HALIFAX, THURSDAY, APRIL 5, 2007
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HOUSE ON SUPPLY
Mr. Wayne Gaudet
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order. The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. PATRICK DUNN: Mr. Chairman, I move that we continue the Estimates of the Department of Education.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We will continue with the Estimates of the Minister of Education. I understand the minister would like to make some opening comments this morning.
HON. KAREN CASEY: Mr. Chairman, I would like to acknowledge that there has been a change of staff here with me today. The deputy minister is not with me, but in his place, and a very capable replacement, Mike Sweeney, Senior Director with the Department of Education. (Applause)
The second thing I would like to say and I did make this correction and shared the information immediately after I recognized I had used the wrong date yesterday, but with respect to Sir John A. Macdonald's football field, I had indicated we were working to make sure those students would have access to that football field. They will be able to use that field in September 2007, as opposed to 2008. The member opposite has received that information, so for the record, the correction.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax Needham.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Thank you very much Mr. Chairman. I understand I have about 35 minutes left. I'm really very appreciative to have an opportunity to speak with the minister and her staff about a few areas, both in the field of education, but I'll probably be raising some questions around training with respect to workers who are being displaced and the transition - just to alert your staff to this.
I welcome the staff who are here from the Department of Education with the minister. I also want to start by saying that in the time that I have been the member for the constituency I represent, Halifax Needham North and Central Halifax, I've been very privileged to be in the schools, from the elementary schools to the high schools and the community college that is in my constituency, and I am constantly impressed and humbled by the competence and the professionalism of the teaching staff in those various educational institutions. I want to say that to the department and to the minister, what great teachers we have and what excellent principals and administrators we have in those facilities. So many people, so many of these professionals go way beyond what is required in their collective agreements or in their job descriptions and it really enriches the educational experience of so many of our young people and young adults.
Now, having started on that very positive note, I want to talk about something that troubles me greatly. I want to know what the department's thinking is, and the minister's thinking is, and whether we can, if we share the concerns that I'm going to raise, if we can put our heads together and find a way to solve what I think is a problem. On April 1st, minister, this was the headline in The Daily News - Inner-City Students Score Lower in Math. Inside, the article that accompanies this particular story has the ranking of the schools.
Now, there are two themes I want to pursue in terms of what troubles me. The first is that I'm very concerned about the impact that these kinds of headlines have on our kids, on the teachers in those schools that rank at the bottom of that list and on the parents and the community. I can tell you, because the school that received the lowest ranking is in my constituency, that this becomes a very painful experience for people associated with these schools. It's demoralizing, it's demeaning, and when the whole conversation around testing first emerged, this was one of the concerns that was expressed, that the releasing of this information would be to what end. Would it result in improvement in math scores or would it result in better services and supports into the school areas or would we consistently just have these results used to sort of beat up on those areas? There's always going to be someone on the bottom, sadly, and this really very much concerns me.
It has been a painful experience for people in my constituency who deserve better and I don't fault the media. The media has a job, they report the news, and when the results come out, that's news, and what the results are. So I want to ask the minister, does this trouble you
and your department and, if so, what can we do so that we mitigate the harm that this kind of publication of score results can have in a community?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, thank you to the member opposite for raising a very important, I guess perhaps more than one issue in the comments and a concern that we definitely share at the department and I share that personally.
I will try to address a number of the concerns in your comments. One, of course, I think we all agree and I certainly am very proud to say that we have an excellent teaching staff. Our staff in the province are excellent. They are professional, they are highly qualified and they are extremely dedicated to the students in their classrooms; the same with administrators and I think we have to make sure that we make the learning environment within which they work and within which our students learn, the best possible environment we can.
I had an opportunity yesterday to speak to approximately 500 principals from all across the province who were in for a focus session. Those are sessions that are extremely valuable to me and to my department because they provide an opportunity for principals to be honest and open and frank with their concerns and with their suggestions. As I said to those principals, I may be the person who brings the legislation forward, but they are the people who can provide me and my department with the information and the situations that they face every day. Our responsibility at the department is to listen to those, to receive those and to see what we can do, through policy or legislation, to make improvements in those particular areas. I know that they are very open and frank and I know that they have expressed some concerns that have translated into some changes at the department.
Leading into the assessment question and the publishing of the results, you are quite correct, someone has to be at the top, somebody has to be at the bottom. Whenever you publish any results, any scores, whether it is individual ranking within a classroom, whether it's by grade or by school or by province, it can have a very positive impact on those who are close to the top and it can have a very negative impact on those close to the bottom. The intent of publishing results, of course, is to make sure that we are open and transparent and let the parents and the public know how students in our schools are progressing and how schools are ranked according to achievement.
So there is a double-edged sword here in that on the one hand you want to be open and transparent and share that, on the other hand there is some risk of how that is interpreted and how people who are seeing their school close to the bottom are reacting. So it is certainly, as you say, the responsibility of the press to share that information and they do. I guess we have to try to make sure that we are making progress in our schools so that those scores can be compared, perhaps, from one year to the next. By doing a year's comparison, if there are improvements in the school's score, then that is a part that you can celebrate, that there have been some improvements. So how you deal with the scores and the statistics and
what you do with them, you can spin that into something positive, but to see them listed there and you are either first or you are fiftieth is a matter that we can't change.
However, we do recognize that some schools have scores that need improvement and we have individual students whose performance needs improvement. One of the divisions at the Department of Education deals specifically with assessments. Our goal is to try to determine early on, and we all know the importance of early detection and early intervention, to find out early on what areas of difficulty, what weaknesses individual students or groups of students may have so that we can design programs and supports to address those weaknesses.
We do have a fairly comprehensive assessment program which extends from Grade 3 up to and including Grade 12. Those assessments are administered with the understanding and the expectation that the results of those will be used to drive changes and initiatives in programs. Having the assessment and getting a score is only the first step, the second step is, what can you do to try to close the gap and address the concern. We have a math assessment at Grade 3 and a literacy assessment at Grade 3 and we also have a literacy assessment at Grade 6 and . . .
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I'm sorry to cut the minister off. I know she knows so much about so many things in her department, but I have very limited time and I have several questions that I would like to get through. If we can focus on the topic and then just maybe move on, that's what I'm hoping we can do. I appreciate what the minister is trying to tell me as well as what attempts are being made to improve the results of the tests. Of course, that's certainly another concern I have, but I have to say that I'm now becoming more skeptical about some of this stuff.
I'm becoming skeptical about the amount of resources that we're putting into the testing and all of these kinds of things without seeing the kinds of changes. I'll use the school that ranked the lowest as an example, St. Patrick's-Alexandra School. One of the things that happens is that when these results are published and when the information starts coming out, and this isn't the first publication, then parents start pulling their children out of those schools and they send them to private schools or they get area transfers into other schools. What happens is the low scores in a way become perpetuated in terms of family members, parents who have the educational background, attainment and means to fight their way through the education system to get area transfer, to have a family member who lives some place else like a grandparent or whatever, have the child go live in another part of the community where they can have access to a school where the scores have been better. I've seen this now, I've seen exactly what happens to the response to this kind of information.
We can talk about the science in kind of a very intellectual way, this is what we're measuring, this is why we're measuring it and this is how we'll respond. But the human nature doesn't act the way our logic and our science acts and quite often there are a whole
bunch of other facts that come into play around this stuff and the results don't dramatically change. In fact in some cases, for schools especially on the low end, they deteriorate even further in this process. That's what I want to say, I have become more skeptical, where I had been convinced that testing and the releasing of test results might not be the disaster that some people were predicting, I'm not so sure anymore given the schools I represent and the experience that I see for kids in some of the schools that have the hardest row to hoe.
But having said that, I want to talk about a different area and that is around suspension information. I know that there was an attempt, or the department had talked about harmonizing, trying to develop some standards for the gathering of suspension information across the province. Of course I'm most interested in suspension information around the schools in my particular constituency. Again, these are quite often inner-city schools and the community is very interested in knowing more about suspension information. The Minister of Justice has moved forward with the plan to open the centre over at St. Pat's High School, but that has places for 12 at-risk kids. I can tell you - I don't have to tell you, I'm sure you know - 12 doesn't really begin to scratch the surface of the number of kids who get suspended from some of even our elementary schools, as well as the junior high schools and high schools.
It seems to me that we need a good picture of suspension rates and we need a much more comprehensive and inclusive response and plan to deal with young people who are having difficulty maintaining a level of behaviour in the classroom that makes it possible for them to learn or for the kids around them to learn.
I want to ask what progress has been made with respect to developing some uniform standards around gathering suspension information in the boards and then planning for the use of that information, particularly getting in place programs to ensure that when kids can't perform in the classroom, they're not out on the sidewalks creating chaos in the community, which has been the experience as well in my constituency.
MS. CASEY: I will try to be more specific with my answers. The whole question of gathering data by school and by board, I spoke to that yesterday. We have plans for a student information system across the province, a very expensive program estimated at $10 million and we would be one of the first provinces in Canada to have that.
However, we recognize that collecting data is one thing, but doing something in the classroom is another and so our priorities have become in the classroom. As a result of that, the information that's collected is available school by school and through the board and then to the department.
One board has a complete data system that allows them to collect it from all their schools and record it. We would like all boards to have that, but we can access that data by going to the board and them going down to the school.
We have implemented the PEBS program and I'm sure you're familiar with that, but that is a program that is designed to use alternative means to address inappropriate behaviours. Out of school suspensions are probably the last resort. A lot of in-school suspensions are now what used to be out of school suspensions and are being accommodated in the schools. The early results of that information, which does come from those schools directly to us, is that there's about a 50 per cent decrease in the number of referrals to the principal's office.
I think the fact that we're giving the teachers in the classroom tools to deal with inappropriate behaviour, but recognizing that there are times when it goes beyond at, that there's a mechanism in place so those students can still be accommodated in the school. As I said, out of school suspension is our last resort.
But, the data from the PEBS can come directly to the department and is our first step at collecting that provincially.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I want to thank the minister, that's good information to have. We know that there's a new high school being built here, Citadel High will be opening soon and I think everybody is looking forward to that. This new high school has two gymnasiums, as far as I know, and I understand that HRM is interested in negotiating a service exchange with the province so that they will have some guaranteed access to the recreational opportunities in those gymnasiums. People in my constituency have expressed concern to me about this. The concern comes from both sides of the coin. The concern comes from parents and students who feel that the opportunities for the students may be impinged on by requirements from the recreational department of HRM on time that would be normally their time in the gymnasiums. And on the other side, from the community perspective, people have expressed concern to me that there's no way that they will be able to get adequate access to recreational opportunities in these gyms if they have to compete with the kids and their intermural sports activities and their athletic programs.
So you have both sides not being entirely happy, but I would say that neither side has the information. There has been no discussion about what the service exchange entails and so I want to ask the minister, what are the parameters of the service exchange? What are the demands that are being placed on the school gymnasiums by the recreational departments?
I know that recently there was a report just a few weeks ago that came out about Bloomfield Centre, for example, that has a large gymnasium and is a gymnasium that's used by the police department when they're recruiting new recruits and they do the physical part of their testing. That gymnasium is used quite often for this, and in that particular report it
talked about, well that testing will now be done at Citadel High under part of the service exchange. I know for a fact that testing occurs during the day; it's not a night time thing; it happens during the day; it happens on weekends. It will tie up the gym at Bloomfield Centre for a couple of days at a time, over a certain period. And that's one example. And then I also know that in that same gymnasium at Bloomfield, there are groups like the Indo-Canadian Association and they're a group of mature, retired men who play badminton and their families come, and they've been doing that for years. Every Friday evening, they have the gymnasium there and they're fairly doubtful that they're going to be able to, every Friday night, get a gymnasium in the new school to be able to continue their physical activities.
