive three separate amounts: one for $900,000, one for $725,000, and one for $20,000. Could the minister indicate what that funding will be used for?
MISS PURVES: Essentially, Mr. Chairman, the funding is the means by which we actually have this division in the department. Acadian and French Language Services is largely funded by the federal government. It is obviously an area where, as an officially bilingual country, the federal government can provide funding in the education system. Those monies are provided by the federal government to help us service French language programs.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, looking at the section on Acadian and French Language Services - I am looking at last year - under Executive Director, a budget of $310,000, and this year that budget has been reduced to $206,000. Could the minister indicate where the cut has been made?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, these are administrative savings in terms of perhaps consultants, telephones, contracts. It is not a position. It is strictly administrative saving, expenditures that we have judged we don't need to make in the coming year.
MR. GAUDET: Am I correct to say, Madam Minister that no one will be losing their jobs within the Executive Director's budget, that this cut will only affect special contracts that people were receiving to provide probably some expertise to these sections? Is that correct?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, yes that is essentially correct. It is not true that there would not be any job losses anywhere in the whole section or the whole area, but in terms of the line item that the honourable member was referring to, those are administrative expenses.
MR. GAUDET: I understand that. Madam Minister, moving down to the next budget item, under Administration-French Curriculum. Technically we are looking at just a shortfall of $14,000. Then the following section, Support Services has gone from $914,000 to $849,00 so we are losing about $65,000. I know there were a number of teachers on secondments working in the French section, providing assistance and resources to French education across the province, so I am just curious, where would I find these individuals? Are their salaries budgeted under these two budget items, under Administration-French Curriculum and Support Services?
MISS PURVES: Most of the job reductions will be in curriculum consultant and support services; in this particular area this will mostly be actually services to anglophone schools.
MR. GAUDET: Could the minister indicate how many people will actually be cut from providing services to French schools across the province? How many of her staff are going to be let go?
MISS PURVES: I would be glad to provide that information. A number of these positions are actually secondments, so they may or may not translate into job losses. But I would be glad to get that information to the honourable member.
MR. GAUDET: If I recall correctly, and I just want to remind the minister that last year when we went through the same exercise, on many occasions the minister had indicated to the committee - not just to myself, I know to my colleague for Richmond at the same time - that she would certainly undertake to provide us with some information that she did not have at that time. I certainly appreciated that; I didn't expect the minister to have all this information at the tip of her fingers. Yet, since last year's budget exercise, my colleague, the member for Richmond, and I, are still waiting. We haven't received anything yet, so I would encourage the minister with the undertaking that she is making here today, hoping that someone within her department will be able to do some follow-up on her last year's request, and I would appreciate receiving information in regard to this year's budget, and I certainly will hold the minister accountable.
I find it kind of strange, the minister is indicating she will provide us with a list of those individuals who are presently on secondment, who are working within the French Acadian section of the department who will be returning, working with their school boards for September. When I am looking at the current cut within those two areas, Administration-French Curriculum and Support Services, where she indicated support services would be mainly for the English students. I am just roughly looking at maybe a $75,000 cut overall. There has to be more funding somewhere if all the individuals who are now being talked about, losing their jobs within that section, and I just want a confirmation from the minister, is she saying that the individuals who are currently working in the French section on secondments or otherwise who will be losing their jobs, their funding is coming from this budget line?
MISS PURVES: Some is from this budget line; there is another budget line in School Governance where there are consulting and staff positions as well. The information I have is that the Support Services changes are towards the anglophone schools.
I would like to take this opportunity to tell the honourable member that the information he asked for in the last estimates debate is ready. I believe every request was accommodated except for two and that is ready and I will supply it to him, and I will endeavour to make sure the staff is much quicker this time around in supplying that information.
MR. GAUDET: To the minister, I appreciate her undertaking to provide us with the information she indicated earlier when we went through the last budget exercise, so I certainly thank her for keeping up to her commitment to provide us with the information we have requested, and I am looking forward to receiving that.
Again, under the same section, Task Forces, we had roughly $11,000 last year and $11,000 this year; technically this $11,000 for Task Forces. Could the minister indicate to us what exactly is meant by Task Forces under this Acadian and French Language Services?
MISS PURVES: No, Mr. Chairman, I do not know the answer to that question. I do not know which task forces are referred to and I will get that information quickly.
MR. GAUDET: Moving down to School Governance. We have gone from $950,000 last year and I am looking at the forecast for 1999-2000, and $2.222 million was spent. I am looking at the year 2000-01, and we see $151,000 is budgeted, so technically $800,000 has been cut. I am curious - when I am looking at the 1999-2000, the fact that they went over budget, is the minister ready to accept an over-budget on this budget item?
MISS PURVES: Yes, this again is the Carrefour, the recovery is shown below and that was a one-time project. It is true, that line item, the money has been reduced for that. That is curriculum consultants, a delay in implementing curriculum change. There are some staff positions there. The same slowdown in curriculum implementation that we are going to be doing in English programs, we are doing, to some extent, in French programs as well.
MR. GAUDET: The minister indicated earlier that she would be providing us with a list of the individuals who will be let go, released, or laid off from within the Acadian and French Language Services branch of her department. I hope that information will be forthcoming very soon.
Again, looking at the recovery for this current year, $1.6 million. Could the minister indicate, is this the maximum amount that Nova Scotia is receiving from Heritage Canada in order to support French education in Nova Scotia? Is that the total amount that Nova Scotia is receiving?
MISS PURVES: That is not the total we receive from Heritage Canada for French language education. We also receive another nearly $3 million in what are called French Language Grants and we are actually negotiating with Heritage Canada now. These estimates are conservative. We are negotiating with them now to see in what ways we may be able to increase these grants, but we have been told that we may be entitled to more and we are going to be trying to go after that.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, could the minister indicate to us how much provincial funding is spent on French education in Nova Scotia? I don't see it anywhere. Maybe it is on Page 7.11 Public Education Funding to school boards. My question to the minister, can she indicate to us how many provincial dollars are actually spent on French education in Nova Scotia, provincial funding?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, it is about $23.5 million. The bulk of the money provided to the CSAP is provincial funding. There is no municipal contribution there as the member knows.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, so the CSAP is being provided with $23 million roughly. My next question is, how much provincial funding is actually spent on French post-secondary education for the Univèrsité Sainte-Anne?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, again I will have to get back to the honourable member. The funding for the Univèrsité of Sainte-Anne is within the $196,000 envelope that goes to the universities, so I don't actually have the breakout on each university. I will get that.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister. Could the minister indicate how much provincial funding is actually spent on the Collège de l'Acadie? If she doesn't have that information with her today, I certainly understand, and would welcome to get that information as soon as possible.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, for the Collège de l'Acadie I actually do have that figure. We have the Community College as there is only English and French, it is about $2.2 million to the college.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, moving to Page 7.12, I am looking at the French Language Grants. The minister earlier indicated that on top of the $1.6 million that is being recovered by the federal government, an additional $3 million is being spent. I am looking at the French Language Grants for 1999-2000, $2.8 million and I am looking at 2000-01 and $2.5 million. Could the minister indicate if these are provincial dollars or federal dollars or a combination of both?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, that would be a combination of both federal and provincial funding.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, maybe the minister could indicate, if she has those numbers with her today, how much actually is federal funding and how much actually is provincial funding for French Language Grants. The next part to that question would be exactly who is receiving this funding?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, there are projects for French first language and French second language; there are summer camps and student bursaries. Again, there are textbook allocation in there, and grants to schools boards, and not much but a small amount of private school funding.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I had indicated to the minister if she could indicate to us how much from the $2.5 million that is being estimate for this year, what percentage of federal funding and what percentage of provincial funding does that include?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, all that we spend in this area and more, we actually recover from the federal government.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I was not really interested in that answer, Madam Minister. The fact that we probably get more from the federal government than actually what is being spent, there should be a surplus. Could the minister provide me with the actual percentage of how much money is actually being spent by the federal government on French education in Nova Scotia and how much is being spent by the province in support of French education? Maybe when she provides me with some of the information I am requesting, she could indicate that at that time.
Mr. Chairman, I want to go back to Page 7.6 on Training and Financial Assistance. Could the minister indicate to us technically what this budget funding is for?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, this whole area of Training and Financial Assistance is Adult Learning, Rehabilitation Training, Apprenticeship Training and Student Assistance in terms of the loan remission program.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I am looking at the funding for Rehabilitation Training. Last year we had $1.9 million budgeted, the same amount we have for this year. I see that the department actually spent $2.7 million in Rehabilitation Training. My question to the minister, looking at, especially what took place last year, in this year's budget, if an increase is requested in order to meet the Rehabilitation Training, is the minister prepared to allocate some additional funding in order to meet the commitments or the needs for this given year?
MISS PURVES: Yes, Mr. Chairman, I believe that was an overestimation of an accounts receivable from the previous year. It was wrongly estimated, and it was a one-time occurrence. It is not an ongoing program that we are underbudgeting on.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I hope I understood the minister. There was a little bit of noise on this side. Did the minister indicate this was a one-time opportunity where there was actually an increase, and she doesn't expect that increase to repeat itself in this current year?
MISS PURVES: That's right. The amount around $800,000 in there was because we had to write off a receivable.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, under the next budget item, Adult Learning and Innovation, we are seeing a decrease of roughly $400,000. So much for lifelong learning. Could the minister indicate to us why the $400,000 cut?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I think this came up the last time as well. It was the final year for a program with the feds called NS Links. That program has ended. There are also some discretionary grants that we will no longer be awarding. We do have other areas, and we are starting a new adult literacy initiative, but that one cost-share program is the bulk of the cut.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, moving to Page 7.10 under Facilities Planning and Operations. Under the budget item for Administration, we had $223,000 budgeted last year, and this year we have roughly $26,000. So we are looking at close to a $200,000 cut. Could the minister indicate to us what exactly is happening here?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, Facilities Planning and Operations is an area in the department that is taking a big hit. The entire administrative section there is being eliminated including the executive director position. For, no doubt good reasons at the time, this area of the department, because of the building of the P3 schools and the leasing, like Topsy it grew, and if we do indeed proceed with more schools along the P3 line, we expect the Finance Department will take charge of some areas. We are keeping a core staff in facilities planning so that we have an influence on how schools are being built, but essentially, this department is losing its size.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, so the minister is indicating that we no longer need an executive director looking after the Facilities and Planning Operations. We have several school projects underway in this current budget year, yet there is no one in the shop to supervise these projects. I guess there is no longer need for an executive director.