So if you could provide me with some information that I could be circulating in the community, so that people would have a better appreciation of what the plan is, I would very much appreciate that.
MS. CASEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It is true that the new school will be a great asset to downtown Halifax and I expect that it will be used 24/7. In order to make sure that all of the parties who have an expectation of using that school can be part of the use agreement, we do establish community use agreements between the municipality and the board. We have a number of those across the province and it brings all the interested and appropriate parties to the table and then they work out their user agreements so that those community groups do have access and scheduling so that they can be accommodated, but the priority in all of those user agreements is students, and once student needs for after-school use of whatever part of that building have been accommodated, then there would be hours set aside that would be available for the community and there would be parts of the building that would be available for the community.
So you could have several community groups available there as well as a group of students, but it's clearly defined what times and what spaces are available. That agreement has not yet been completed, I can't tell you what stage it is in development, but when that is developed, all the parties are at the table, all of those who have the interest in using that and of course representatives from the HRM, from the council would be there representing the interests of the communities who might want to use that.
As I said, we have some very successful ones, as your fellow member two seats down would know, in Hants East and so it's not uncommon to have a lot of community groups in our schools.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I will continue to look into this on behalf of the people in my constituency. I would like to move now out of our school system into a different part of the minister's department. The department is responsible for skills development in the province and for transitional programs, as well, when industries are closing down. Sadly we've seen a fair amount of that in Nova Scotia in the last little while.
I want to start with something that was brought to my attention by my colleague, the member for Cape Breton Centre. Apparently in the federal budget that recently passed, there are provisions and there is an intention to devolve training to the provinces. This is something that has happened in many other provinces quite a considerable period of time ago and I think that under the former Liberal Government, provinces were given the option to take over responsibility for training. We didn't do that in Nova Scotia. I think we entered into some kind of agreement that allowed the Province of Nova Scotia to do certain things but, for example, the career centres throughout the province are all primarily funded through direct federal funding to those organizations. For example, I have one in my constituency, the Halifax career centre on Gottingen Street.
I've been told by my colleague, the member for Cape Breton Centre, that there was this item in the federal budget that is now looking at the four provinces that did not take responsibility for training, and Nova Scotia is one of those. I want to know, has there been contact with our federal counterparts and what planning is your department embarking on, as it appears that the federal government are about to devolve responsibility to this province for training services?
MS. CASEY: I'm not aware of any discussions with the federal government to participate in what we see is an important part for our province as far as training is concerned. We certainly would welcome any opportunity to discuss with them, and obviously we'd welcome any dollars they might want to give to support it. In the meantime, however, our skills and training division, at the provincial level, is very active and I think I have spoken to that many times, that the work they are doing is to try to address the needs of a population there that will be our workforce in the future.
Any assistance we can get from the federal government to help support that would be great. It is the area that is growing most quickly within the education sector that I look after and it's one where we have put a fair amount of investment to make sure that we have programs available and reaching out not only to the students in our schools, but to those who are moving on into community colleges. I would share with you any information I get from the federal government.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member has approximately four minutes left.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, perhaps it's too early to really know what the intention is of the federal government then with respect to devolution of training responsibilities. I know that the Harper Government has a predisposition, shall we say, to decentralization. So it will be interesting to see exactly what their intent is.
I want to use the last four minutes of my time with respect to the transitional program in the department for workers who are in the unfortunate situation where they find that jobs they have been doing disappear. The minister and I have talked about the workers at Maple Leaf, but sadly we now have the workers at TrentonWorks potentially in a similar situation. I think, while it's probably too early in the TrentonWorks situation to decide that facility will be dormant, nevertheless, for some people, I think they might take some comfort in knowing what is available through government to help people transition, retrain, upgrade their educational skills. So if the minister could lay out as clearly as possible so that this can be given to members of that workforce, how her department will assume a leadership role in a transitional process, I think that would be most helpful.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, we have discussed the Maple Leaf situation and we're very proud of the success we're having there in that we're getting a lot of reaction and response from the workers there taking advantage of the services we're providing. We are taking that same model to Trenton. In fact, as we speak, folks from my skills and training division are on-site in Trenton to help the administration at the plant and then down to the workers, to help them understand what services we have to offer. As I said, our model that we used in Maple Leaf is one we'll transfer there. That includes an on-site office initially to get a database of the workers there who want their names entered in the database, to let them know what services we can provide. We will take them through assessments, if they wish to have assessments, to determine what their needs might be to transition, but we are there now as we speak.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I think the last thing I would say to the minister is, I don't know if the department has any plans, any active role to play. I would hope that it would be the case that it would be possible to offer more programs to people who are in the workforce before a crisis happens in their industries. I think that on-site workplace literacy, numbers, upgrading, is a really important thing to have in many, many workplaces, given the insecurity that exists now for many people at work. The kinds of international pressures that have been placed on industries as a result of the ability of companies to pull up stakes and move at will means that many of our workplaces are vulnerable and many of our workers are vulnerable.
While I appreciate that the department has programs to bring to industries like Maple Leaf or TrentonWorks in the event of a plant closure, it seems to me it would be a really important and prudent thing to be thinking about what kinds of ongoing work that we do in workplaces around our province, and particularly workplaces that have the potential to be the most impacted by this kind of global competitiveness. I think we can probably write a few names on a flip chart of other industries whose future can be quite precarious.
Workers are often hired 10 or 15 years into a workplace with very little opportunity for upgrading. I know there are many European countries that have a very active kind of training and ongoing educational and training roles that they play. I would hope we would be able to move in that direction.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Does the minister wish to respond?
MS. CASEY: I will just respond very quickly, not taking time from other members. We recognize that professional development on-site within the workforce and within the companies is something a lot of large companies do. We would encourage that here. Of course, we have a framework that we established in 2002, which looks at retraining, and so we're prepared to take our staff and help companies develop appropriate programming that they can deliver. We will continue to work with them.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member's time has expired.
The honourable member for Glace Bay.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): Thank you. I'll indicate at the beginning of my brief questioning, I will be sharing my time with the member for Preston.
Madam Minister, I wanted to bring to your attention - I know you've been hearing a lot lately about the need of a junior high school in Glace Bay - I wanted to bring to your attention before I ask you some further questions concerning the new junior high school at the - I'm not sure if you're aware of this or not, you may or may not be, but over the weekend, as I understand, a major hot-water pipe at St. Michael Junior High in Glace Bay burst open and there was some water and steam damage, I'm to understand, to a major portion of the administration office and area.
Why I'm telling you that is because it was definitely connected to the furnace and it illustrates and points out that the age of those facilities, both St. Michael and Morrison Junior High in Glace Bay, are at the stage right now where they are fast becoming non-maintainable, if there's such a word. I think it further makes my point that it's time that we did something with the situation regarding the junior high school in Glace Bay.
I know that the department has had discussions with the school board of late and I would appreciate it if you could update me at this time as to what has taken place and what is the current situation regarding the status of Glace Bay junior high. Actually, I should change that to the status of the new junior high school proposed for Glace Bay.
MS. CASEY: To the member opposite, you know, when we build new schools, we have a school naming process and that usually includes students who get very keen and very
interested in naming a new school. Who knows what they will come up with for the new Glace Bay junior high.
On a more serious note, the comment about the break in the pipe and water damage, I was not aware of that, but I certainly understand that we do have aging infrastructure, and that's one of the reasons why schools get put on a list for renovation and/or addition or new schools. It's not surprising, it's disappointing, but not surprising that did happen.
To be specific to the member's question, we have had ongoing discussion about the Glace Bay junior high and about the new Glace Bay junior high, where we are with our capital and where we are with our renovations/additions in this particular budget. One of the mechanisms - not one of - the mechanism that we use at the department to determine what schools will be considered for renovations and/or addition or new construction is to have information come from the school boards, to the department, through the Capital Construction Committee. Then the Capital Construction Committee will make a recommendation.
As we know in 2003, that committee recommended that there would be a replacement school for Glace Bay junior high. We have continued to keep that on the list and as I've said several times over the last two weeks, those 12 new schools and those 45 renovations/additions projects are on the list. They have not been changed, the scope of the work has not been changed, the commitment of the province has not been changed, some of them have been delayed. We've also had discussions specifically about Glace Bay and about the struggle to find a site that is a safe site. We believe that we are closer now than we were perhaps when I visited Glace Bay as to where that safe site will be.
What we have done with the proposed budget is we've gone back to the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board to say, these are the dollars that we have in our budget for 2007-08 and we are asking you to consider two important projects in your board and give us direction as to how you want those to proceed. That board has come back to us in a form of a letter this week to say they would like to see the new construction at North Side and at Glace Bay proceed together. We have responded to say we will respect that request and we will move both of those projects forward in 2007-08. Our specific plans to do that are to finalize the sites for both of those schools and to begin the process of design, to complete that design during 2007-08, so in the Spring of 2008, we can begin construction on both of those schools.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): I'm not sure if I should ask any more questions past this point or if I should just sit down and walk away. If I could, to clarify, the minister is quite correct, the original announcement was in 2003, with the original construction date, was to be completed or started in 2006, and then it was changed and delayed to a construction start of 2007, with a completion by the end of the year 2009. What the minister is telling me is that completion date stays the same; by the end of 2009, there will be a new
junior high school in Glace Bay, that within the school year 2007-08, there will be a site selected, there will be design work done and then tenders will be called in 2008, with the construction completion sometime in 2009. Am I correct?
MS. CASEY: I will repeat and he is correct. We are looking at finalizing the site and completing design work in 2007-08. Coming Spring of 2008, the tenders will be called for construction. The construction period is usually 12 months, depending on the size of the school, but construction 10 to 12 months, and once that construction is completed the school would open, so his timeline is correct.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): Just one final question. There is an agreement in principle with the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board that both the new junior high school for Glace Bay and the Northside elementary school will be built during that same time period - an agreement and principle now exist with the district school board. Is that correct?
MS. CASEY: The response that went back in writing to the school board's request was that, yes, we would move both of those forward together.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): Mr. Chairman, I'm extremely pleased to hear the minister's remarks and I'm sure she knows very well that the students and the people of Glace Bay are anxiously awaiting further word on that school and will be pleased to hear that it's proceeding as it was during the last schedule.
There's also a small concern that I bring to your attention now and that would be during the design work, that as far as I know, from talking to some members previously who belonged to a committee that was looking at some of the design for the school, that there was a concern regarding the size of the gymnasium that was to be part of the new school. I would ask the minister and her staff to pay attention to that. I guess what I'm trying to get around to saying is that, you know, I'm very thankful that there's going to be a new junior high school in Glace Bay but, you know, we want the Cadillac version, okay, I guess is the only easy way to say it. I understand the constraints that the minister and the government are under, but with those two schools and the condition that they are right now, it's of paramount importance that this move ahead, and it's also of paramount importance that the school that's built there is no less than what would be built anywhere else in the province.
In this day and age when, of course, the minister and her government are coming forward with initiatives to take care of things such as child obesity and so on and so forth, it is of extreme importance that gymnasiums be of the proper size. The gymnasium in this case would be used by the community, it would be big enough to be used by the community for sporting events and so on, and that sort of initiative is part of the school's design. I would
just bring that to the minister's attention, and she doesn't have to comment, but I would at this time just like to say I thank her for her attention to this file and her attention to this matter. I know that she and her staff have been working diligently over the past week or so to try to find a resolution to this problem, and hopefully we have. I will pass on the remainder of my time to the member for Preston.