I did raise this in the House as the minister has pointed out on several occasions when the question was raised, that there are many communities throughout this province that are awaiting to hear from this government, to hear from this minister of Education. Last May, it will be a year next month, where the previous government had announced 16 much-needed schools to be built in communities throughout the province. Just last fall, the minister had approved one additional project, so technically there are 17 communities that are waiting to hear from this government whether or not they will be going forward and providing these new schools to these communities. But, at the same time, we are hearing here today that the executive director who is basically in charge of overlooking these new capital projects, no longer exists.
Could the minister indicate that her government's intention is still to deliver on these 17 new schools that these communities are awaiting and when does she anticipate her government will be ready to make some announcements? I know the member for Kings South
is certainly very much in favour of providing much-needed schools. I know he is being lobbied daily by the community for Central Kings. Could the minister indicate to us whether or not it is her government's intention to deliver on these 17 new schools that communities are waiting for, and when?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, it is our intention to deliver on these schools. As I mentioned last week, the decision on how we are going to build them has to be made very soon in time to take advantage of the spring construction season. I would like to repeat that there is a core in facilities planning that still will be working on school projects. There still is more than $0.5 million in there allocated to staff who know schools and know school construction and what is needed. They believe, and we are acting on that, that the Department of Education should not be the Department of Public Works, even though we should have influence on how schools are built and designed, whether we do it ourselves or through private partners. A lot of the construction will go back through Transportation and Public Works, and not feel that the concentration of resources in the Department of Education should not be so much on building as on educational programming.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, maybe the minister could clarify whether or not her department officials will be working side by side with Transportation and Public Works? Technically the whole branch is being torn apart. My question is whether or not her department officials will be working side by side with staff in Transportation and Public Works to make sure that these schools are actually being delivered, meeting the requirements of the specifications that are in those projects?
MISS PURVES: Yes, the people in facilities planning, and there still will be people there working with people in the Department of Public Works and with people in the Department of Finance.
MR. GAUDET: I want to go back to the minister, as I pointed out earlier, and she knows this because I have raised this on separate occasions during Question Period, 17 communities throughout Nova Scotia are waiting to hear from this government, from this minister when they can expect to hear when their schools are going to be built. I know from talking with people every week, I have received calls from many of these communities, they are asking me. Mr. Chairman, I may ask the minister a question for yourself as well because I am sure some of your constituents raised this with you. So maybe the minister could inform this House, inform the committee because I know that the 17 projects are spread all over the province, they are not just found in government-held ridings, they are pretty well scattered all over the province in different political ridings. So could the minister indicate to the committee when these communities can expect to hear some news, when are these schools going to go ahead?
From my information, I have heard, for the last year since August when this government took over, absolutely nothing. The file is still on the minister's desk, nothing has been done. These communities are waiting to hear and the only answer we are getting from the minister is a commitment we are going to build them. We are still waiting to find out when. Is it 20 years down the road or when a new government comes in place? Maybe the minister could inform this House when she anticipates to let these communities know when these projects will go forward?
MISS PURVES: I cannot give these communities a date now. I anticipate being able to give them dates within the next month. We do not intend to rush into the construction of schools without clearing up certain difficulties with some of the practices in the past. We have to clear those up: the site selection process has to be a bit different; the controls in place have to be a bit different; and the decision is not going to be solely one in the Department of Education, it has to be made with Education and Finance together about how we are going to finance these projects.
MR. GAUDET: I indicated to the minister several months ago that I certainly understood why she needed to review this whole P3 process, how her government should go about delivering these schools. But we still have schools on the books - the member for Kings South failed to indicate this when he raised this earlier in this House to talk about the P3 process - that were actually built by former administrations that have never been paid. So I think if we were fair at this, the interest that is being paid and charged daily on some of these projects that have been carried out over the years are still being reported on the financial books of the province.
Nova Scotians still have to pay for them, one way or the other. These schools have to be built, one way or the other, whether it is P3 or, if we go back, through capital construction as these schools were built in the past. If there is any other new innovative way of providing these schools, I certainly would welcome the government to come forward and help the Minister of Education by providing her with some details. I know that with the calls that I am getting and our caucus is receiving from these communities that are waiting to hear when these schools are going to be built, I can't even imagine what the minister is receiving on this very same issue. Again, I certainly would encourage the minister to lobby her Cabinet colleagues to simply provide answers to these communities that have been waiting for close to a year now; a year now that announcements were made and prior to that, communities were lobbying and hoping that someday government would be making some announcements and these schools are still not built yet. I understand my time is coming to a close, so with those few comments, I will take my place and I will resume at a future time. Thank you.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I will take the honourable member's comments under advisement.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax Fairview.
MS. EILEEN O'CONNELL: Mr. Chairman, I am not even sure where to begin with things in such a state. I think I will start with the obvious. I am going to start with the blurb at the beginning of the Education section of the Supplementary Detail.
I am just going to try to find out what it means a little bit before I proceed any further. The second last paragraph on Page 7.1 in the supplemental book, that is the paragraph that deals with overall funding, the drop in overall funding to school boards and the infamous loss of teachers by attrition. I want to focus on the other sentence in the second last paragraph and it says, "The department and school boards will work together to determine where new teachers should be placed in order to protect priority areas." That's Page 7.1 in the Supplementary Detail Book, Page 7.1, I gather you haven't located it. Have you located it?
The last sentence in the second last paragraph says, "The department and school Boards will work together to determine where new teachers should be placed in order to protect priority areas." I would really appreciate it if the minister would explain to me - perhaps I am just thick - what that sentence means in the context of this budget?
MISS PURVES: I apologize for the confusion here, totally on our part. Even though in general we feel the reductions that we want in the teaching force are moderate, we recognize that that doesn't necessarily help an individual school or an individual class where the situation is such that you have far too many children in a particular class. We wish to work with the school boards to alleviate pressure situations that don't conform to the average. That is because we do recognize that retirements/attrition do not occur equally in school boards, they don't occur equally in schools. Therefore, our intention is to work with the boards and help them in special situations where they can't find a way to fund a teacher or a position that they truly need.
MS. O'CONNELL: Mr. Chairman, I guess that means geographic areas, and you can correct me if I am wrong. But the problem I have with it is where new teachers should be placed. We have been having a lot of discussion and debate and some of it quite rancorous about this magic number of 400 and other numbers that have been stood against it in debate. My recollection was that the minister sees it very much as the board's job to decide where to place teachers. I want to know what the minister's role is in placing new teachers in priority areas?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, one of these priority areas, for example, we did mention in the budget and we have talked about it, is the elementary grades. That is an area that the department is especially interested in or seeing and protecting the most first. Because again, all things being equal, it is better to keep the numbers lower in elementary grades than
in other grades. I realize that situations are not always equal. There are many situations where they are not, but that again is a priority area that the department would like to see looked after first.
MS. O'CONNELL: Mr. Chairman, I take it from the minister's answer that priority areas are not geographic, but rather levels; in this case she named an elementary level. The minister made reference to average class sizes. What number is the minister working with as an average in order to determine whether something needs some attention because it is a priority area?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the averages, again, do not always tell the whole story, but the averages we have now are around 23 or 25 per class, and really it is slightly lower in elementary, but they are roughly all the same. There are a lot of classes less than that, there are a lot of classes more than that. Again, there are classes of 30 that are very manageable. There are classes of 30 that are not manageable, depending upon the composition of students in the class. That is a reality and the honourable member as a former teacher knows that. Depending on the special needs students that may be in the class or whatever the condition is, average doesn't always tell the story. We are not looking at adding more than one or two to a class on average.
MS. O'CONNELL: Mr. Chairman, well, that certainly clears everything up. We all know that there is also a dispute around the numbers and the numbers of people in each class, the appropriate numbers for each grade level. I don't think we agree with the government on that point either. My question would be, if elementary school is the priority, how big does the minister suggest that you let a class get before you split it, or redistribute its students to get it down to a reasonable size for learning?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, again, on average if we can protect Primary to Grade 6 without adding at that level, we would be looking at adding two students per class to other classes.
MS. O'CONNELL: Mr. Chairman, I assume that doesn't mean taking two Primaries and putting them in Grade 7. I am just going to assume that, because I still don't know what you do. My fundamental problem with this little blurb right now is that we have heard the minister in the House over and over again and we heard her today state that they have no intention of doing away with the boards - heard that today - that it is not the minister's job to lay off teachers. I want to try to see how this is going to work itself out in a climate where there just isn't enough money. Is the minister actually going to go in and micro-manage class sizes and the school board? I don't see how this is going to happen. Because if the boards come back and they say, well, we got 29 to 31 in every class, and we don't have enough money, is the minister then going to say, well we prefer you work with classes of 23 to 25, so fix it. Maybe the minister can enlighten me about that?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, we will be relying on the school boards to manage their class sizes as they have been doing. Our class sizes have been going down. I have no intention of trying to micro-manage school boards. What I am trying to do is to take the money we spend on education, starting in Primary and going on through secondary, and manage it, as the member opposite said, in a time of no money. This is not easy. Again, the school boards or some members of the school boards are certainly not happy the community college and universities got what they got in this budget. But as the honourable member for Clare pointed out, what happened to the universities was essentially a cut. What we are attempting to do in this budget is to share the pain and to try to be fair of all the sectors in the education system. I recognize that many people disagree with the decisions, but the motive is to try to, where we have the largest amount of money and we do have a declining number of students, somehow manage some reductions there.
MS. O'CONNELL: Mr. Chairman, I am just going to ask one more question related to this and then I think I will move on. But, I can't resist before I leave it, asking then about the Active Reader Program. The Active Reader Program and Reading Recovery are designated as programs to assist this priority elementary area. Now my recollection is, and I would stand corrected if the minister corrects me and because I wasn't going to go there yet I haven't looked, but my recollection is that the global book budget is down this year. My recollection is also that the minister has said that monies will be removed from, will be retargetted to elementary from junior and senior high as part of this focus on the early grades.
Mr. Chairman, I went last night, sadly, to a visitation upon the death of a lifelong member of our Party who died over the weekend. There were quite a few teachers who were there at Snow's Funeral Home and I spoke to a French teacher from Halifax West High School in my riding and she said, we are buying our own paper; if I want to send homework home, I can't send the books home because I don't have enough books and she said my only alternative then is to buy my own paper and to break copyright and Xerox the homework against the law on the school photocopier, otherwise my students have no homework. Now, I want to ask the minister if she has any real concept of the enormous difficulties that a cut budget redirected to another priority area will have on the junior and senior high schools and does she have any remedies for that?