MS. CASEY: If I could just take one minute of time, I would like to acknowledge the efforts of the member opposite. We did work well together on this. His message was very clear. I heard it several times and went back to the board. I'm pleased that we're able to move forward in the best interests of the students in both of those schools.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Preston.
MR. KEITH COLWELL: Mr. Chairman, I have a few questions here for the minister. There's one thing I want to draw the minister's attention to that you probably may not be aware of. Graham Creighton Junior High School was built a few years ago, rebuilt a few years ago after it had some serious difficulties. It's a beautiful building and we appreciate that was done. At the time the regional municipality put $400,000 in the building to expand the gym and put a seniors room so that the community could use the facility and have a place to have some functions and do some other things.
Now, what has happened, as always happens in the school board, the school board has taken control of the school, as it should do. A seniors room was built, which is completely accessible, clear of the school so it doesn't interfere with the students - not that seniors would - and Cherry Brook does not have a community centre of any kind. There's no place large enough to have a function. There's nowhere that they can go to get together as a community to do things in the community.
Now, Cherry Brook is one of the very oldest communities in Nova Scotia. It was a predominantly Black community, now it's changing, and it's the one community that really has embraced change. It's a wonderful community, as all my communities are, but it has caused a great deal of difficulty. We've got some seniors who have contributed a tremendous amount to the community and to the province and they try to get their seniors room to have a function, which is too small to have a function, a real function, but at least they can get together and play some cards and do some things that seniors would normally enjoy together in the company of each other. Most of these people have grown up with each other right from childhood and still enjoy each other's company.
The problem is they don't have access to the school. The regional municipality, at the time I was on council, I can remember the councillor for the area at that time push council to push $400,000 into this to upgrade the school, a better gym, and this particular facility, the sole purpose was that the community have access to the gym. Under certain conditions, of course, they're not going to destroy it and not when the children are using it during regular
school. The seniors in the community cannot use it and this community has no community centre, and that's why that extra money was put there.
I was just wondering what the minister could do to rectify this situation, to see if we can't have this corrected for the community.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, I'm a bit familiar with the concern. I'm not familiar with the details of the community-use agreement, but when communities do enhance our buildings and that opportunity is there during design and it sounds to me like the community came forward, the municipality came forward, gave dollars to enhance that, to create space with that specific purpose, and when the community-use agreement is signed off by those partners, the details of how and when the conditions for the use should be outlined in the user agreement.
As I mentioned earlier, when we have community-use agreements, the priority, of course, is students and I understand that it's no different in your community, students come first. But if there's an issue with the user agreement, which should be specific to who can be in what part of the school when, then we'll sit down and have a look at that specific agreement and see where it may need to be modified. The partners who signed it would have to come back together to determine what the needs are now and can those needs be addressed through revisions to that agreement. I would be prepared to look into that in consultation, and obviously co-operation, with the member opposite.
MR. COLWELL: Thank you very much. I talked to the seniors about this a couple of times and the information they give me doesn't seem to make sense to me, but these are very capable people I'm dealing with here. These are very capable people, and they indicate that the Department of Community Services, or somebody, has to book the seniors room. It just doesn't seem to make sense, because it's in a school and it seems too convoluted to me, so if we could work with the minister and her department to get this resolved.
As I say, these are the kinds of people who go into this particular room that they use and there's a cloakroom off it and there are washrooms. It's totally isolated from the school, so it has no impact whatsoever on the school, this particular piece of the facility - and I'm going to talk about gym after that - but there's no access, a problem. It's not even an issue that the school has to clean the place because when the seniors are done, I've seen it first-hand, when they leave - and they may not have been the people who used the place last, and they don't want to restrict uses of it, then they're not telling other people not to use it, that's not the issue here - they leave it cleaner than when they come in. They've bought equipment for it and they've done things and they will do more, but if they don't have access - maybe on a Monday afternoon they want to go play some cards or socialize some way, it's very difficult.
So with a commitment from the minister and I'd like you to sort of recommit that again to be sure here, because this has been a long, ongoing problem that doesn't need to exist, I would be glad to sit down with the minister and her staff, or anyone you might suggest, to get this resolved.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, I will restate my commitment. We recognize the importance of community use of our schools and want to make sure that they serve a population, the full range of population in the community. I don't know the particulars, I'm hearing them now, but I certainly will reaffirm my commitment to sit down with you and with members in the community, or with the staff at the school or the school board, to find out exactly what the details are, what the issue is and look for resolution.
MR. COLWELL: Thank you very much, Madam Minister. The community would be very pleased about that and if you get an opportunity to meet with some of the people, you'll see what I'm talking about. There's only one way to describe the people who are connected with this, they're simply wonderful people who you'd be delighted that you've met and you'll never forget them. It's just that simple.
The other issue is with the gymnasium, because the gymnasium was going to be one of these mini gymnasiums, as my colleague here has indicated that he would not like to see in Glace Bay. The municipality did put this extra money in to build the seniors room and a bigger gymnasium. Lo and behold, seldom can the community get this gymnasium now. It's a beautiful gymnasium, it's built the way it should be built. It has a nice stage, it has a nice floor on it, and it's built properly. How can we go about, under the right circumstances - and I stress under the right circumstances, because we want to make sure the building stays as pristine as it is, it's wonderfully looked after - how can the community, the community of Cherry Brook in particular, where they have no facilities, there are none - so they can have a function there that they can maybe raise money for their church, or whatever the other function may be, that will help the community at a reasonable cost?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, I will repeat, again, something that I said earlier in that when schools are designed for students, the province builds a school for the students, that's a priority. Communities often enhance the building and that leads to a community-use agreement. However, when programs that students are participating in are consuming - and it sounds to me like they are - a lot of the time when others might want to use that, I think we have to recognize that students are a priority. Having said that, community groups generally have a good working relationship with the administration at the school and sometimes they are able to look at schedules and coordinate the schedules so that those important things in the community can take place in their school. Again, not having the details of the schedule and how often the building might not be used by students, I wouldn't be able to comment on who should be there at what particular time. Students do come first.
If this is the only facility in the community, then I would expect that it's highly utilized. I don't know the population of the school, but I understand it's a very active school and we encourage that. As to how times could be made available after students are not using, it should not be a problem because of the community use, but if it's during student time, instructional time, after-school intramurals or weekend competitions with students there, they are the priority.
MR. COLWELL: I would say the minister is going to be in for a real treat if she gets to meet our community. I can tell you that if there was a student function going to happen and somebody mis-scheduled, this is what would happen in the community. If the community had the gymnasium booked and there was an event that the students were going to have at the time when the booking was done, the school didn't realize, the community would come forward and say the school has the gymnasium first. This is a community that cares deeply about their children, they care deeply about education and at no time would they interfere with anything that would help the children, whether it be in the necessary education part of it or extracurricular activities. They would probably be there, and I know they would be there for extracurricular activities and volunteering to help. So that's what we're talking about.
What I'm talking about, just to make it very clear, is that after the students are done with the facility, when the students aren't going to use it for extracurricular activities, that's what I'm talking about. It may be a Sunday afternoon, after church they may want to put a luncheon on or do something like that to raise money for the church. It may be some kind of special function they want to have with their church or somebody in the community may be having a special birthday or something like that, something that would help the community.
I can tell you, I go to more birthdays, which I'm very pleased to do and I enjoy very much, in the four communities of Cherry Brook, Lake Loon, East Preston and North Preston, than probably all my members here put together. I'm very pleased about that, because it is nice to be invited and celebrate people's birthdays and anniversaries. That's what the community does. They really rejoice with the accomplishments of people from their community and it's important they're recognized. That's part of what I'm talking about here. This school, until such a time - unless the government's got the money to help us build a community centre, which we'd love to have and we're not talking a big one - until that is resolved, we really need to have the use of the school - again, I stress, when it's not necessary or even extracurricular activities for any of the students in the school.
MS. CASEY: Again, to the member opposite, I'm learning more and more about the community and more and more about the school. I am pleased to hear that community - and it comes as no surprise - does put students first. That's exactly the way it should be.
However, when we're looking at, as the member is saying, use after students are not there. Again, there are probably, I would suspect there are reasons why, I don't know what the reasons are. I can only speculate, but one of the reasons, in my past experiences as an administrator, is that if the school is to be opened and there's a need for custodial staff, somebody to open the school, somebody to provide security and custodial services and so on, that we start dealing with unions. A lot of community groups are quite happy to say, we're trustworthy, give us the keys, we'll open the door, we'll go in and we'll clean up after. That gets into a union issue where somebody's doing union employee work.
Whether that's an issue or not, I don't know, but as I said, I'm hoping that when I visit your community and when I get to meet the seniors and see the school and look at the user agreement, we may be able to determine what's causing that and what the solution might be to that as well.
MR. COLWELL: Thank you very much. I'll take that as a commitment to come visit my community and meet with the people after you've had time to do the proper research. I appreciate that very much.
I'm going to talk about a couple of extra things. You passed a bill in one of the last sessions here to qualify tradespeople in different communities that have been working at their trades for many, many years and have never received the highly coveted certificate for doing the work from the community college, and indeed from the Department of Labour, their certification so that they can work as a qualified tradesperson. I'd just like to know where that process is at because I've had several inquiries in my riding, from all areas of my riding actually, about this. I have some people who have been working in garages as auto mechanics who don't have a licence, they have to work under someone else, so they're making very low income when they could be making a really good income. I have stone masons, carpenters and many other people who would qualify for this program, and I just wonder where it's at.
MS. CASEY: We did have, before the House, the amendments to the trades and apprenticeship Act. That amendment of which the member speaks was to provide an opportunity for those people who are working in the trades in our province to become certified. Rather than go for the complete certification, there were a number of things that might deter people from doing that. It could have been a language barrier, it could have been just a fear of an assessment.
So we did pass legislation which would look at a Certificate of Proficiency, so those people who had been in the trades and who had been practising their trade very successfully for a number of years, but had not received that certificate, that seal, could go for a Certificate of Proficiency. I was very pleased we were able to put that through the House and
had support from our members opposite for that because it does provide an opportunity for those people who have, for years, been very successful and very capable.
That's managed through the skills and training division of our department and any requests for the opportunity to go through that proficiency certification, would come through to that department. We certainly can provide information, and I believe our department has provided information out to the tradespeople, to let them know that the opportunity is there.
To go directly to the member's question, if there are any people coming to the member, or to any other members, asking what they should do, they should contact the skills and training division at the Department of Education and ask for the next steps so that they could do the hands-on proficiency assessment to get that certification.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Would the honourable member for Preston yield the floor for an introduction? Thank you.
The honourable Minister of Tourism, Culture and Heritage on an introduction.
HON. LEONARD GOUCHER: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. It's a great pleasure today to welcome students on behalf of myself and also my colleague from Hammonds Plains, who has many students at Charles P. Allen in Bedford, to 38 students, Mr. Rhymes, and his students from Charles P. Allen.
I have had a long association with Charles P. Allen, I attend their R.I.O.T. days. R.I.O.T. days are political speak days at Charles P. Allen. They have been very, very involved in that and a wonderful school, wonderful teachers, and it's very appropriate that they are here today, Mr. Chairman, on the day that the estimates are taking place for the Minister of Education.
So on behalf of all of us in the Chamber here today, I would like to welcome all of the students, Mr. Rhymes, and all of the staff to the House, and hope that you have a wonderful tour and a great experience here in the House and we'll see you back very soon. So thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and I'd ask them all to stand and receive the warm welcome from the House here. (Applause)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. The honourable member for Preston.