MISS PURVES: I have a couple of comments to make in response to those comments and one is that the money for textbooks was not cut back this year, so that is one good thing. Also, the department pays roughly $400,000 or so per year to an organization called CANCOPY which means that even though we may not wish as much photocopying to go on as it does, that the teachers are now protected. The amount each province pays varies according to the number of teachers they have and the estimated amount of photocopying that goes on. So, teachers shouldn't have to be concerned about that photocopying, we do pay a fee each year to CANCOPY to provide for that. It is a kind of insurance.
I am aware of many difficulties in the classroom and of being a teacher. As you know, I was not a teacher but I have many friends who are teachers, both in this province and in other provinces. I know there are very many difficulties, but the difficulty our government has is, no, we don't have the money to make all that better. We haven't got an education investment fund, we have a lot of money that goes on the deficit and we plan to do something about that and I am not going to stand up here and say that I have all the answers and all the money for education, because we don't. But we do have a really good basic education system and that is going to stay in place.
MS. O'CONNELL: I would like to know then if the book budget is not down, where can I find this in the supplemental estimates? Is it under Learning Resources and Technology?
MISS PURVES: On Page 7.11, Credit Allocation and Costs and it is $7.612 million, the same as it was last year.
MS. O'CONNELL: So the credit allocation is the same as last year? I heard the minister answer the member for Clare but I didn't understand it. I see on the previous page that the funding for the book bureau is down substantially from $456,900 to $320,700. Could the minister explain what Credit Allocation and Costs means and what is the relationship between that and the book bureau?
MISS PURVES: I realize that credit allocation is a very strange name for textbooks. That is the amount of money that is actually spent on the textbooks, buying the textbooks and the book bureau is the warehouse operation from where the textbooks are stored and distributed and sold.
MS. O'CONNELL: That raises two questions. If the budget is the same under Credit Allocation and Costs and there is reallocation, then there will be fewer dollars for junior and senior high. That is my understanding based upon a focusing of priorities at the elementary level. There will be more books bought than previously for Primary to Grade 3 out of a pot that is the same size as it was in previous years. My question relates to the book bureau and whether that is administrative money, I see it has revenues, that the expenses exceed the revenues. Does the minister anticipate a lower use of the book bureau this year as well she might with the budget the way it is?
MISS PURVES: I am sorry, I just didn't hear the last sentence of the question.
MS. O'CONNELL: The last part wasn't very important. My question is, does the minister anticipate less use of the book bureau in the coming year? And if so, why?
MISS PURVES: The answer is no, we don't anticipate much less use of the book bureau with one or perhaps two exceptions. I should point out that we have consistently over estimated recoveries in this area and we are trying to get down to a little bit more realistic
level. Some of these recoveries come from private schools which can also take advantage of the book bureau and they pay in. The reduction in the amount of curriculum change over the next couple of years will probably affect the overall use of the book bureau to some degree. The pace won't be as frantic as it has been in the past couple of years and that should mean somewhat of a slowdown, but we are leaving money for books for students the same and so, in spite of somewhat of a slowdown, I expect the book bureau will still be very busy.
MS. O'CONNELL: I am going to move on and I want to do a very quick skip through the whole costs for the P3 schools. I don't want to spend a long time on it certainly, but I do want to just confirm some of the answers that may have come out before.
The blurb says, "At least 30 modern public schools will be opened in 2000-2001. . ." and it says 17 more are planned for construction and delivery. Anybody who has been around this House for more than five minutes knows that our Party doesn't necessarily subscribe to the position of the member for Clare, but I do want to know exactly how many schools are open right now, what ones have opened in the last, say, starting for September and up to now? How many have opened in this school year? What are they? Where are they? Then I want to ask a little bit about the costs.
MISS PURVES: I can get that information for the honourable member. I wouldn't want to leave any school out, which is why I don't want to list right now the schools that have opened since September. There are 33 P3 schools which have opened and are opening in the next year or are already under construction or have been constructed, but I will get that information for the honourable member.
MS. O'CONNELL: There is a P3 school in I believe it is Sydney Mines, that has been finished, completed for well over a month, it is my understanding; several months ago the teachers and students in other schools were told to pack up. That school is sitting empty. The students have not moved in and I am wondering whether the minister could tell us why?
MISS PURVES: I am sorry. I wonder if the honourable member could repeat the question.
MS. O'CONNELL: It is quite exciting over here in the Opposition. I just acquired some new information while I was resting on my chair. The Leader of the Liberal Party tells me that there is a situation in Ingonish as well. The question was, it is my understanding, I have been told, that there is a P3 school in Sydney Mines, at least two months ago, the teachers and students were told to pack up to get ready to move into this P3 school. At this moment, the P3 school is sitting empty, no students have moved into it and the Leader of the Liberal Party tells me there is a similar situation in Ingonish. My question is, why?
MISS PURVES: That appears to be a simple matter of construction running behind schedule. My latest information is that the school in Sydney Mines was to open this month. I can double-check on the status of the construction for the honourable member. (Interruption) Air quality had to checked.
MS. O'CONNELL: My information is that there is certainly no construction apparent there unless it is little green men, so if there is something going on there I would appreciate the minister letting us know because the general sense in the community is that it is sitting completed and empty.
I know that the P3 leases, or I think, my understanding is that the P3 leases which used to be carried in Education have now been moved to Finance. I presume that I can't ask the minister too much about something that has been moved over to Finance, except that it has only been moved over there just now. Presumably, the minister, who has been the minister for some time, has been dealing with this for some time. Schools have opened, P3 schools have opened since the last budget. Schools have opened in September and since as the minister has indicated, I would be very interested to know why under the costs of the P3 leases, the costs seem to be going down? As I said, it has been moved over to Finance, it is on Page 11.3, so I would be happy to ask the Minister of Finance that question, but if the minister has any enlightenment about the shrinking costs of the expanding numbers of P3 schools, I would be fascinated to hear it.
MISS PURVES: Actually, there were four leases that were moved to Finance because the Auditor General's assessment of the situation, those leases had to be capitalized, but actually under Public Education Funding on Page 7.11, we do have a line item called Public/Private Partnership and that includes leases for some of the newer schools. That has gone up from $8.8 million to $30-plus million so that is actually still there.
MS. O'CONNELL: My last question around the subject of P3 schools is this, I would very much like to know what is the increased price of the Horton lease this school year due to three months of double shifts at the new Horton High School?
MISS PURVES: The only difference in charges were extra maintenance charges for the other shift of students being in the school, so the school had to be cleaned more often. There were no extra lease costs to us for split-shifting in that school. Those costs were largely recovered in a sense that the routine maintenance at Central Kings didn't have to be done so that bill got switched over to Horton.
Obviously, there was a renovation bill for Central Kings and all the work we had to do there on the air quality and fixing up the school, but that was the only extra charge at Horton High School.
MS. O'CONNELL: I am leaving Page 7.1 and I am going to Page 7.2 of the blurb that is in the supplemental estimate. I don't know what the trades training was for UCCB. It is my understanding that we have a community college, is it Marconi Campus at UCCB? We have community campuses located in other areas of the province. The trades and training money for UCCB that was initiated last year and has been refused this year, they are not receiving it. I would very much like to know what it was for and how much it was? I have a recollection that it was $1.5 million, but I am not sure that is correct.
MISS PURVES: That trades training grant to UCCB was for a total of $4.5 million to be given to UCCB over three years. The last installment on that grant will not be given, that was one of the very few discretionary items that we had in our budget. We did give the grant last year, it had been budgeted in the June budget, we provided the grant and it was decided that the bulk of the grant having been given, that the university could do without the grant. I do have to say as well, as I have said during Question Period, that grant to UCCB was provided against the advice of the department and certainly the Council on Higher Education felt that UCCB was adequately funded according to the university funding formula that had been determined among the universities. That again, part three, we are not awarding to UCCB.
MS. O'CONNELL: I would sure like to know - it says trades training - what was the money being used for when it was being given to UCCB? Did it go to the Marconi Campus? What was done with it?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the money went directly to UCCB. Obviously with that title, it should have been used for the Marconi Campus. Again, the department does not manage the affairs of the university and I cannot say for sure that it was or was not used for the purpose for which it was intended. It was given to the university and they did with it what they felt they needed to do with it.
MS. O'CONNELL: Mr. Chairman, this is this left hand-right hand stuff that goes on all over the place here. I think what I just heard clarified, is the government gives itself brownie points for increasing the funding to community colleges by $2 million, but at the same time it takes $1.5 million from one site of the community college system. Now, whatever the wisdom of the money at that particular site, $2 million take away $1.5 million is $0.5 million. It sounds very much to me as if there is a lot of back-patting going around for money given to the community college when the government gives with one hand and takes away with the other and I just have a little bit of problem with this. If the money was given against the advice of the department or who knows, or whether it was used in a way that was satisfactory to the government, shouldn't that money have gone to the community college system anyway? It seems to me that there is a sleight of hand here that is not entirely straightforward.
I want to go on to special needs' funding. The minister and I have talked about special needs' students and the minister knows there is a tremendous cost to meeting the individual needs of children. As the member for Sackville-Cobequid pointed out when the Premier said that he had been in large classes in his day, that was in the days before Elvis was king and there were very different expectations in those days. In those days teaching and learning frequently consisted of sitting in your seat, absorbing what the teacher told you, taking down what the teacher told you to write down and going home to memorize it. Mr. Chairman, education, at least theoretically, has made magnificent, massive strides since those days.
In those days too, children who could not adapt to the curriculum and to the learning methods, as they were perceived to be valid then, simply disappeared from the school system. I am sure there is not a member in this House over 45 or 50 years old who cannot tell you the story about the 16 year old in their Grade 3 class who failed Grade 3 over and over again until finally, when he reached 16 years old, he departed from the system; I remember when that first girl dropped out of my class in Grade 6. So it was survival of the fittest, it was kind of Darwinian, it was elitist and those who could not survive the system, whether it was through reading difficulties or learning disabilities of one sort or another, or chaotic home lives, or whatever it might have been, students drifted off from school, and we all know of people that this happened to.
Much has intervened, including the Charter of Rights, and we have come to the recognition that not only do children learn differently and at different rates, but that many children have extremely gifted talents in some areas and none whatsoever in others. Part of broadening the curriculum has been to expand the range of opportunities for students. One of my favourites because I never liked physical education in school and was certainly not what you would call a kinaesthetic learner, I have seen in schools over and over again the kind of child who thinks and learns best when hopping from one foot to the other or running around the gym. There are people who learn through their fingertips and schools have finally come to some kind of understanding of the amazing diversity.