MR. COLWELL: It is a pleasure to see young people in the audience here and the honourable member has done a great job introducing them. Probably someday they'll be taking your place here - at least one or more of them, which would be a great thing to see - in the distance, in the future.
Trades training, this program is now set up so someone can come forward and go through the process. Have you had anyone go through the process yet successfully?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, if he would please give me one moment before I answer the question. I would also like to welcome the students who are here from Charles P. Allen, students and teachers, welcome to the House. This is a good learning experience for you, how the House operates. I'm sure that your teacher has explained to you and if they haven't, they will, the process that we are now in which is budget process and estimates, which are part of each department. At this point, I'm in the midst of estimates, I'm glad you're here to join in and watch the proceedings. So welcome again.
To get back to your question, the member opposite has asked the question about how many people may have taken advantage of the Certificate of Proficiency. I'm not aware that any of our tradespeople have taken advantage of that. I did check with our director about a month ago, to see what the uptake on that had been, and at that point there had been nobody who requested the opportunity to do the proficiency examination.
That tells me a couple of things. One of the things it tells me is that perhaps we need to do a better job of communicating so that they do know the opportunity is there and they do know how to access that. The second thing it tells me is that when we were doing the changes, the amendments, we talked about what kind of a population out there would we be targeting and we did not anticipate at that point that it was a large audience, but even though it wasn't a large audience, we wanted to make sure that they had that opportunity. So there's either a small audience or we need to communicate better. But from our part, we'll do the communication.
MR. COLWELL: I think the problem is going to be, from what I've seen in my own area, I've been approached by different people in my area from actually all parts of my constituency, which is interesting; they are quite interested in this process, but didn't know where to start and I didn't want to set them off on the road until I knew this thing was up and going, because I don't think they can - some of the people I've dealt with are pretty shy and I don't want to put them into something if it's not ready yet. If it wasn't ready, then I'd approach them again and say now it's ready, and they would say get lost, basically, and rightfully so.
So now that it's in place, I'll make sure that we start feeding some people through to your department and be watching closely to see how that works out. Hopefully it'll be a pleasant operation for everybody and I'm sure it will be, because we've got some pretty highly skilled people who just for one reason or another couldn't finish high school; they had to go to work when they were young, but they've gone into things and found their way into businesses that they truly enjoy and really excel at, but can't make the money because they don't have a certificate. So I'm pleased to hear that.
Perhaps just a simple yes on this would be appropriate or a no - I'm sure yes will be appropriate. Perhaps if we could make arrangements, we could make arrangements for your director of the department to maybe give me a call so we could set up an individual to start off and maybe we can do a test case and just see how this works.
MS. CASEY: Through you, Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, yes, I am able to say yes to that. Our director, Stuart Gourley, will be contacted before day's end and we'll work with him to try to make a connection there so that first step is an easy one for those people who want to take it.
MR. COLWELL: I anticipated that would be your answer so that's why I suggested the yes, and I appreciate that. One issue that you may not be aware of, and that I think the director should be made aware of, some of the people I have been dealing with have worked for some places for a long time and they are treated very well by their employer, but they don't get paid much and they are afraid that if they openly come out and look at this, they will lose their jobs.
I don't think that's the case, but they have that fear and I want to make sure that fear is not reality and indeed, when they start to process that, they'll be able to go through the process in times of the day that they're not working and other things. This could be one of the reasons that people haven't come forward, because it is a real issue. I mean if you're just living from day to day and you need that job, you need every hour of that day you can get, you don't want to take a chance on missing time from work that their employer may say, well, I've got someone else out here who will take your job, and that could happen. I don't think that would happen in these cases, but it's a real fear for people and I want to make sure that the department understands that, and I think that's quite an important part of this process.
How much time do I have, Mr. Chairman, until 12:20 p.m.? Thank you.
I've got another question here and this is a question I've asked before. I've got the answer; I'm not pleased with the answer, but I want to hear the answer again. Teachers tell me that in the Halifax Regional School Board, if someone shows up for school between Grade 7 and Grade 12, just shows up and doesn't do anything, they give them a Grade 12 certificate at the end of Grade 12 and fail in one year. Is that true?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, I think I need a little elaboration on that question. My interpretation of what you said is that being in school from Grade 7 to Grade 12, with no academic success at the end of each grade level, that there is a certificate at the end of Grade 12. Am I interpreting that question correct?
Well, my answer to that would be, we certainly have standards at each grade level and there's an expectation that students meet those standards and performance by the individual,
based on their ability to perform, is what would guarantee them a certificate at the end of Grade 12. We recognize that there's a wide range of abilities coming into our schools and individual programs are prepared in consultation with parents, teachers, and sometimes the student at a high school level, as to what the appropriate programming would be, what the outcomes of that program would be. When students have passed through their grades on an individualized program, there's a certificate at the end of that program, but it does acknowledge that it was with the support of an individualized program.
MR. COLWELL: That's pretty well the answer I expected. I can remember sitting in with the principal in one of the junior high schools that a student goes to from my area. The parent was desperately pleading with the principal to not move her son forward because he couldn't read or write Grade 9 and he was going in Grade 12 and the psychologist was brought in by the school board. There were some behavioural problems that didn't help the situation any, a very bright young man, just needed the right kind of help and the help was never there in the school that he needed and the parents could not afford tutors or anything else. To the best pleas of the mother that started in Grade 6, he was put into Grade 7, Grade 8, Grade 9 and pushed into Grade 10, again going to school some weeks two hours a week, if that.
This is really happening. I know that the answer is, students are graduated at the ability that they show and they still come out with a Grade 12 certificate at the end. The concern I have with the whole thing is, as a former employer, seeing people come out of high school, the first thing we would start to do after awhile was to get them to write a little note for us to see if they could actually write, get them to read a document to see if they could actually read. Unfortunately a lot of people couldn't do these simple things even though they had a Grade 12 certificate that might have put them in the middle area of Grade 12.
This is a real problem, I don't know how you fix it. I think a lot of it comes from mainstream, parents wanting to mainstream their students into the system rather than giving them the help they should really need. When you see a parent who really wants their son or their daughter to graduate with an education so that they can get a reasonable job, it's very disappointing for them. So I'd just like to hear the minister's views on that.
MS. CASEY: We don't like to hear stories like that, we recognize that there are a number of factors that contribute to a student's success as they're moving through school. One of the things that we make sure we put a lot of our resources into, is to early detection if there is some kind of disengagement by the student, what's causing that student to not be engaged and what's going on in the classroom. It can be for a variety of reasons, not always all related to ability, however, for some reason the student is not actively participating in the programs that are being delivered.
One of the things that we have introduced in our schools is the O2 program - Options and Opportunities. We know there's a population out there that hasn't been well served in the past, those students who have an inclination towards hands-on kinds of employment and training and have not and should not be university bound. So we're trying to capture that audience with our Options and Opportunities program. Now Options and Opportunities is just as it's said, it provides an opportunity for students to get some experience so they can make decisions at the end of Grade 12 based on information that it's an informed decision. They may determine at the end of Grade 12 that, yes, they are going on to university and that's where they should be, and that's wonderful, but they also may decide at the end of Grade 12 that they've had an opportunity to do some hands-on kinds of experiences and they may want to pursue that further.
The very positive part of O2 is if that's their decision, then they transition into community college, so it's a seamless transition from Grade 12 through to community college and even after community college, they may want to go on to university. The rationale for putting the O2 in there is to provide students with experiences while they're in Grades 10, 11 and 12, hands-on experiences, and still graduate with the regular Grade 12 graduation certificate but have had those experiences which help them. I don't know the specifics of the case you speak of, but perhaps an opportunity like that may have caused that student to be more engaged, more interested, and would have continued on into some meaningful kind of employment. Going to school for that person may have taken on new meaning and that's what we want to try to capture, and hold all of the students that we can.
You suggested or you indicated that that student perhaps by Grade 9 had a very low reading level. One of the other areas that we put a lot of emphasis on in our schools is on assessment and we start that at Grade 3 - I mean teachers do ongoing assessment as soon as the students are in their classroom, but we do formal assessments in literacy and math at Grade 3. The purpose there is to catch those students who are falling behind because if you're behind in your reading and literacy skills at Grade 3, then we want to get early intervention and provide supports for that student so the gap can be closed.
If that gap is not closed, getting to Grade 9 creates a whole lot of problems because not only do you have to close the gap, but that student is obviously feeling very unsuccessful and very turned off with school. So our assessments early on in elementary are designed to identify those students and then we put the resources in to help them. That student, again, it's a specific situation but maybe some of those opportunities that are there now weren't there when that student was going through and we don't want any more of those students going through.
MR. COLWELL: Indeed the opportunities weren't there because the parent tried as early as Grade 1 and Grade 2 to get the young gentleman evaluated and it was after Grade 6 before it ever happened, which was way too late. So, hopefully, that situation has been corrected. I'm not that confident in the Halifax Regional School Board that they've actually
done that. I'll believe it when I see it. The situation with me, I've seen so much of this go on in the areas that I represent that it really needs to change and it needs to change quickly for the sake of the children, and for our society and our community, because we don't have well educated young people coming out there that can't do the technically advanced jobs that are so prevalent today and make the kind of income that they need to make to look after their families.
I'm not going to take too much more of the minister's time, I'm going to turn it over to my colleague, but we had in the Public Accounts Committee awhile ago the president of the community college whom I respect greatly. I think whoever selected that lady to do the job as the president of the community college did the very right thing. She's very qualified, very knowledgeable, and very passionate about what she hass done. She and I had a discussion about a topic I'm going to talk about now, that we disagreed on, and I appreciate the disagreement, but I'm going to shed some more light on that.
I have an industrial background. I was in manufacturing, very advanced manufacturing actually, set some of the standards in the province that other companies have since followed. I was getting students out of the community college at that time who simply weren't trained well enough to operate the equipment that we had there, and they supposedly had been trained to that level. I didn't blame the students because the students, when we got them and worked with them for usually several months or more than a year, they could do minimal level of work. Now, that was very expensive for us. It meant, when I say expense, not just the expense of training someone and the cost of that, but the parts that we were making were very expensive. So if they scrapped a piece, then that cost me, one minute cost me $4,000 or $5,000, and then we had to start all over again. So it was a difficult thing.
Now, luckily we got very good people and in some places, as I told the president of the community college, that in one school in particular they've got a millwright teaching a machinist course which I found out later, which is not acceptable, and that's why the students couldn't do anything when they came to my shop and we just simply stopped taking applications. I think that has since been corrected, but during this whole debate about watering down the courses and getting them so watered down that basically when you get a student out of there, even though the student is very bright and very capable, just hasn't had enough time and enough experience to do anything.
I was at home and a friend of mine is a retired teacher from the community college, who has previously worked at Mount Saint Vincent in one of the departments, a very qualified lady, very qualified, and I made the mistake of indicating to her that we had the president of the community college here at Public Accounts. I thought I was going to get chastised, I told her what I said and I thought I was going to get chastised. Well, it was just the opposite, absolutely opposite.
I'd seen a side of this lady - I've known her for many, many years - that I didn't know existed. She wasn't frustrated, that's not a strong enough word, she wasn't aggravated, that wasn't a strong enough word, I can't use the proper adjective here to describe how upset this lady was with the system.
She retired a couple of years ago and she went on for about two hours explaining to me some of the problems she has seen in the system. I can tell you, I've talked to students that, over the years, she trained with other teachers in the community college process - very successful students that got very, very good jobs and are actually managing businesses now. This lady is very capable.
In her words, and I'll be very kind here, the system is so watered down that the students don't get one-tenth of what they need. That is a very strong statement. That's coming from someone who was teaching in the system. Myself, as an employer, and other employers I've talked to, are saying the same thing.
You can't take and compress a program that really takes years and years and years for someone to train and to learn how to do a particular trade, or it could be some type of accounting, you can't take that process and squeeze it down into three or four months. You can't do it, it just doesn't work. It's not fair to the students, it's not fair to the instructors and it's not fair to the employers when the students come out. The worst of it is, you have extremely intelligent people taking these courses and people that excel even though they have restrictions to work with.
My business relied on machinists. To train a machinist - and you probably don't know this because not many people do that aren't in manufacturing - from the day they walk in a school until they can produce anything you give them, is eight years. Eight years. Now, that sounds like a simple thing, you just turn some dials and make some parts, but I'm telling you it takes eight years and I've checked with manufacturing colleagues in the U.S. and asked them that same question and the answer is always the same. It's eight years.
You take a course that at one time in this province used to be three years, with additional work at the Nova Scotia Institute of Technology after that for anywhere from two to three years on top of that - a five week course every year - and you shrunk it down to one year. Then, you didn't even make the year longer, you didn't make the year 12 months, you left it at eight months, basically eight months.
I feel sorry for these young people that are coming to these courses that really need to get work. It's really difficult on the employers because they're trying to get young people, because it's hard to get new people that are trained. This is the reality of what's going on. It's not that the school isn't good, it's not that the instructors aren't good, it's not that the programs aren't good, it's just they're compressed too much. You have to give people time
to learn, you have to give them hands-on experience to do these things and until that changes, our economy is not going to improve in Nova Scotia. It's simply not going to improve.
If you don't have people manufacturing things in this province - we've seen it in Trenton, TrentonWorks is shut down now. I would bet you if they had better training and different management there, that place could have been as competitive as anywhere in the world. But, if you don't give people the tools to work with and the hard tools - the equipment they use - and the right combination of those things, you cannot be competitive in today's international market. Either your product is being sold internationally or it's being manufactured internationally.
We really have to look at this whole process and I think we've got to have a strong look at this community college process - there are a lot of good programs, I'm not saying everything is bad here and I'm not saying the instructors aren't good, the instructors are good, but if you don't give them the tools to work with, and don't give them time enough to do their job, they can't do it. So I'd like to hear the minister's comments on that.
MS. CASEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and to the member opposite, the community college is an important part of that education system that we have in Nova Scotia and I've spoken about it many times about how it's meeting the need of the population and how it's growing. They have an extensive growth plan and we have 13 campuses around the province. We have about 10,000 students now and that's a significant growth in the numbers of students who are taking advantage of the courses that are there and we are introducing new courses all the time.
As with any introduction of any program, it needs to be monitored very carefully to make sure that the outcomes that we expect students to have at the end of that training program have been achieved, and so standards are very important, whether it's in our schools, our universities or our community colleges.
I would agree with the member opposite in his initial comments. I believe we have a very strong administration there, and I think we have a very progressive and aggressive administration there. Someone who connects very closely with the workforce and who is constantly trying to make sure that the programs that are designed at the college, are meeting the needs out in our communities. And so that link between employer, business and industry and education, is very strong, in particular, with the community college and with our skills and training division.
There are programs at the community college that are one- and two-year programs, but there are customized training programs there as well, where an employer has recognized a need with some of their employees and together with the community college, they've
designed what we call a customized program, designed specifically to meet the needs of those employees, and I think that's again an important step where we're trying to work in partnership and some of those courses maybe only three or four months, depending on the skills that the employee has when they come in and what the employer's expecting them to have when they leave. So that's, again, another opportunity where people can get that specific training.
One of the programs that we have that, again, I believe will help address your concern or the concern out there of the length of time that people are in some kind of training program before they go on-site as an employee is obviously our apprenticeship program. And I think one of my first visits when I came in as minister was to Composites Atlantic, down in Lunenburg, and had an opportunity to be there when 20 apprentices from our schools were partnering with the company and the owner of the company was identifying this as a good investment of his time and his money because these young people, who may become his potential workforce, were getting to know exactly what the expectations were, what the skills were that they needed, and so when they graduated and they wanted to come there to work, they were quite familiar with what that would entail; and he, as the employer, was very familiar with them, with their work ethic and with their skills, and so gave him a first-hand opportunity to determine whether this was an employee who could work within his environment.
That was just the beginning of a relationship and a partnership, and not all of those people who went through that apprenticeship program would be working at Composites Atlantic, but it was an opportunity for both partners, the students and the company, to work together and hopefully create a workforce that would be able to handle. And he would be comfortable that they could handle the work that they were being asked to do.
But to go back to the community college. We have to make sure that we maintain high standards, and if input from the employer is such, as I'm hearing today, that perhaps not all of the graduates from all the programs are as well prepared to take on the employment opportunities, then the community college will need to hear that, and when the community college hears that, responsibility then is to look at the program, look at the outcomes, and make modifications to ensure that we do graduate a student who is ready to hit the ground running when they're hired by the employer.
MR. COLWELL: I just want to wrap up by thanking the minister, and perhaps some day when she has a couple of hours and she's not too stressed before she starts, she could talk to my friend and get information from inside the system that you would not hear any place. I think it would be quite informative, and the lady I am talking about is very well educated, very passionate about the students she was teaching and turned out excellent students. So it might be interesting just to hear that side of the story, because at present teachers won't speak about it outside the school situation; and with the minister's past history, I think in a
five or 10-minute conversation you could learn a tremendous amount very, very quickly in this issue and that's an important issue. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The honourable member for Cape Breton Nova.
MR. GORDON GOSSE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I thank the minister today for being here with the Budget Estimates for her department, so let's get started right away. Demand for teachers in the Province of Nova Scotia has risen dramatically in the last couple of years with retirements, due to the indexing of pensions, so any new teacher now will not have indexing of their pension. Most of them had left and there's quite a gap in there. I'm just wondering, is the department going to increase the number of spaces for teacher training in the Province of Nova Scotia?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, I am delighted to have the question because I have an answer. One of the things that you may have recognized that I try to do as minister is to look at things we're doing within the Department of Education and recognize that just because we decided 10 years ago that if something was a good idea that we'd continue to do it without going back to re-evaluate or to reassess. So there have been a number of areas where I've called for a review. We went through one with the school closure review and that translated into an excellent opportunity for our public to let us know what they felt about the Education Act as it spoke to school closure. That translated, as we all know, into a report with seven recommendations, and I was able to bring forward to the House amendments to the Education Act, speaking to each one of those seven recommendations.
That model is something that I personally and professionally believe is a good one and have identified other areas where we could apply that model. To get to your question, teacher training, teacher certification is one of those. We are putting together a three-person committee with an advisory committee to work with them, and the terms of reference and their mandate will be to look at where and how and what the terms, duration of teacher training programs are in our province.
We recognize that there is a gap there between supply and demand. We have a number of teachers who are retiring. We also recognize that as it now exists in our province, if you want to get a teacher's licence, a teacher's certificate to teach, you have to do your four-year undergrad and two years of education. That's six years. Personally and professionally, I don't think we can wait six years for these people to go through teacher training institutions and come out and help meet the demand that's out there now.
I can't predict the outcome of the study but I do recognize that we have to deal with that particular issue. Along with that, I talked about where teachers get their teacher training and the duration. The duration I've just addressed, but I firmly believe that Nova Scotia students who wish to be teachers should be able to get their teacher training in Nova Scotia.
We know now that we have teachers who leave the province because they cannot get access to a teacher education training program at the universities we currently have. Memorial University, you know, is working to train some of our teachers, in co-operation with Cape Breton University. We know that Saint Mary's University is working in co-operation with universities in Maine. I would like to see those students be able to stay in Nova Scotia and get their training.
So the short answer is yes, we have called for a review. It will look at that and I expect the report for me to be ready in October-November. Thank you.
MR. GOSSE: Thank you, I'm glad I got the short answer. I'm looking at - and you had mentioned Memorial University and in conjunction with Cape Breton University but I wonder if those teachers are allowed to teach in the province when they're finished that degree from Memorial University and the one that they offer at Cape Breton University.
My next question will be, is the Department of Education going to give CBU a degree-granting program for its teacher training, so that like the minister said, we can keep our teachers here in the province?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, we've had some discussions about the future of teacher training in Cape Breton and in the province, and I anticipate that the review we have underway will have something that speaks specifically to where in this province we deliver teacher training opportunities.
MR. GOSSE: Thank you and I thank the minister for that answer and I'm hoping it will be Cape Breton University that will be able to do that and I'm glad to see the other ministers advocating for that, too.
Now I would like to talk about another issue, about guidance counsellors in the Province of Nova Scotia. Recently the guidance counsellors in the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board were told that they'll need more education. They can stay on the job but they'll need more credit courses offered at Acadia University and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm just wondering if the minister knows that these guidance counsellors who are in there now will not be able to transfer unless they have this extra - I forget if it is 30-something credits that they need to move around as guidance counsellors, so I'm wondering if the minister has any opportunity or thought about grandfathering these guidance counsellors into the position.
I've worked with many of these guidance counsellors in the past, they do a great job with our children in Cape Breton and they've influenced a lot of Cape Breton children in the Cape Breton-Victoria School Board, the guidance counsellors, so I'm just wondering if the Department of Education has any thought about grandfathering these guidance counsellors
in the Cape Breton-Victoria School Board, what they have right now is sufficient enough, and I'm wondering if they'll all have to go to Acadia. Thank you.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, we have had discussions about the guidance program at Cape Breton University. It is my understanding that when the guidance diploma was first introduced in Cape Breton University it was designed to provide teachers who were in the classroom with skills that would help them better deal with the guidance concerns that came up in the classroom. It was designed not to graduate guidance counsellors, but it was designed to provide teachers with guidance counselling so that they could, as I say, better deal with issues in the classroom. I believe it made stronger teachers because of that. It was a good program, and it did make the teachers stronger and give them more tools to deal with the issues that were facing them.
What happened as a result of that is that some of those people were hired as guidance counsellors. We have been working with the Cape Breton board to look at where we are with that. According to the expectations and the standards that we have for guidance counsellors, those people who have gone through the guidance training program at CBU have not met those standards. Only one university in the province, it is my understanding, Acadia University, gives a degree in guidance.
What we've said to the Cape Breton board and to the teachers involved is that those teachers who are in a guidance position, having the guidance diploma, will be grandfathered into that position. They will be given until 2010 in order to take some additional courses offered by Acadia, to give them full qualification as a guidance counsellor. I know that Acadia, the school board and the department are still working out the details of that.
MR. GOSSE: Well, I know about the valuable services of the guidance department and the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board, and I think my colleague on the other side of the House, who is a former school board member, would know the valuable resource they were to many children in that school board for many years, whether they got their diploma from CBU, whether they became teachers, or whatever, but I mean what I'm saying now is you're saying they'll be grandfathered in that position in 2010 but the only place that they can go - and it will cost them thousands of dollars - is to Acadia University to upgrade their licence so they can stay on the job and still stay there and be guidance counsellors as long as they don't transfer, from what I'm hearing from the school board. Thousands of dollars in extra costs for these professional people and they have influenced many a Cape Breton child and I think it's very important that - I don't understand maybe at this time why we couldn't grandfather them in.