Part of that diversity is the difficulties children have with learning, whether it be a labelled learning difficulty such as dyslexia of one form or another, whether it be a developmental delay that creates a slower process and perhaps a lower ceiling, or whether it be any one of a number of needs, be they intellectual, academic challenges or otherwise, we have come to this recognition that school is for everybody.
What we have also realized over the course of the last 10 to 15 years is that when children's needs are met, it doesn't come cheap, it just doesn't come cheap. We know the cost of teaching assistants, we know the cost over the last number of years of having to improve building sites, whether they be to make them accessible for a wheelchair, for example. We know the absolute necessity of reducing class size to the point where the teacher can address at least some of the needs of some of the children some of the time, which I would consider a great feat of teaching, myself.
I really want to know - and I am not being facetious or anything else - how are we going to do all this on this money? I want to ask the minister as well, when we fail at it, which we are bound to do, is the minister prepared to revoke Section 26 of the Education Act so that teachers will not be suffering under the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly apprehension of not only have they failed in their duties but there is absolutely no way that they can achieve them?
I would be happy to ask the minister whether she thinks, with these nickels and dimes that are going to be wrung out and bled to the core, the 24 duties of teachers are reasonable? I ask that not because of the teachers, although it matters because they don't last if they can't ever succeed, but I ask it on behalf of the kids.
"It is the duty of a teacher in a public school to (a) respect the rights of students; (b) teach diligently the subjects and courses of study prescribed by the regulations that are assigned to the teacher by the school board; (c) implement teaching strategies that foster a positive learning environment aimed at helping students achieve learning outcomes;" That is the first three out of 24 and I am already feeling tired.
"It is the duty of a teacher in a public school to . . . (d) encourage students in the pursuit of learning; (e) monitor the effectiveness of the teaching strategies by analyzing outcomes achieved; (f) acknowledge and, to the extent reasonable, accommodate differences in learning styles;" It goes on and, Mr. Chairman, I would be most glad to challenge the minister with the rest of them, "(g) participate in individual-program planning and implement individual program plans, as required, for students with special needs;" - I have to tell you I have participated in this with decent support, with all kinds of richness of resources and it is extremely difficult - "(h) review regularly with students their learning expectations and progress;" - and I presume that doesn't mean, you didn't do your homework, stay in - "(i) conduct such assessments and evaluations as are necessary to document student progress;".
I don't know how many of you read the letter in The Daily News last week from a high school teacher who took her calculator out and calculated how many hours a week it would take her to do her work, if she allotted reasonable amounts of time. She allotted five minutes of marking time to high school English, she added all of the other numbers and she came up with classes of 40, 17 hour days, six days a week, or as she put it the more reasonable day of 15.5 hour days working seven days a week. With classes of 50 the number of hours required to do the duties of a teacher, as prescribed in the Education Act, came out to 240 hours a week.
To continue, "(j) administer such evaluation and assessment instruments as required by the school board or by the Minister; (k) take all reasonable steps necessary to create and maintain an orderly and safe learning environment; (l) maintain appropriate order and discipline in the school or room in the teacher's charge and report to the principal or other person in charge of the school the conduct of any student who is persistently defiant or
disobedient; (m) maintain an attitude of concern for the dignity and welfare of each student and encourage in each student an attitude of concern for the dignity and welfare of others and a respect for religion, morality, truth, justice, love of country, humanity, equality, industry, temperance and all other virtues - there is not a virtue left out here, Mr. Chairman - "(n) attend to the health, comfort and safety of students;". You did all this, didn't you? Absolutely.
It goes on for another whole page. I am not even going to read them, but I would be happy to circulate them; you can take one and pass the rest back as we say in high school. The last one is, "(x) perform such other duties as are prescribed by this Act or the regulations."
Now really, I have to ask the minister, under this budget would she be looking for a job like this that she cannot possibly succeed at, that will wear her to the bone and that will frustrate her when she knows what needs to be done for each individual student and is unable to do it because she barely has time to breathe? I want to ask the minister to comment on that.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I cannot speak for some of the ideals enshrined in the Education Act, I am sure I don't agree with everything in the Act. Whether or not that is an appropriate place to describe the idealized expectations of teachers, I am not sure and they are idealized expectations; that is an impossible job, of course. That being said, we all have goals in whatever job we do that we try to achieve and the fact that they are impossible, doesn't mean that we don't try to achieve them. Teachers have a very hard job, especially these days as compared to 20 years ago or 40 years ago, in terms of public expectation, in terms of the behaviour of many of the children; they have a very hard job. Most of them are very well paid. Most people I know who are working have very hard jobs and that is the way of the modern world. People's jobs seem to get tougher, not easier.
MS. O'CONNELL: Mr. Chairman, before I leave this particular issue I just want to comment that if these were our ideals and not the law in Nova Scotia, I wish somebody had told me years ago when we were tearing our hair and hearts out in the staff room about how we could possibly meet the legislated requirements put upon us. If all laws are ideals, I am going to go home and rethink some of my driving habits, among other things. I want to talk for a moment. Do I have a few minutes left, Mr. Chairman?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, the honourable member has approximately 10 minutes.
MS. O'CONNELL: I want to ask the minister about the Nova Scotia Council on Higher Education. The blurb that is given in the book states that it is having a change of mandate. I want to ask about that, but first I just want to get the staff questions straight. Under Funded Staff, the book says that the Nova Scotia Council on Higher Education will be cut from nine staff to three staff, if I am reading that right, that the reduction is six. The funded staff for the Nova Scotia Council on Higher Education for 1999-2000 was 9.0 and under the 2000-01 Estimate, it says 3.0.
I recall hearing the member for Clare ask how many staff were going to be left standing and I thought I heard two. I would like to ask the minister whether I misheard that and what is the right number?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I have three funded staff left for the Nova Scotia Council on Higher Education, according to the figures I have here.
MS. O'CONNELL: Mr. Chairman, more than half of the budget is gone, $499,000, but two-thirds of the staff is gone. Now I am going to make the assumption here that the higher-priced help is staying and the lower-priced help is going but I would want to know about that. I want to ask the minister, I noticed in the Public Accounts book, it is recorded that in 1998 the executive director - who is seconded, I believe, from Brock University where she was president - cost the Government of Nova Scotia $135,000. I presume that is salary and benefits. I would like to ask the minister first of all, is the executive director of the council staying? Does that continue to be the annual cost of the director? What other staff is staying at the council?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, yes, the executive director of the council will be staying, she has agreed to stay. She is a very valuable employee of the department and as the department reorganizes, she will be taking on additional duties, as well as her responsibilities for post-secondary education. Her job will change somewhat but she will be staying. She is very well-informed in areas of post-secondary education and a most valued employee. Yes, she is paid a very good salary, I think $135,000 would be the total - that is not salary but includes other things - and that is absolutely correct.
MS. O'CONNELL: Mr. Chairman, based on what the minister said just now, I must ask whether the Council on Higher Education is becoming the council on something else. If post-secondary education is going to have something else added to it, what would it be and also, is its policy-making mandate gone?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, no, and the member opposite asks a very important question. The policy mandate is not gone, it is there and one of the primary roles, obviously, of government is to be able to develop policy, not just answer telephones. The mandate will change somewhat to encompass the whole post-secondary area, as opposed to up until now it has mainly been the university area. We will very likely be adding student assistance to her mandate so that community colleges, universities, anything to do with post-secondary education will be under her purview.
MS. O'CONNELL: Mr. Chairman, it begs the question, if you give a department more responsibility and take away two-thirds of its staff, you have to scratch your head a bit about that. I am simply going to ask, I am assuming then that the director stays, the policy director stays and one support staff, is that correct?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, yes, that is the case and I would like to add we do have other people in the department who will be able to assist Dr. Clark in her mandate so she will not be entirely bereft of support staff; she will be able to use support staff currently employed in the department to help her. Obviously, we are trying to cut costs and keep central functions in the department and that is what we have tried to do here.
MS. O'CONNELL: Mr. Chairman, given that my time is nearly gone, I wanted to ask about Learning Resources and Technology at the Department of Education. When I look in the book on Page 7.5, I see under 1999-2000 Forecast, $5.837 million. When I look over to the right, on the estimate for this year, I see an increase of $1.8 million and change, it goes up to $7.686 million. Now I am a little puzzled by this because I thought that one of the groups that came down to this House to object to the cuts to their department was from Learning Resources and Technology up on Kempt Road; I thought I heard that in here.
I guess my question to the minister is, if they are getting a budget increase what could it be that they are upset about? Is there a cut to staff and yet an increase in the budget and if so, what is that increased budget for?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, yes, there have been considerable decreases in Learning Resources and Technology which the numbers don't show in total but there have been decreases, and the honourable member is quite right, some of the employees were here. We are eliminating a great deal in media production, video duplication licences, but there has been an increase in IEI funding; that is computers in schools. The last several years the federal government has been kicking in their contribution and this year the province is kicking in the bulk of its money to the computers-in-schools program, IEI. That is $3 million and that is where that money is, so that is why it shows an increase, because of that IEI money.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member's time has expired.
The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, my first question to the minister is with regard to the announced lay-offs at the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board today. Apparently, tomorrow some 160 permanent, probationary and term teachers will receive lay-off notices. If you take those numbers and add them to the number of lay-offs that are contemplated with the Halifax Regional School Board, you would certainly exceed the numbers the minister anticipated with regard to the 400 figure put forth. That does not even take into consideration the other regional school boards.
Quite simply, the question I have is, what action is the minister taking to deal with the problems that will arise should some 160 teaching positions be eliminated?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, obviously what we are seeing is a large number of lay-off notices going out and I would like to repeat that a lay-off notice does not necessarily represent a lay-off in the final analysis, as painful as it may be for people to receive those notices. That being said, the department is meeting again tomorrow with school board officials to discuss their numbers and our numbers and how we can come to an accommodation on some of those numbers. It is not just a matter of reductions that we asked for as a result of this budget, it is about some school boards with deficits - not Cape Breton I don't think, but some school boards have deficits - that have other pressures on the system aside from what we are asking them to do.
We very much need to discuss those and keep on discussing those; we don't expect a miracle meeting tomorrow but there is no necessity to lay off one-tenth of the teaching force in this province. That seems to be happening now because people are complying with rules and regulations, as they should, but talking is a very good place to start.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I guess the school board officials have spoken very loudly and clearly. They have issued lay-off notices and if a lay-off notice does not mean a lay-off, then I am a little bit perplexed. I do know the officials at the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board and they are very tough-minded, very fair-minded, and they are very good at managing the affairs of the educational domain within that particular region. In fact, I would even go to the point of suggesting it is perhaps one of the most efficiently managed boards in the province. There may be a little bias there on my behalf, but I think the figures will certainly support the position I have put forth. In terms of just the cost of administration alone, it is perhaps one of the lowest in the province; I think 1.8 per cent on a $112 million budget is pretty good considering they represent half of Cape Breton Island.