I will move on to my next question on the apprenticeship program. It was just brought to my attention recently that the apprenticeship program was compromised. The test was compromised for the Level D apprenticeship class for the steam pipefitters. What has happened is that the test was given out and it was compromised. From what I'm hearing at
home in Cape Breton, they will have to wait until May to redo the test to get their Red Seal. Section 30 applicants under Level D application had nothing to do with an exam being compromised, yet these people in Cape Breton, these tradesmen and the steam fitters and pipe fitters are compromised. What has happened is that they made flights to go to Alberta, with the shutdown coming, they made these flights but now this apprenticeship test, because it was compromised, is not going to happen until May, so some of these unemployment programs that these guys were on, and made arrangements to have this test done, they were scheduled to write it on April 14th and now are going to have to wait another week.
There are 40 people who were going to take this Red Seal program, an apprenticeship program, to go to Alberta. So the cost would be about $1 million, I guess, in lost wages to these people who have not been able to go to Alberta because of the compromise of this exam. I am just wondering if the department should maybe look at having a second exam in place in the future so that if something happens, if it's compromised - and this has happened before in the past, that these apprenticeship program exams have been compromised - so I'm just wondering if there is any way of speeding this up or do you have to wait six weeks to get a new exam?
I'm wondering because those who were scheduled to write also on March 31st and then again April 14th are now having to wait an extra month. It's going to cost them, I think the union had told me about anywhere from $750,000 to $1.2 million in lost wages because they can't go to Alberta without the Red Seal. So I am wondering if the minister in the department is going to have a look at maybe getting a second exam in place for when this happens and these tests are compromised in the future. I think it would be a good policy on behalf of the department to have a second exam ready in conjunction with the industry so this won't happen again. I'm wondering if the department has had an idea of looking at doing that in the future and also what can be done to help these steam pipefitters recently now so that they can get to Alberta with their Red Seal to make money and bring that money back to Nova Scotia.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, I will certainly look into that. I recognize the importance of people if they have a date set for their test and they are planning their future and they are going to do the test on a certain day and then move on. So I will certainly look at that and take under advisement the recommendation that we try to retest or set another test date or have an alternate.
MR. GOSSE: I would like to thank the minister for that, but I think by having a second test put aside somewhere so it can't be compromised would be a great thing in the future so these guys can get out to work and get their Red Seal.
Now I would like to pass the remainder of my time to my colleague, the member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MS. MICHELE RAYMOND: Mr. Chairman, thanks to the minister for entertaining a few questions. I think you will have heard me speaking in the House previously and I think I have a very interesting family of schools in my area. I'm wondering if actually you can tell me a little bit more about them in the sense that the International Baccalaureate Program, I know, which has been introduced, the intention is to introduce it around the province, I know. I think it was going to be one per school board but in the case of J.L. Ilsley High School, which was not selected as one of the IB schools, it has chosen to pursue advanced placement courses and designation as an AP school. Can you tell me the status of that and whether J.L. Ilsley is expected to be joined by other schools around the province?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, we certainly are anxious to provide enrichment opportunities for those students who do need and want and are ready for a challenge. We do that in a couple of ways. We do that through the IB, and we also do that through Advance Placement. We did make a commitment in this budget to increase the number of schools for IB, and we also put dollars in our budget to help those schools that had AP designation, to continue, in fact, put the dollars there so students would not even have to pay the fee to write for the AP. Your question specific to a school, I'll have to get back to you on that one, if you don't mind. Both of those are important programs and we are trying to make sure that we have a geographic representation for where they are offered so students who are able to and want the challenge, have that opportunity, but I'll get back to you with the specifics on that school, if you don't mind?
MS. RAYMOND: That's fine, and thank you very much, and I'd certainly encourage you to look further at that and perhaps at similar geographic distribution for the AP courses, simply because that opens a lot of advance education to students who may not subscribe to the entire IB program, which is a very demanding program and requires a full investment on the part of very few students, whereas AP is perhaps a more flexible program and I hope it will have the chance to achieve equal representation around the province.
One of the things that I was wondering about, as well, and maybe you can tell me something about the progress here. For a long time I noted as my own children go through school and so on that there's not always library staffing anymore, and to the degree that libraries have long been regarded as sort of the silent working place, if staffed, and a place for children to go outside of the classroom in order to get work done if the hurly-burly of the classroom proves to be a bit much for quiet work. Are there any plans in place to ensure that libraries are fully staffed during school hours, so that children can go there to do independent work?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, and to the member opposite, we do provide funding to our school boards. Some of that funding is targeted and some is not, but we do target money which we expect school boards to use for library services in their school. What some boards have opted to do is to hire library assistants, so that there is somebody in the library who can meet the students who are there and provide the library services and supports there. Other boards choose to use some of that money for resources for the library. But that does go to the boards and boards do make those decisions.
One of the reasons boards have gone with library assistants as opposed to librarians, of course, is the availability and also the salaries that go along with that. So there's every effort to make sure that there's some supports in the library. It's interesting, when we are building our new schools, that the library often becomes the focal point in the new school. The design is such that it is there as the main part of the building when you first enter because it is an important part of the building. The resources that we give go directly to the boards, but targeted for libraries.
MS. RAYMOND: Well that's interesting, because I certainly would feel that the provision of library time is different from the provision of library resources, and it might be something that in fact the department wants to look at because I would say that it's a part of basic learning time, and as we say that a certain amount of physical education time should be provided in the course of any day, and a certain amount of study hall time, independent study, quiet time, whatever you want to call it, which usually takes place in a library, but if the school has a study hall, will take place there. I would argue that that's something that should be basically provided in every school, and however that's staffed there's nothing more dispiriting than to walk down a corridor filled with children sprawled on the floor trying to do their work outside the classroom because the library is closed. There's nobody in it. There may be books in it but there is no person to supervise. You'll see that in a great many school corridors. I would hope that library time will be looked at as an essential to be made available to students at all times.
In a little bit of the same vein, one of the things I was wondering about, and I think I asked briefly about this last year, but I'm wondering what the status is today of technical education in the high schools. I know that the area that I come from, that I represent, the J.L. Ilsley family of schools - at least in popular lore amongst the students graduating - has the reputation of sending a good number of children to community college, I mean a significant number to community college, and I'm curious as to whether that relates to the availability of technical education and whether you have done any sort of studies.
I know we talk a great deal about labour shortages and do a great deal to encourage attendance at Nova Scotia Community College and in the trades and so on, but how many high schools in the province at this moment, and I mean high schools, offer shop class, technical education, whatever you may call it, and is there any correlation between the availability of that in high school and attendance at community college?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, high schools are certainly a place where students should have the opportunity to have either electives or mandatory courses in technology. The department has certainly taken on an initiative to make sure that the resources are there in professional development, hardware, software and technical staff. We have over the last seven years put about $30 million into our schools in the form of the IEI initiative - Information Economy Initiative - and that was to make sure that our high schools had computers in every classroom and the teachers had the professional development that they needed so they knew how to use those, so the curriculum integration and technology could be integrated into curriculum delivery, and we also provide technical support because a computer that doesn't work is not of use to anyone. So we looked at all of those components and funded that to about $30 million over the last seven years.
We also have course selection at the high schools for, we call it technical education, but technology. Sometimes it's computer skills and sometimes it's keyboarding, sometimes it's programming. So those courses are available as options. I cannot give you the exact number but I would believe that every high school should be offering those courses as an elective.
MS. RAYMOND: Perhaps I'm not using quite the right language. I think it's what used to be called shop class that I was wondering about - saws, hammers, nails, all those sorts of things. (Interruption) That's history, but it's not in all schools.
I would like to at the moment pause, if I could, to welcome some students, young people, who probably know at least as much about the subject at hand as any of us do down here in the gallery. Welcome, and I hope you'll enjoy this, because this is really a learning process for us, for the members of the Opposition Party to question and learn. It's one of the more open times of debate and actually it's a time that we all really quite look forward to because it's one of the informal times for learning, least formal times of learning for us. So, welcome, and I hope you end up learning something or being able outside the Chamber to tell us something.
So, as I say, it was shop classes that I was wondering about really. I know there's at least one high school still offering it.
MS. CASEY: Thank you, and we now understand each other. I mentioned earlier about the Options and Opportunities, the O2 program, and that is an opportunity to have students choose that as one of their courses through Grade 10, Grade 11 and before they graduate in Grade 12. We have 27 schools currently this year and we are adding five to that. So there will be 32 sites, 32 high schools where that O2 option is available.
We also have taken $1.3 million towards composite vocational kinds of training and there was a time in this province when we had a number of vocational schools around the province and a decision was made that they would no longer continue. One of those schools
did survive, and that is Memorial High School in Cape Breton at a composite high school there. That's a model that we have looked at, and with the $1.3 million dollars that we're putting into composite vocational training this year, we certainly want to make sure that we can extend that kind of opportunity to more students around the province.
I've been to Memorial and the students were building a house inside the building, and they were doing the plumbing and they were doing the electrical and it was a wonderful learning environment for them.
One of the things that we've looked at is the facilities that we have in our schools and facilities that we have in our communities because, of course, it is costly to set up a shop. However, we do have community colleges - 13 campuses - and if they have facilities that we might be able to use, that's an option. We're also looking at the mobile unit approach, that's something that they use in Alberta, and I think they used it in Nova Scotia a number of years ago. The old "shopmobile" would drive up and the students would take their woodworking kinds of classes in that. My mother told me about that.
That whole approach, though, I think is something because we'd like to be able to take a fully-equipped lab right to the site so students can come out into a modern new lab and do their woodworking - if that happens to be the lab - or their electrical or whatever, for one semester and then move it on. We don't have to refurbish and outfit every high school with an expensive lab but we do want to give the students an opportunity to be in a high-class lab environment when they do take that training. So we have dollars in this budget, it is a commitment to the population that we want to serve.
MS. RAYMOND: Well, thank you very much. I commend you on that initiative. It has certainly led me - or I was afraid it was leading me - into one of my other questions, which is about that of insurance because, of course, it appears to be one of the limiting factors that keeps a number of students actually in the school and on the school property, as opposed to being able to depart and do learning either on vocational sites or on any number of other sites, and I'm not talking just about tech ed or shop at this point.
Does the department do anything in terms of providing group pools of insurance for the school boards to work with, or do the school boards insure themselves individually?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, school boards are self-insured, so students who are involved in activities related to their school would be covered by that.
MS. RAYMOND: So they're fully self-insured, so the department has no role in even negotiating insurance there, okay.
I have only one more question and then I'm going to pass my time to my colleague, the member for Pictou West. It also has its origins in a school in my area, J.L. Ilsley, the teen health centres. I understand that model - and these are Health Department-funded initiatives by the district health boards. Do they, in fact, exist and is it contemplated that they will exist in high schools throughout the province, through DHA funding?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, it certainly is our goal to have a teen health centre in every high school. Again, going back to new school construction, when high schools are built now, that's one of the rooms - one of the spaces, not just one room, but one of the spaces - that is designed. It's very much part of the design and that's an indication of where we want to go.
There are a number of them around the province and they have proven to be very valuable, so it is our goal to have one accessible in every school for all of our high school students. You know if you have a junior high population, they can well benefit from that as well.
MS. RAYMOND: Thank you, and I'm going to share the rest of my time with my colleague, the member for Pictou West.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Pictou West.
MR. CHARLES PARKER; Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I, too, want to welcome the minister and her staff here, and hope you're holding up okay. It is a long process, I know that, many hours in estimates. But no problem, I'm sure you can handle it.
I have a couple of points I want to raise with you. As you may recall, in Question Period yesterday we talked about libraries and library funding and the importance of public libraries as a lifelong learning measure. Certainly I can talk about the Pictou-Antigonish Regional Library, it has been well used, there's an uptake in the service there, and we have increases in program use and in on-line Internet browsing and so on. So more and more people are finding our libraries a wonderful place to visit and to get materials that they require.
However, as you can recall from our question exchange yesterday, there's a question over the amount of funding that has been allocated to our public libraries, and it has been brought to my attention by our local library board in the Pictou-Antigonish region that there's not enough there to make ends meet. In fact, over the last six years the funding increase for libraries in this province has only been 9 per cent. Of course, the cost of living increase during that period of time has been 21 per cent. So there's a shortfall even keeping up with the cost of living. As a result, the municipalities have had to pay more. They paid 35 per cent during that period of time and the library, through their own fundraising, has actually had to
increase by 313 per cent and, you know, it's an extra burden on both the municipalities and the fundraising that they do themselves.
So, Madam Minister, I guess my first question is, what can you tell us about the funding for libraries for this year? I'll have some follow-up questions on that after your comments.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, I do recall our conversation from yesterday in Question Period and my response to that. We recognize the importance of libraries across the province. We have nine library boards, well-operated boards, people who are committed to library services across the province. Out of those nine library boards there are 77 different sites around the province. I would acknowledge that as more and more people are using the Internet for accessing information and for doing business, that if they do not have computers in their own home, they may certainly be taking advantage of what's available in the libraries at the local library site, and that's encouraging.
We also recognize that with respect to that, the province does assume all costs for EDnet for those sites, and that's a way we have of providing support, so that service to those people who use the Internet and use the computers in their libraries have access to that. So that's a cost that we bear rather than the library itself.
The funding for libraries has not changed a lot over the last number of years. In fact, last year the base was $10.7 million and at the end of the year they were given an additional $1 million. This year we took that additional $1 million and put it into the base so the base now became $11.7 million in this budget that we currently have. That's not what the libraries had hoped for, that's not what they had asked for, but it is an attempt for us to let them know that funding is stable and an increase of $1 million that they can be sure of as they make their plans for the upcoming expenses.
MR. PARKER: Mr. Chairman, I want to talk about that $1 million and, as the minister indicated, it was given to the board last year in the fiscal year 2006-07, I guess it is, and that was an announcement a month ago, I believe, that the Premier made, that the additional money would be going to library boards, but in actual fact that money, I do believe, was held and is actually in this year's budget. Is that factual, that the $1 million allocated a month ago is actually a zero per cent increase, there's no actual increase in the dollars that were allocated to our library boards?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, the base for last year for libraries was $10.7 million. We did give them the additional $1 million in the budget year last year. This year we added that $1 million to the base to make the base $11.7 million.
MR. PARKER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. So the amount of money the library board received last year was $11.7 million, counting that $1 million that was allocated. This year,
the amount of money they will receive is $11.7 million and also in 2005-06, the amount was $11.7 million.
In actual fact, three years in a row now, the amount has been exactly the same amount of $11.7 million. That's a zero per cent increase over those three fiscal years. That is making it very tough for libraries to keep up with the cost of living, with increasing salaries, increasing cost of books, other costs they have. I've heard from our chief librarian at the Pictou-Antigonish regional board, Eric Stackhouse, he's saying it's going to make it very difficult for his board with his staff and the salary expectations and book costs and so on, it may mean a decrease in services, it may mean some cutbacks in the amount of books they can buy and so on. Three years running with a zero per cent increase is making it very tough. I would like to get the minister's opinion on that.
MS. CASEY: The member's numbers are correct, I think we're both saying the same thing. What we're saying to the libraries is, no, there has been no significant increase. All that has happened is that you're guaranteed that your base is now an additional $1 million. We believe that will help them with their planning. We recognize that they have challenges. We meet with the members of the library boards regularly and we will continue to work with them.
We know there's a new strategy developed for libraries across the province and we will continue to work with them and to monitor the situation. But, in fact, the numbers are as we've discussed.
MR. PARKER: Just one final question. In light of the fact that additional monies were found last year, $1 million to help the board at that period in time, is it possible or likely that perhaps additional money can be found in this fiscal year also to help the board? They're hurting, they really need additional dollars - a zero per cent increase is really, really hard on a board year after year.
MS. CASEY: I would hope that my comments in that we would continue to work with the boards to monitor how they're able to operate would suggest that should additional monies become available, we would recognize there had been no increase and we'd give that serious consideration.
MR. PARKER: I appreciate the minister's commitment to that, and hopefully the department will be able to find additional dollars to help out a very serious situation.
I want to switch focus here now to another aspect of the minister's department, and that's around the school review process and school closures, as I guess it used to be known. There's certainly nothing that puts fear into a community more than the threat of their local community school being shut down or phased out.
My experience with this has been with the River John Consolidated School. I'm sure the minister is familiar with it - Primary to Grade 9 - it's been a struggle there to keep the numbers up in that community. There was a consolidation study done last year which meant that Grades 7, 8 and 9 would possibly be going to another location, either the Academy in Pictou or Northumberland Regional High School or North Colchester Regional High School in Tatamagouche, but there were some options being considered, as well as the status quo.
Like I said, the community rallies anytime there's a threat to their community school and we all know community schools are really the heart and soul of a community. The parents, grandparents, children, people of all ages sort of come to the schools as the centre of a community. If that's gone, it really hurts economic activity in the area, it hurts community spirit and it probably prevents new businesses and young families, or anybody, from moving into the area.
One suggestion that's been suggested to counter that problem is, could our schools be used for more than just a school? Is there other economic activity that could be used in those empty classrooms to help keep the costs down? There have been suggestions around a daycare, around government offices, some type of compatible type of business.
I guess I'm asking the minister, has the department looked seriously at enhancement of schools rather than looking at closing them out, but are there additional things that could be added to the school to make it viable to keep it there? Who knows, down the road a few years, there may be additional children and the school population would build back up again. In those empty classrooms that are costing money for heating and maintenance and so on, are there some additional uses that could be employed?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, I couldn't agree more that community schools are important. They are the lifeblood of the community and should be used, in my opinion, for more than an eight-to-four or nine-to-three school environment. Many communities do use the facilities in a school. However, we also recognize - I would use pre-Primary as an example. We have pre-Primary in 19 sites across the province and we try to put the pre-Primary in areas and communities that did not already have some facility available to deliver a preschool program. If a community - and we're using River John as an example - if a community like River John were interested in working through the school board and municipality to provide other services in that facility, I think it would be an excellent opportunity to take advantage of provincially owned buildings to provide services beyond the public school program.
MR. PARKER: Mr. Chairman, certainly by building up our community schools rather than tearing them down, it seems to make a lot of sense to me if we can enhance those classrooms, those buildings to provide more services to a community and that, therefore,
allows the school to remain open. In time, the school population may grow or come back. So it's building the economic activity in our communities rather than taking it away. I'm glad to hear the minister is thinking along that line also.
The other thing I want ask in relation to that, there was a study done recently by a couple of professors - Mike Corbett from Acadia University and Dennis Mulcahy from Memorial University - on the value of small schools. It was called Education on a human scale: Small rural schools in a modern context. They make a very good argument for the value of small schools in communities and basically refute evidence that perhaps, at least at the elementary level, that bigger schools are better and that they make a solid argument for the value of small schools and how that helps the community and it keeps down busing costs and so on.
I just wonder, first of all, I'm assuming the minister has had a chance to read the document and, secondly, can you give us your philosophy around the value of small schools at the elementary level?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, we have both lived through a lot of issues with respect to large school/small school. There is a body of research that would support both of those, depending on which position you wanted to take. But I do recognize the importance of elementary schools in the community. I also recognize the importance of a critical mass at high school, because it allows for the delivery of a broader range of courses. So I'm not suggesting for one minute that what's good for one community or what's good for one grade level is good for all. I think every one of them needs to be discussed in the context of the community and the grade configuration.
Also, the geography. Transportation is an issue and we recognize transporting young people great distances, perhaps, does not make them the most productive when they arrive at the school. So I think each one has to be judged on its own merits and I don't believe the guidelines and conditions for elementary schools remaining open or closing should necessarily be the same as they are for high schools.
The new policy that you've referenced, the changes in the Act actually with respect to school closure process certainly makes it very clear that there's a rigorous review that must take place, and all of those components, and more that we've talked about, have to be considered and be part of that review before a board recommends any kind of closure or consolidation.
I believe that's an excellent step, because it does give all boards a clear set of criteria that they have to use and a very clearly laid-out process that they have to follow, and that process includes bringing all of the community people, parents and business and municipal folks, to the table to discuss what is a very important and can become a very passionate topic in a community.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Before I recognize the honourable member, the committee is going to recess for a few minutes to allow the minister and her staff a few minutes. So the committee will recess for a few minutes and will be called back to order.
[1:05 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[1:12 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: The Committee of the Whole House on Supply will reconvene.
The honourable member for Dartmouth East.
MS. JOAN MASSEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'll thank the honourable minister before I begin for her answers. I don't have a lot of questions, actually, today. I have about 15 minutes, so I'll squeeze as much as I can in there.
I do understand, through the budget, what's happened - well, it appears that what has happened is that some of the discretionary funding that normally would be used for things like special needs, books, technology, has actually been used to provide some of the promised increases to core funding, and one of the discretionary funds is school renovations. So I'm just wondering if that's going to affect the scheduled renovations/alterations at Prince Andrew High School.
The last time, last year at budget it was still on the list for receiving, I think, $8.9 million in scheduled alterations/renovations, so I'm just wondering if that's still in line to happen - or maybe it has already happened and I just haven't seen the action at the school site myself when I'm dropping my son off there. I'd be happy to hear that it's already completed. Thank you.
MS. CASEY: If I could, Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, the capital budget this year is designed to address those schools that were announced in 2003 in the Capital Construction Committee's report. There were 12 schools and 45 renovations/additions. If you'll just give me one minute here, please.
I guess the good news, to the member opposite, it is still in the plan. As I said on many occasions, all of those 45 schools that were there for additions/renovations are still there, they have not been changed. The commitment to deliver on those has not been changed, but the timeline has.
Prince Andrew is one of those ones that will not be addressed during this current year. If there were an expectation that it would, there would be no funds allocated to that during the 2007-08 budget year.
MS. MASSEY: I actually had understood those would begin in 2007, I thought originally, so can you tell me when they will begin, when are they scheduled to begin? Thanks.
MS. CASEY: When I recognized that we have a number of projects that are on the books - on the books meaning that they're there and approved for renovations or additions - it was my desire to make sure we moved through with everything we had made a commitment to before we added any new to the list. So that commitment is still there to do that school as funds become available. All I can do right now is tell you what's on the schedule for the 2007-08 budget and, depending on the dollars that I get next year for capital, it will make a difference in what ones can be addressed in the 2008-09 budget year. But, at this point in time, I'm not prepared to make any promises based on not knowing what the dollars will be.
MS. MASSEY: I don't want to just drag on with this, but that original plan was in 2003 and if at that time the government had a plan and they obviously thought it was going to be completed by 2007, in their planning, the money should be set aside to make sure that actually happens. Those are promises that are made to communities and I am concerned that it looks like some money has been moved around to make it look like there have been promised increases to core funding when, in fact, what might have happened, and what looks like has happened, is that some of the money, for school renovations, that is discretionary has been sucked out of there and put somewhere else to make an election promise that looks like it's been broken.
I'm not going to keep beating on that same drum, but that's what it may appear to the people in my community that's happened. My son's 18 and he'll be finished at that school this year, so nothing's happened while he's been there and nothing has happened while my other sons went to the school.