If a lay-off notice doesn't mean a lay-off notice, then the minister is suggesting further dialogue and discussion and perhaps if the school board is as efficiently run as I believe it is and the minister believes it is and there is no more money, they have to do something. Is the minister suggesting that perhaps if there is an inequity within one of the other jurisdictions that that money could be given a lateral transfer?
MISS PURVES: No, I don't think we will be taking from one to give to another. Most of the money the province gives out to the school board, the bulk of it, 86 per cent is on a per-student basis and then we have transportation on a per-bus basis and so on, so changes we make would have to be on a formula basis. That being said, within the remaining 6 per cent of the grants to school boards, certain accommodations have been made in the past and could still be made in the future.
In the past, governments have helped boards with their deficits, they have helped them with mortgages in some cases. We are definitely looking everywhere, as I have told the board chairs everywhere within the education envelope as a total, to see what we can do to perhaps help the boards. That is what the officials need to talk about in detail tomorrow and in days following.
MR. MACKINNON: The only possible avenue of trying to reallot dollars within that particular board, as I know it, would be to close schools, which would mean more in terms of busing and then there are side effects of that. Anyone within the educational system would certainly know that, particularly when you are travelling long distances. Some students now are on the bus upwards of 45 minutes to an hour because of the distance from their home to the point of destination, coupled with the stops that they have to make and so on, and it is very difficult. That, in my view, has led to some of the high drop-out rates in some of the rural communities, relative to the urban communities. That is quite a disadvantage for students in those communities.
If that is not a possibility because of the one year notice item that is a requirement by law, unless the law is going to be changed, the only other thing that I could possibly see would be - because the minister is suggesting that the lay-off notices don't necessarily mean lay-offs - perhaps a combination of that, a lesser number with some other issues. I can certainly respect where she is coming from there.
It has been noted that through the boards right across this province where individual teachers or administrators have retired, they have taken their pension package and then they come back on contract. Has there been any analysis within the Department of Education as to how many individuals or what dollar figure we are dealing with and the number of individuals that have retired and are now back working on a contract basis?
MISS PURVES: To the best of my knowledge, there is no such analysis in the department. It is possible that individual boards may have done that analysis, but I am still not aware that such a document or documents exist either at the department or at the board level. I could certainly check on that.
MR. MACKINNON: Perhaps I would suggest that is an issue that the Department of Education should seriously look at if they would like to look at ways to help the boards because, if I understand the minister and the department and the government in general, there is just no more new money from the provincial government on the table. Am I correct in that? That is correct. So, essentially it has to come from somewhere within these particular jurisdictions.
I guess the concern I have is that these types of issues have not generated a dialogue prior to now and the minister is now saying, okay, what we should do is forget about walking out on meetings, let's sit down and talk about it. Whether that document I tabled the other day
was of any value or wasn't, I don't know, but any information that I can provide to help the minister in helping to resolve an impasse, because what we want is to have the teachers in the class teaching the children. It is not a pleasant situation having them on the street and throwing apples and oranges and cake. I say cake because I know they mistook me for a Tory member the other day; maybe they thought I was hungry.
On a serious note, these are the types of issues I would have expected would have been discussed long before the minister came in and tabled her budget. Particularly with these funding review committees. I believe there is essentially a finance group from each individual board that meets with the provincial representatives to have some frank discussions back and forth on how to better serve the residents within their board, in particular the staffing levels, whether it be teaching, teachers' aides, bus drivers, cleaning staff, secretarial and indeed with the teachers. If I understand what the minister is saying, that has not materialized to date and now she is asking for that to take place. Am I correct on that?
MISS PURVES: There were meetings, as I said earlier, with a work group in December and at least one in the early winter, perhaps two. I know there was one in February for sure at which we tried to get everyone talking about savings and reductions and no one was too interested at the time. That being said, the reality that we have to deal with in the department is the no new money from outside. That is real and I am hoping that we can get back to the table and have some productive discussions beginning tomorrow.
MR. MACKINNON: I thank the minister for her response, but that is where I take issue, I don't agree. I guess I am speaking as someone somewhat representative of the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board. Never in my experience in public life or even before as a school trustee, have I ever witnessed the Cape Breton District School Board - now the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board - in a position where they would negate the opportunity to generate some savings or to become more efficient. I know the chief financial officer for that board and, quite frankly, I think he is probably one of the best in the province and I would match him against any financial officer in the province.
For the minister to suggest that the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board has not made any effort to want to find some savings, I would have to take issue. That having been said, and given the fact that the minister has answered the question on the 160 lay-offs, I believe it is still an unresolved issue and I guess that is something for a future day.
I wanted to shift the focus slightly to the P3 issue because the honourable member for Kings South raised the concern about P3 schools here this afternoon, in particular Horton High School. I want to draw to the minister's attention, back on December 8, 1999 [p.33], we had the then Acting Deputy Minister of Education before the Public Accounts Committee. I will just read what the honourable deputy minister at that time stated in a departmental memorandum. This is in reference to Horton High School. "This is a real success story. We said all along we wouldn't sign unless we had a good agreement. It took months of tough
negotiating, and now we have a solid lease for a great school." Those, Mr. Chairman, are the words of the Deputy Minister of Education.
I recall throughout the discussions and deliberations at that particular meeting, and one thereafter, the cost comparative analysis between going with the traditional capital construction program versus the P3 process that was utilized for the construction of this school. After the 20 year lease process, the cost analysis was done, and I believe we were talking, and I stand to be corrected on the exact figure, but it was somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000 over a 20 year period that the government could opt to either the traditional capital construction versus the new P3.
My question to the minister is, is she satisfied, as the then acting deputy minister was and I presume still is, that the value for dollar at Horton High School was well received?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I am not certain of the answer of that. We didn't have what they call a public-sector comparator for the P3 schools, so we don't know for sure. What I will say is that despite of all the negative publicity, Horton is a good school. The kids are great. It is a wonderful place. I don't know about the value for money truly for Horton or any of the other P3 schools, although obviously we were able to take advantage of a great deal of expertise from the private sector expertise that we did not possess within the department or probably within the government, so that was very good for students. The speed at which we knew we were able to build the schools was a very important factor in replacing needed schools. We are still unable to determine absolutely whether we got value for money through P3 schools because we didn't have a recent, good enough example of what it would have cost us to build them the other way.
That being said, even though I am not an accountant, the new policy on tangible capital assets changes the picture about the P3 process and whether in fact we need it because we are able to depreciate new schools, and that is part of the process we are going through in trying to determine how we are going to build schools in the future.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I am hearing some conflicting remarks on the minister's statement. The bottom line is the cost per square footage. You take the size of the school, you take the cost per square foot, you figure out the cost of your facility, I believe in this particular case, $160 per square foot with the package component. You figure out the cost of doing that, and in a traditional capital construction method, you do it through the P3 process. According to the then acting deputy minister, we are further ahead by going with the P3 process.
Now I am hearing from the Minister of Education that perhaps we don't have sufficient information to be able to determine value for dollar. If that is the case, what was the purpose of having KPMG, I believe that was the CA firm that did the analysis on the P3 school construction, if that was the minister's concern and that wasn't the mandate that was
handed to the chartered accountant firm that did the review on P3 construction. To me that just tells me that we wasted $95,000. If that is what the minister was looking for, value for dollar to find out whether it was a good process or not a good process compared to the old capital construction process, and we wanted to find that out and now the minister is telling us on one hand we don't have comparables or we didn't do any type of a cost analysis on it, and yet we hired this chartered accountant firm. We went through a two hour exercise in the Public Accounts Committee several weeks ago. Quite frankly, I am still a little bit confused, maybe it is just me, but I am a little bit confused why we spent $95,000 if it wasn't value for dollar?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, we spent the money on the KPMG report in order to get an outside assessment of whether or not P3 was a good method of financing for the government. It wasn't just schools. The KPMG considered highway, jail, and they were able to make a better estimation on the highway and the jail than they were on the schools. I understand about cost per square foot. There are many other factors that perhaps aren't taken into consideration in that cost per square foot basis. I have very much respect for the former acting deputy, but again, he was very much involved in the development of that process. He felt very strongly that it was a good process, and the schools are good value for money, but in the sense they were his babies, so I wouldn't expect anything else. It doesn't mean that the present administration doesn't try to take a more objective view.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I am a little concerned about that statement, because what I interpret from the Minister of Education is that either the then acting deputy minister had a political perspective on it, or else he was so involved with the process he lost his objectivity. If that is the case, I would be a bit concerned about our present deputy minister, and how she would view the present deputy minister's involvement in these processes in the future. What checks and balances are going to be put in place to ensure that the present deputy minister doesn't lose his objectivity?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, what we plan to do in the future, whether we build the schools P3 or not, there is going to be a great deal more involvement from the Departments of Finance and Public Works, and a great deal more consultation. This was a huge project to manage, all these schools, $350 million worth of schools, in a very quick amount of time. I did not intend, I don't believe I was disparaging toward the former acting deputy. We are all people. He was concerned about getting new schools built for students. He got them built. Our first objective on coming into government was simply to examine value for money, and if we didn't get everything we hoped out of the KPMG report, we still got some valuable comments. We will be making a decision very shortly on the future of 17 schools.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I can't believe what I am hearing, because what the minister is saying, is while she is disappointed they didn't get the information on the value for dollar, if the minister were to read the terms of reference, there was absolutely nothing in
the terms of reference in terms of wanting to determine value for dollar. The representatives from KPMG, when they came before the Public Accounts Committee, indicated that wasn't their mandate. So how can the minister on one hand be able to try and rationalize as to whether this is a good process or a bad process and expect us to believe that proceeding with P3 construction in the future as good, and if she decides not to proceed then, well, we weren't able to determine it was good. Really, what I am hearing is that there is no basis in fact for her analysis as to whether to go ahead or not to proceed. How is she going to make that determination with the bundle of 17 schools or however you want to term it in the future if she is not going to take advantage of that process?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, we are talking about a process here that isn't just applicable to schools, which is why the Department of Finance led that study, and there are a lot of factors. Some have come out before, some are coming out since. There are some issues with the way our P3 system developed that became corrected along the way under the previous government. Some have come to light since, and the process has been reviewed, and things need to be changed. They will be changed, but the level of private participation is not a decision of the Department of Education or the Minister of Education alone. That is going to be a decision along with the Department of Finance and the Cabinet.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, that was a very sophisticated way of saying that she hasn't done a cost analysis on the P3 process, whether it be education, transportation or whatever. The purview for Purves is education, and that is what I am talking about. Since she hasn't been able to tell us that, is she satisfied that P3 process is a process that can be used by the provincial government for the completion or the construction of these 17 schools?
MISS PURVES: To be more direct, Mr. Chairman, the P3 process is certainly one of the options, but it needs to be perfected before we go down that road again. It is an option. It remains an option. It is not a perfect option. If we use it the process will have to be improved considerably.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, the old capital construction process that was in place would have a direct impact in terms of whether it be an operating lease or a capital lease. Has the minister and/or her department looked at other options to the P3 process to build these 17 facilities in a very timely fashion?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, yes we are looking at the way we used to build schools, because with the new accounting method, depreciating schools, you don't have to book the expense all in one year, the way you would have in the last few years. So that is still an option we are looking at.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, has there been any documentation prepared on the comparative analysis on these two processes, back-to-back? If the minister is indicating that they are looking at an alternate way to the P3 process, perhaps there must be some
analysis to date, because we don't want to go back to the other process - and I understand what the minister is suggesting in terms of amortization on capital assets. You just book on the depreciated values for this particular year, much the same as if you were in private practice running your own business, and you can write down your capital equipment. Quite simply, is there any information on what analysis has been done to date?
MISS PURVES: I don't believe there is any documentation on the analysis we are doing, but I will check on that, and I will see what there is.
MR. MACKINNON: Okay, there doesn't seem to be a lot of information coming on the P3 process. (Interruption) Yes, but the minister has indicated that the lay-off notices are just a benchmark for discussions. Usually, when I was in private practice, a lay-off notice meant that you were going to be seeking employment somewhere else. How the minister can say that is the basis for a discussion paper or a discussion with various school boards is beyond my comprehension.
Fortunately enough for the teachers because of the contractual relationship between the Teachers Union and the boards, they have to have that notice to be able to meet the July 31st planning process. A lot of the support staff, the teachers aides, the busing staff, the cleaning staff, the secretarial staff, two weeks' notice and that is it. I would draw that to the minister's attention. The minister is looking at ways where perhaps she might be able to save money within her department.
I was just quickly doing a cost analysis on some of the issues that expenditures within the Supplement to the Public Accounts, and I realize some of these are from yesterday's events, prior to and even during the minister's tenure to be honest. I notice that the total cost for hotels and motels is somewhere in the vicinity of $175,000. Perhaps the minister might be able to - she can take this notice because it is broken down. What I did is I tabulated the Hotel Halifax, Cambridge Suites, Delta Barrington, Dick's Last Resort - whatever - that was over $7,000, Keddy's Inn, the Ramada Renaissance Hotel was over $54,000, the Westin, the Wandlyn Inn is $22,000 so on and so forth. We are up to close to $175,000.
If we are looking at ways to save some money, perhaps with the vacant space, if it is for conventions or meetings or whatever, and some of their conference rooms, the minister may perhaps look at some of these schools that are vacant across the province. We could perhaps look at the vacant school for girls in Truro. There has been some discussion that perhaps the Department of Community Services may want to utilize that over the next number of years. At Business and Consumer Affairs, I am not sure if it is the 6th or 7th floor, there is considerable conference room space for training or discussions or whatever. These are the types of things I believe we really should review. It wouldn't take long to save some money there. My colleague mentioned the issue of close to $40,000 on coffee for department staff; for Rainbow Catering, almost $5,700 there; an expenditure there for Oland Breweries, over $6,600 - I don't know if we have beer day at school or if it is for the staff within the
Department of Education, I am not sure. In fairness to the minister, that is on Page 54, Supplement to the Public Accounts.
Mr. Chairman, I am curious what the expenditure for Oland Breweries is; $6,600 to the Department of Education sounds like a rather strange amount of money to be expended to a brewery by an education institution (Interruption). I raised the issue with the minister that some of these issues were from past administrations, and some of these past practices were for advertising at different sports venues. These are the ways that we can save money. We are not like the NDP, ostriches burying their heads in the sand and blaming everybody else. Because it is raining today, they want to say the sun is shining; if the sun is shining today, they want to say it is raining. We are not going to be like ostriches, we are looking at ways, the minister is looking for ways to save money. I draw these to the minister's attention, and let the leadership hopefuls in the socialist camp worry about their platform.
Mr. Chairman, as well, if I could draw to the minister's attention (Interruptions) Some people will do anything to try to get their campaign off the ground. If I could draw to the minister's attention, the issue with regard to the markers as opposed to the chalk that they use - these liquid markers being used in the classroom now - my understanding is they switched from chalk to this type of markers because they are supposed to be more environmentally friendly and so on. I do hear complaints from across the province because of the fumes that come from these markers and the fact that they have to use certain chemicals to clean the boards in the classroom. That is creating some difficulty. Perhaps if the minister would take that on notice and report back to the committee that . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, order. There is a little too much chit-chat in the room. If people want to carry on some conversations, they may want to carry them on outside the House. The member for Cape Breton West has the floor.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, there are four items for legal expenses within the department in the supplement, as well, three that I know for sure: Boyne Clarke, almost $101,000; McInnes Cooper & Robertson, $10,600-plus; and there is an item there, Hayward & Warwick. I am not sure if that is a legal firm or some other firm, but I will leave it for the minister and her staff, on notice, for $14,900; McNabb & Connolly, $17,600-plus. Perhaps if the minister would be kind enough to give an undertaking, on a future day, not too far down the road, to give us a breakdown on what those expenses are for.
Also, there is the issue of travel within the department. There are at least four items there, one under Student Travel, $10,451; Yellow Cab, $34,324; Avis Car Rental, $10,677; and Casino Taxi, $5,540. We are looking at almost $60,000 in just travel in and around the department. There is another issue that perhaps the minister may want to take a look at, because I note, with the issue of Student Travel, students in the Summer Placement Program,
who would go to work for some of the other departments, whether it be Economic Development, the Department of Natural Resources, in particular, any students who would go to work with the Department of Natural Resources, in many cases, had to use their own vehicle and didn't get mileage, if they wanted to maintain their summer employment. I am interpreting that issue is addressed there.
It seems like a lot of money for in-house travel, and that is notwithstanding the fact that if you look at some $1.7 million in personal expenses by staff within the Department of Education and Culture, it seems the travel expenses they would have included on their expenses wouldn't be included in these figures. I am sure, if we were to look at each and every individual - if you were to take $100 off hundreds of employees - it wouldn't take long for it to add up. Small dollars added make big dollars. It would go a long way towards helping the school boards with some of the difficult situations.
I offer those comments as genuine constructive ways that the minister and her department could realize some savings and put those on the front lines to help deal with this issue of lay-offs, particularly in the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board, where the 160 lay-off notices are coming out. Again, in closing - I will turn the rest over to my colleague now - I must say, I don't take the same interpretation as the Minister of Education on lay-off notices, I don't take it as a benchmark for discussion, I take it as a real lay-off, that is it, termination of employment.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Does the Minister of Education want to respond to that?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I will get back on some of these. I will say the Olands money was not beer, this was money paid to Olands, a federal-provincial agreement for the hiring of young people to work at Oland Brewery. I can get the details of the project. I understand that it is an easy target, and it is great, but it wasn't spent on beer, it was spent on student employment.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Richmond.
MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, following up on one of the comments just made by the minister, I would like to start off with, the minister said she would get back to my colleague on some of the points he raised. Madam Minister, you will recall last year, when we started this process, it was your first budgetary process, and I don't think any of us here expected you to have all of the answers. It was clear at the end of the day that there appeared to be very few answers, in fact. I am trying not to be too sarcastic. I am wondering if the minister could indicate to me, why, last year during my time, she made over 25 commitments of information that she would get back to me. I am wondering if she could indicate to me - in trying to take her seriously as a minister - why absolutely none of that information she committed to last year - one year later - has come to my attention or to our caucus' attention?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I will get back to the honourable member on this. When I specifically asked about this question, I was told that all but two queries had been responded to, and I trusted that information. If that information I was given was incorrect, then I will do something about it.
MR. SAMSON: Obviously, the same person who gave you that information must have been working on the budget for your department because they are just about as out of whack as that. As I said, about 20 requests were made. You committed to each one, especially on the French language programs. I try to take the minister seriously when she says that she does believe in the French language programs and it is awfully tempting sometimes to really tell the minister what I really think she feels about the French language programs here, but I will not go there. Certainly her actions speak louder than words. To date, Madam Minister, your actions are gross negligence on this issue and either you just don't care or this is an intentional move on your part. By the answers you have given in this House, I cannot conclude anything but that.
Madam Minister, I have talked to numerous people involved, parents, children, and the CSAP, the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial, and I will not repeat some of the words that they use in describing your actions because I am sure the Chairman will rule it to be unparliamentary language, but I want to tell you that the opinion in the French community of you or your government right now is not very high on the actions that you have taken and they clearly speak for themselves.
Last year I asked you about the CPRP, Centre provincial de ressources padagogigues, that is part of the information you never did get back to me. This year it is interesting, with the concerns we had of it last year, you cut $200,000 out of that program. This program which is of such great importance to French language teachers, not just with the CSAP, but in French immersion and parents and students in these programs, I am wondering if you could explain to me in your statements of your commitment to French language, why $200,000 was cut out of this program?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I did explain this earlier. I will explain it again. We are making administrative cuts in the development and implementation of new curriculum across our department, including CPRP. This is a very valuable service, but we felt that it could bear a cut the same as some of our resources in the English program branch can bear a cut. We believe it to be proportional to the funding and not an unfair attack upon the Acadian community or the French second language community.
The honourable member may believe what he chooses, but this government is committed to French language education. We provide, and the federal government provides, money and resources towards French first and second language education as we do towards English language and our efforts with the Black educators, Mi'kmaq and so on and we try to not treat unequal people equally. We don't believe in that. I do understand enough about the
history of Acadians in our province to understand why they would feel discriminated against and I would like to restate that this government is committed to Acadians in Nova Scotia and that even though we are cutting back and slowing down, we are not cutting out. We remain committed to these students and we remain committed to the community.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, again, I can conclude, and say that I don't even think the minister knows what CPRP is. The CPRP is not new curriculum. The CPRP is providing the essentials to the staff, to the parents and the students, for their day-to-day education. It is not about new curriculum so don't sing that song here because it is not true. Now, either you don't know what that program is about or you are not being truthful with us here in the House. I am not sure which one it is and only the people will be able to judge that. There were thousands of books, literature, CDs, made available through the CPRP to parents, to students and to the teachers just to be able to teach their day-to-day course, not about new programs, not about new curriculum. So that is not what is going on.
You have cut $200,000 out of that program which closes the office in my home riding, in Petit-de-Grat, at Le Centre la Picasse. You have cut that program from Truro going to Cape Breton. All the French communities along that entire area have absolutely no access to all of this information which was thousands of books and materials. If you believe in the French language and education, you cannot look at it as a little, small capsule. You must look at the whole big picture. It is no good to be sending kids to be taught in French if their parents have absolutely no means of trying to learn the language themselves, understand the education of their children, and for the children themselves to go on their own to try to enhance their education. This is what you have cut out of this program, $200,000. All of this information will now be located at Université Sainte-Anne.
So you have left the entire CSAP and French language throughout this province with one area at one end of the province to access this information. I am curious as to why the cuts were made from Truro to Cape Breton, why that entire section was wiped out and why you now expect that the entire province - it should be acceptable for them to have to rely on Université Sainte-Anne, which we all know is at the far end of our province - to access this important information?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, in spite of the cut there is still $500,000 left for CPRP which is a very valuable library service and there is a curriculum aspect to CPRP. We had to make a number of cuts in the Education budget. That was one.
MR. SAMSON: Madam Minister, I am wondering if you could tell me what consultations took place with the CSAP or with French parent groups? I asked you a question last week about the fact you had not met with one particular group. You took offence to that. So I am wondering if you could enlighten me as to when you made this decision to close the office in Petit-de-Grat of the CPRP, what consultations took place with the Conseil scholaire
acadien provincial or any other body to indicate that this was one of the avenues you were looking at in your cost-cutting measures?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, CPRP were informed of the reduction in money. The choice of what area to close, or which aspect to close, was not made by the department.
MR. SAMSON: My question was not who in the CPRP did you consult because when you tell the CPRP we are cutting $200,000 out of your program, well, that is Tory consultation. Who else did you consult in the CSAP? If it was not the department that made these cuts or decided which ones should close and which ones should stay open, could the minister please inform this House who made this decision, if it was not her department here in Halifax?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, my information is that the head of the Acadian Services Branch of the Department of Education did consult with people involved in delivery of services at the CPRP and the decision was made through that consultation.
MR. SAMSON: Did you consult anyone outside of the CPRP on these cuts?
MISS PURVES: No, Mr. Chairman, we did not. We were making cuts through the department. Some cuts had to be made everywhere and, no, we did not.
MR. SAMSON: Well, that is the first honest answer that I have heard from this government and at least I am pleased to hear that the minister does admit that her commitment to the French language and to the people involved is so great that she did not even bother talking to anybody about her cuts. So it is great to see, with a commitment like that, how can we go wrong.
I am wondering, Madam Minister, I have raised this issue with you before, Collège de l'Acadie has taken a $500,000 cut in your budget while at the same time the Nova Scotia Community College has seen its budget increased by $2 million. I spoke to one person. He said if that is not blatant discrimination, what is it? I would ask the minister on behalf of that person who made that statement, I am wondering if you could tell me how I should answer that statement.
MISS PURVES: We are asking the Collège de l'Acadie and the Université Sainte-Anne to cooperate on administration. It is something the Collège de l'Acadie, the last time I spoke with the board, that they were quite willing to do. I don't like to draw these comparisons, but I have to state for the record that the Province of Nova Scotia is committed to Acadian students at the public school level and at the post-secondary level. Because of the distribution of the French population geographically, it is a financial commitment that we have made and will continue to make. To say this is not to disparage students at the NSCC, but if you take what we spend on the Collège de l'Acadie per student compared to what we spend
on community college per student, we are spending roughly $11,000 per student at the Collège de l'Acadie and about $3,000 per student at the NSCC (Interruption) Sorry, $7,000. but I know this doesn't tell the whole story, but it does tell some of the story and we do remain committed to French language education at the community college level.
MR. SAMSON: You corrected yourself but you should correct yourself once more. The numbers you are throwing here in this House about the amount of money spent by this province on French language education are not correct. The numbers you are quoting us, the province is only spending 50 per cent of what you are quoting us because we all know that the feds are matching dollar for dollar what the province is spending.
So, minister, when you tell us that you are spending more per student in the French program than in the English program, that is not this province that is spending more, it is because you have 50 per cent coming from the federal government, thank God, because I don't know what we would have if we didn't have that much.
I would like the minister just to indicate to the House that it is true that in this province, 50 per cent of the funding that goes in French language education is being paid by the federal government. Therefore, when the minister says there is more money being paid in French language education than in English language education, that statement is false.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I do acknowledge that a great deal of the money - in some cases, the majority of the money, in some cases 100 per cent of the money - is given by the federal government, but it is not quite as simple as 50 per cent here or 50 per cent there because of the way grants are distributed and used and what is on a per student basis and what is not. We do a great deal of negotiating on behalf of our Acadian students and it is not simply a matter of the federal government throwing it at us. There are staff who work very hard to try to get maximum dollars for Acadian students.
MR. SAMSON: Minister, with that answer, why would you stand in this House on several occasions and make the statement that this province, Nova Scotia, pays more for French language education per student than it does for English language education, when your answer right there proves that is not true? You claim, you take offence when I raise questions about your commitment to French language education? Why would you make those statements when you clearly said today that those statements were false? Why did you make those statements here in this House knowing that what you were saying was not true?
MISS PURVES: I was talking about money that is spent on students and I take the honourable member's point. There was no attempt to claim credit for the province for federal money. What I am saying is money spent per student. There is also federal money that goes into the community college through capital and other areas, but money spent per student is still high and will remain high for Acadian students.
MR. SAMSON: I am going to end for today, but I would say that the reason the minister made those comments was because she wanted to try to lessen the impact of the severe cuts taking place in the French language program when she would say, we are spending more on the French anyway; they are getting more money than the English, what are they yapping about? Why are they crying? She knew and she has admitted today that was not true. She misled the House when she said that, and her statements were not true and they were meant just to try to belittle the French community in saying, you have enough, we have given you enough, take the cuts and just be quiet. That is a shame and we will take this back up on Thursday, minister, and the Acadian community and Nova Scotians will judge you for your actions - these despicable actions by the Minister of Education.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We have arrived at the moment of interruption. The committee will adjourn until 6:30 p.m and reconvene at that time to continue the estimates of the Department of Education.
[5:57 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[6:29 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: The moment of recommencing has come upon us. Late debate is over. The Committee of the Whole House on Supply will now reconvene. Before the committee right now are the estimates for the Department of Education. We have until 6:59 p.m.
The honourable member for Hants East.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I welcome an opportunity to ask the minister some questions. I think if the minister thinks about the furore created by her budget, I do want her to be aware that for those civilians whose experience in the classroom is to be a student, that they should consider for a minute what happens when people get on the other side of the desk; in other words, when students become teachers.
I think to all Nova Scotians, everybody has an opinion about education and how it should work simply because they sat in a classroom. There are none of us who actually do what doctors do every day, I mean other than to be a patient for a doctor, and lots of other careers we have no great insight, but when it comes to teaching, everybody has spent so many years in a classroom that we all think we know how the system should work.
I want the minister to be aware that in my case, personally, I went into the teaching profession a little bit late compared to my colleagues who were the same age. I worked around at some other jobs, worked in the woods cutting pulpwood for two or three years, worked on a dairy farm for a year, and these were physically tiring jobs to say the least. I would like the minister to know that when I started teaching and my day would end at 3:00
p.m., for the first while until I adjusted to the pace, I could go home at 3:00 p.m. and lie down on my chesterfield and go to sleep. I did not seem to have the stamina for the teaching job that I used to have for cutting pulpwood.
You might say, well, just what were you doing in the classroom? I would like the minister and all Nova Scotians to be aware that there is an aspect of teaching that is different from even what other bureaucrats would do and that is when your day starts at 9:00 a.m., you have to be as sharp at 3:00 p.m. as you were at 9:00 a.m. In other words, if you are not, then you are letting your students down. I think this is something that people don't consider, the actual energy demands that are placed upon teachers in the everyday running of their classroom and the responsibility that they have when you think about the students who are under their tutelage.
I think that when the minister is trying to get a vision of where she thinks education should go in this province, then she should consider that at any given moment on any given day, basically the whole student body of this province is under the care of a teacher in front of them. It is not necessarily under the care of superintendents, or principals, or supervisors, it is under the care of teachers in the classroom all day long and that is an amazing responsibility because nothing means more to parents than their children and that is just the well-being of their children; secondary would come their education.
I would like to have the minister think in those terms of exactly what the demands are for teachers in order to carry out their function. If the province is thinking about the loss of 80 jobs approximately, as far as the school boards are concerned, if we were to think about the impact of the minister's own numbers of 400 jobs, then there has to be some element of demoralization among teachers generally. In other words, if your workload increases above that which you are already able to juggle with difficulty, then it can only make your job that much harder thinking that you are increasing your workload and not being able to deliver a product in the classroom that you really think your students deserve. It is one thing to meet the curriculum demands of the province, but it is something else to give that little bit extra.
I have serious concerns - and the minister would be aware of them because I brought them up to her on occasion - around schools that are going to be built in the future. My most significant concern is around the school for the community of Elmsdale. I am looking in the Supplementary Detail of the estimates on Page 7.11. I am looking at the line item Public/Private Partnership and I think the minister has already addressed this. I apologize because with so many people questioning her, she is probably getting a repeat of questions, but I see that item has gone from almost $10 million to $30 million. I am just wondering are those dollars at all related to any constructions that are supposed to be ready by 2001 although I see the line title says 2000-01? So are there any dollars there that are connected to any of the 17 schools that are proposed?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, no, those are not. Those are new leases for schools that have already come onstream. So they are just covering existing and new leases.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: So just for me to be clear, in the case of the community of Enfield, they will have a school opening this September, so the dollars for that lease would be in that line item then?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, yes, most of the cost of that school is in there.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Madam Minister, I am wondering, have you made any projection? I realize you are doing a review of the P3 review report; I think the deadline for your review is supposed to be the end of April. I am wondering at this point, do you have any idea where you are going as far as your prediction for payment, or how you are going to build these schools that are to be available for 2001?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, we are a lot closer than we were and what I will say though is that any or all of these schools can be started this year and, although we need the cash to start them, they would not show up as a line item until much further along. So we can still go ahead even though capital construction does not show the way it would have in here; we don't need to because of the new accounting method. It will show up as they near and are completed.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: So to make myself clear then, I am assuming that there is some flexibility in the system so that as they approach their time line, there are dollars available to get that process going, but that is not necessarily in a line item in the budget, is that what you are telling me?
MISS PURVES: That is right. The expenses would not show until we actually opened the school, the same as these leases - well, it is not the same, but the lease payments did not show until the leases were actually signed even though the schools were built.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister and I can only express the concerns for the community there. They certainly are taking the minister at her word that the school will be built and I am taking the minister at her word. I am hoping that in a very short period of time all the concerned people will be glad they took the minister at her word and I will leave that at that.
There is another, and almost an opposite, concern in my constituency and that is around communities that are shrinking. I think in 1998 the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board looked at the possibility of closing an elementary school in Noel and in Maitland and busing the students to Kennetcook, but they have backed away from that, I believe for a five year period. Not just in my constituency, but in lots of constituencies in the province, there are those communities that are suffering from low population numbers for a
variety of reasons. I wonder if the minister has given any thought to a different funding formula that would address offering quality education, not just based on the number of students in the school.
I know in the community of Maitland, for example, there is a young doctor who has a young family. If the school were to close, I am sure that would be a major factor in that doctor deciding to stay in that community. The minister should be aware, from her own Cabinet, of the problems associated in rural Nova Scotia with trying to get and retain doctors. We tend to think if you can get a facility, then a doctor will come, and the whole problem is cured. We don't really look at the broader picture; meaning, if you are a young person and you were thinking of establishing yourself in rural Nova Scotia but you didn't have adequate education facilities for your children, you are definitely not going to take your family there. That would make it more difficult to entice a doctor.
To come back to my original question, has the minister or anybody in her department balanced the notion that we should look at a different formula to allow for funding in rural Nova Scotia schools, where the numbers may not be as high as we might otherwise like to have them?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, this issue has been around for quite a while. It is not any easier now than it was 5 years ago or 10 years ago or even 20 years ago when we had other rounds of school amalgamations. There has been consideration given to some boards that have large, spread-out populations. The previous government tried to do this, recognized the problem, and so do we. More particularly since we have so many rural members, we especially recognize the reality of that problem, which in turn creates other problems. You can solve all problems with money; right now, we don't have it. The fact, for example, that in the end the Strait board had more money per student than the Halifax board, has been better for the Strait but it certainly makes Halifax very unhappy.
There had been a grant to the Southwest Regional School Board, they have money that they use for what they call equity funding. They have a lot of islands and peninsulas and quite remote areas out around the sea, whereby it is so difficult to bus these kids anywhere near. It is not callous but real to say that the older you are the more you can handle a bus trip of some reasonable length, but for elementary children you don't really want them on the bus at all, and if so, not for very long. It is a very real problem.
At the moment, we tend to expect boards to solve those problems themselves. I am not sure how else we can help. The southwest board still has that equity funding, it is built into their base. I am not sure we have an answer, and I don't see how we can if you have an area where you have an elementary school with classes of four or seven, and there are cases like that, at some point, I guess you take it down to one, and then when there aren't any children, you close the school. A school can't be open for a doctor moving into that community, I don't see how it can be done. I am trying to be honest.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister because actually I believe the minister was trying to be honest. What I would suggest to the minister is that the department and the government look at this on a much broader scale, and that is a whole policy or economic commitment to rural Nova Scotia. In other words, the problem we are looking at is regarding people who are leaving rural Nova Scotia. If there was an economic strategy that addressed that - you may think or feel that we are limiting the dollars that we can put into education or give the board so that they can solve these problems, and I would have to agree to a point that you are right, but you might also consider that on other fronts, we could put dollars that would tend to keep people there.
When I think about rural Nova Scotia, certainly in my constituency which has an odd make-up because it has a heavily-developed or developing urban area, plus it has a very vast rural area, the make-up of that rural area is either intensive agriculture or forestry, I think that if the government was to put any programs in place that enhanced either of those types of livelihood, agriculture and forestry, that would keep people in rural Nova Scotia with well-paying jobs, then they would find that the problems they face in education, as far as the depletion of the population, would take care of itself.
They may find they can put a smaller number of dollars in these initiatives, rather than just give the money to the boards. I would encourage the government to look at other things that are possible. I know there are models that other people have tried, tried and didn't work, and tried and did work, from those (Interruption) full-service schools. I will give you a heads up, that if this government makes it to the next election without doing something with regard to the forest sector, there is going to be a major economic problem in this province which is going to affect not only this government balancing its books, but a depletion of rural Nova Scotia, people losing work.
I would like to encourage the government to take a much broader look, see how all of these things are interrelated and how they affect what services that are possible, and with which ease you can deliver those services. I don't need the minister to make a comment on that. I do want to warn the minister, if the numbers of teachers who are possibly going to lose their jobs, as the school boards have indicated, if there is any basis in reality to those numbers, and we suspect there is - I think the minister should be aware that I have taught large classes, even before all these cuts, actually one year I had a class of 44 students. If anybody doesn't think that you have to be a good people manager to teach in a classroom of 44 students, I can tell you, you learn skills in a hurry, if you are trying to give a lesson.
I think the minister's comments with regard to not wanting to bus elementary students is a good one, I agree with her. I think the shorter the bus ride for them, the better. Older students can handle a little bit more of a bus ride, from Grade 7 to Grade 12. I was on a bus a half-hour twice a day, roughly, from Enfield to Milford. The minister may think that considering my political alliance that that had a detrimental effect on me. (Laughter) I am sure
history will show whether it did or not. I do agree with the minister that the closer to the people you can deliver the service, far better for the student.
In the system today there are large classes, much bigger than some of the numbers the minister has talked about. In 1997, the year prior to the 1998 election, I taught slightly over 200 students in six classes. The minister should be aware that when it came to marking those tests and exams, that was a load. The way our system is designed now, especially in senior high where students have a choice of courses they want to take, plus they have to meet the requirements of the curriculum in order to graduate, but if you are in Grade 10, and at that time Grade 10 biology was offered, and they would take that to meet one of their science requirements, if they failed, say, biology - if they chose that - they could still move on to Grade 11 and take that Grade 10 biology course while they are in Grade 11.
This impacts on the number of students that you have in the classroom. Anybody who is repeating a course, even though they are moving on, there is a tendency, at least in the last year or two that I was teaching, where students, for whatever reason, had the notion they were going to come back and upgrade. Now, not graduating with their peers, or what we traditionally would have said is you failed a year, does not seem to come into play. They just did not have enough credits so they were coming back. Any time students come back who actually should have left in a certain time-frame, adds to your numbers.
I think if we do anything that impacts on the number of students in the classroom, and losing teachers will do that, then those students who are less motivated, marginal, whatever problems, you are going to lose them. The community college system is not designed for picking them up. So I would like to know from the minister how she somehow reconciles the differences in the numbers? I know she is planning to meet with school boards tomorrow; there is too big a gap between her numbers and theirs so how does she reconcile that?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Education, there are 7.5 minutes left in this committee's session.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, part of the explanation is that we don't know yet what take-up we may get on the options that we have presented. We don't know for sure, we have estimated, but we don't know if we will get a take-up of 200, 800, 100, 50 we are making what we determine a good educated guess of what a take-up would be on voluntary options, and this is one of the reasons that the numbers are far apart.
Another reason is simply the time of year of the budget, whereby there is a deadline where teachers have to be given lay-off notices. If we could have brought this budget in in February, the deadline would not have come right after the budget. So there are reasons for the discrepancy in numbers and we are determined to begin serious work on adjusting those numbers tomorrow; sanity must prevail.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: I agree. I certainly hope there is some sanity to prevail. If we assume that all school boards bought into the options, then I am wondering what the minister's prediction is, that the people who would take any one of these options and leave the system, would that bring the numbers down to her prediction of 400 or is she saying that she just expects 400 will take the options and there is really no difference between their numbers and the school boards' numbers?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, what we are looking for is, in the end a net of 400 teaching positions. That is one of the things that we wish to discuss with the school boards. That is one issue that we have to determine the numbers. The other issue we have to discuss in detail is all the other pressures on the school boards for the same dollars. We have to talk about heating costs. We have to talk about other wage costs other than the teachers' salaries, which we supplied in their budgets and so on. We need to know how much of that essentially $30 million gap is accumulated deficits and so on and so forth. We have to see what we can do line by line to work out the discrepancy in the numbers. It is not just the teacher numbers, it is other numbers as well.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister. Madam Minister, I have to say this is a slippery slope you are going down. If you are still thinking about 400 teachers, you are thinking about way too many, and the things I have already indicated to you about the size of the classes that I have experienced, even before any of this happened, would make me think that the ramifications of this will have a ripple effect for years to come.
School boards have been underfunded for some time. For a few years I bought my own paper to run off my exams. For three years before the 1998 election, I taught an oceanography course that had no book. So, if you are talking about making cuts in the system now in the direction you are headed, I think there are a lot of things you have not considered.
The last thing I want to raise with the minister is, does the Ross Farm Museum, which is an agricultural heritage museum, still come under Education?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, no, the Ross Farm Museum was part of the Department of Education and Culture, and so now that is with the Department of Tourism and Culture.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The member for Hants East, you have just over two minutes left.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Really, Mr. Chairman, I only want to make the minister aware that if she is going to meet with school boards and if the options she is proposing to them are the ones of various avenues for early retirement for teachers, then I would say that it is not going to be enough. Actually, the number of teachers you are even thinking about, if you are talking about 400 and the boards are still talking about quite a few more, then we are going to be in serious trouble and there isn't any room in the system to lose 400 teachers,
let alone more teachers. The predictions for the education sector for classrooms is that there are more teachers coming up for retirement and we are going to have young people who are wanting to be teachers, or who are presently in the system who are going to be gone somewhere else, and it will be difficult to bring those people back.
The high numbers we have seen, over the years, going into the teaching profession, even education programs have cut back on the Bachelor degree and increased their Master's programs because of the older teachers in the system and there was no room for a lot of young teachers. Well, that is just about to change in the next year or so. What is going to happen is those Bachelor of Education Programs are going to be full, but the teachers who come out are going to go somewhere else.
So I want to warn the minister that there are a lot of factors involved in what she is thinking about and some of them will have much greater costs very shortly, not a long way down the road, but very shortly, for the government. I thank the minister for her time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Education has 20 seconds if she wants to respond or we can wrap up.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I thank the member opposite for his suggestions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time allotted for debate in the Committee of the Whole House on Supply has expired.
The committee will now rise and report progress and meet again on a future day.
The committee stands adjourned.
[6:59 p.m. The committee rose.]