My second point, question - I don't know if it's a question or just an observation - is that I'm sure you know we're losing a rink at the Akerley Campus in Dartmouth East. I think people, of course, are very upset that the rink is going to be gone, as a rink, and used as something else. Of course, it's on a community college campus, but there seems to have been a real lack of communication or a breakdown in communication or the communication didn't happen at all between the campus, the Department of Education, the department of recreation, and the Department of Health Promotion and Protection, all these different departments. I know we're always talking about operating in silos and we have to stop doing that, because this is what happens to communities and it really leaves them in a bind. All those children and youth who use the rink, and adults also, are left in the lurch.
We do have a community centre and we're very thankful for that, that it's going to be built, but in our planning for that we never planned to put a rink there because, of course, there was a rink basically across the street. So I'm just wondering if you can address what your department is going to do in the future to make sure that, you know, these things are communicated and, in fact, did communication break down and has anybody been held accountable for that at the community college level, I'm suspecting?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, I'm glad she has asked that question, because I think it's important that we can clarify what has happened there. It's true that the rink that is on the Akerley Campus had been used by the community. When the community college began its expansion and its growth plan, it had a use for that piece of property that will be designed to support programs for the community college.
I know that there were several meetings between the municipality and the community college. In fact, I had an opportunity to participate in one of those meetings where the whole question of the fact that the community college was now going to be using that property for their own purposes, what impact that would have on the community, how HRM would try to meet the needs of the young people and others in the community who were using that rink, and so I know that there was a fair bit of discussion. I believe that there was actually a year given from the time that the community college originally wanted to start work on that site so that the community and HRM would have time to address what void that might bring to community spaces for the young people in that area.
So I know those discussions were held and I also know that the principal at the community college did communicate to the folks in the area the fact that there would be a date when that ice surface would no longer be available. So I think the communication was there. I know the consultation was there and I do support the community college in using that facility for something that supports their programs.
MS. MASSEY: Well, I hate to disagree, and unless you've got information that I'm not aware of there was no consultation done, and in fact the information that the rink was closing was leaked out by someone who knew about it. So there was no consultation done prior to it and the date the rink was closing was going to be April 3rd, or April 1st, or what have you, and we're in that month now. As far as I know, the rink is closed and there are no plans, HRM doesn't really have a plan for replacing that rink. I hate to disagree but I will.
Anyway, moving on to something else, I would like to address an issue in my community right now as far as breakfast programs in the schools. I know the honourable member for Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank has an issue in his district where there's a food bank in the school. Well, I've just recently found out that we now have a breakfast program at one of our junior high schools, Caledonia Junior High. We already have a breakfast program at the elementary level and, you know, it's a sad thing to see - I mean I'm happy the community and whoever is involved in this pulled together to do this, but I don't
think in today's age and the amount of money that we're spending in this province that children should have to go to school hungry and rely on other people to feed them. They should be getting nutritious meals at home.
My concern is these same children will, of course, be the same youth that follow and go up the street to Prince Andrew High School. So when they finish Grade 9, they're going to move on to the high school level and I've always wondered, what is the province doing really in a concrete manner on providing breakfast programs? I'm not really sure what your role is and I don't know if there are high schools that have breakfast programs, and if not, then maybe you need to be looking at that, because those same children do end up going to high school. I think maybe one of the reasons we have such high dropout rates is because a lot of these kids are going to school hungry. These are big kids, they're six-foot. We have all seen them, they're a lot taller than us.
AN HON. MEMBER: We live with them.
MS. MASSEY: Yes, some of them live in my home, and lots of his friends, also. They don't actually live there but they do eat a lot of pizza.
I'm really concerned. I've gone to the fundraisers. The Boys and Girls Club of East Dartmouth had a fundraiser at the Akerley Campus and they do a fabulous job and I give them credit for everything they do. It's just a sad, sorry state that we have food banks in our schools and we have to put in breakfast programs. Our kids would be sitting there all day, or at least until noon, and not even sure if when they go home they're getting something. So what's the government doing, especially your department? Are you working with Health Promotion and Protection or are you working with somebody else to address that issue on food insecurity in our school system, and what are our kids doing?
MS. CASEY: She paints, unfortunately, a very real picture of what's happening with respect to some of our students going to school without having a good breakfast, and we know that the research certainly would support the connection between good eating, nutrition, having a good breakfast and academic performance. There is no question the research is there to support the connection between the two.
We do work very closely with Health Promotion and Protection. In fact, Health Promotion and Protection provide about $750,000 to school boards to support that breakfast program; and boards make the decision based on the needs in their communities, how they can best address that. The focus has been primarily at the elementary level, but there's nothing to say that couldn't be extended to that older generation.
We also recognize the valuable work that some of our volunteers do and some of our parents do and have carried that program at their own cost. But those dollars are there, through Health Promotion and Protection, and will continue to go to the boards. They make
the decision, but eventually they do make the final determination as to where the best place is to put those dollars within their board.
MR. CHAIRMAN: There is approximately half a minute left.
MS. MASSEY: Well, I hope you do look into providing some of those services at the high school level. I think it's something that needs to be looked at now. With the high dropout rates we have, I'm sure it's having an impact there. High school students are less likely to ask for help. In elementary, they are more likely to speak to someone about it, but people have their pride. I think it's an issue and I do hope you look at that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. LEO GLAVINE: Mr. Chairman, as we continue here, I have a number of questions left, I think about 15. So if the minister and I can work out preambles and answers, that's about four minutes each, I guess. So perhaps we can work along those guidelines. Perhaps, in fact, maybe our caucus will be pretty well near the end of education, actually.
First of all, this year literacy, certainly in the province, came back into the news because of the cuts that were announced at the federal level. All of us, I think, in the province who have had any connections with education, with our school system and those, of course, who connect to the work world, realize that this is a very big issue and very topical here in Nova Scotia. I was just wondering if the minister has looked at literacy, potential cuts, how the department may be, in fact, filling some of those gaps and indeed the literacy picture as we see it in the province, how will it be supported by government during the next fiscal year?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, I stood in this House before and made the comment that I was disappointed when the decision was made to have dollars from the federal government targeted for literacy - to have a cut in those dollars - and that we were prepared to work within the budget that we had with communities so that they could try to access monies that would allow some of their very important projects to continue.
The member opposite would know the importance of literacy and the opportunities for those people who need to have - who have found themselves in situations where they need to have their skills graded. We have about $6.6 million that we put into adult literacy in the province and those dollars are used, they are accessible for communities that wish to put together a literacy project based on the needs that they have in their community. Our records last year show that about 5,000 adults took advantage of that. It's very heartwarming when you go to one of their celebrations and you hear the testimony from those adults who have been able to access those dollars.
We have and will continue to lobby the federal government for additional dollars for them to put back into our system, those dollars that help support literacy projects. We have not made any commitment to replace those dollars; we're continuing to keep our dollars as they were.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you very much, Madam Minister, for that. At least our provincial commitment will stay at the same level, which brings right into line adult education. Throughout the province, both inside the community college as well as, if you wish, a storefront approach sometimes adult education has been given, again, a needed profile in our province. In fact just shortly after being elected as an MLA, I had the challenge of dealing with Level 1 and Level 2 being maintained at the Annapolis Campus, and I'm pleased to say that the former Minister of Education, again very cognizant of that need, supported adult education.
Again, I'd like to know in terms of the budget for this year, and also the commitment to the levels of education, adult education, are those being maintained at the same level or are they being expanded? Once again, it's a critical program that we need in our communities.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, I believe you're talking about adult high schools. We certainly recognize the importance of providing opportunities for those students to participate in an adult high school program and have continued our funding to boards so that they can support those initiatives and try to make sure that boards provide those opportunities geographically so that people from all areas of our province can have access to those.
We've heard stories of people who have driven many miles every day in order to participate in an adult high school and come out with their GED or with a certificate that will allow them to go on to further training. So our commitment is maintained for that through funds to the boards.
MR. GLAVINE: The third part of those linkages there among literacy and adult education is our work activity centres, and the work activity centre I guess perhaps is maybe a quasi-high school upgrading skills development, and perhaps in other parts of the province it has a different name. I'm talking about the Annapolis Valley Work Activity Centre. I know it's funded by HRSD. I'm wondering if that's a program supported by the Department of Education, because again I know it's a program that is very vital to our area. Again, I was wanting to kind of do a check in terms of any level of commitment at the Department of Education, or involvement that they have with such a centre.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, I'm not familiar with that particular centre, but I believe from what you're telling me, it would be funded federally. At this point we have no commitment to that centre. That's not to say we don't support the work they're doing.
MR. GLAVINE: Moving to a completely different area, during this last three or four weeks, actually going back probably into February, the issue arose with the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board around the use of in-service time - taking time through the regular school day in order to accumulate enough time so that once a month, in-service could take place on Fridays. I'm just wondering about an update on that. I know the minister has been involved with that and an early decision was made about it, and I'm wondering if that now has been totally resolved or was it just regarding the one month when the minister made the announcement?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, he does refer to a very important issue, and that is professional development for teachers. We recognize that teachers need to have ongoing professional development so that they can remain current in both the curriculum areas and in strategies so as to improve their delivery in the classroom with students. So professional development is critical and in co-operation with the Teachers Union, we try to provide opportunities for teachers to receive that.
The issue in particular had to do with schools being closed for days beyond the approved number of days, and for students to be out of class beyond those approved numbers of days. The initiative in Chignecto-Central is a specific one of which he speaks, was one that was resolved, I believe, in the best interests of teachers and students and parents and within the Education Act. It did allow the teachers to have their professional development time, it did allow the parents to have information that allowed them to do some planning prior to that time, and it was delivered, I believe, in a manner that would be least disruptive to the instructional time for students.
Also, at that time, it became obvious that other boards may be having a similar practice and that practice had been, as I understand, something that had been ongoing for a number of years. Annapolis Valley Regional School Board was one of them in particular and it had been with the understanding, co-operation and approval of the Department of Education staff at that time when it was initiated.
There were many lessons learned, I believe, through that situation, not the least of which is the importance of professional development, the importance of students' time on task and the importance of communication.
MR. GLAVINE: Madam Minister, for that, through the Chair, I'll have a number of diverse questions here. One of the ones that I know perhaps the average parent is using some kind of anecdotal information when they talk about how central office staff seem to continue
to grow while we lose a teacher, while we lose people on the front line of the education system. We have had declining enrolments over the past decade and actually a substantial decline over the last 10 years, but when I look at the organizational charts, and I've reviewed about three this year, I would certainly contend that central office staff, for a whole number of reasons - and when we're talking about math mentors who are impacting on the system, we can certainly see the need for some of those positions. I'm wondering if, in fact, we have seen a growth that perhaps is becoming more difficult to be able to rationalize in relation to a declining population, and if the minister does, in fact, have some concerns or issue with central office, growth of central office staff, or does the minister think that it is in line with the delivery of the public school program?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, the responsibility for staffing rests with the individual school board, and we provide funding to those boards based on their enrolment. We recognize that there needs to be a balance. Classroom cap sizes is one of the ways that we have of ensuring that we don't have large classes, in particular at the elementary and up at this point to the end of Grade 3, at the expense of, or that the central office staff doesn't increase at the expense of.
We also recognize, however, that there are a lot of experts who are required at central office. Whether they are consultants in autism or coordinators, they provide a very important level of service to make sure that the teachers in our classrooms and the administrators in our classrooms do remain current and do have access to expert information. So there's a role there for central office people to be supports to what's happening in the classroom and there's also the importance of making sure that the administration of the board is carried out efficiently and effectively; but it is the responsibility of the boards to determine how they allocate the staff, and I have confidence that the boards are doing that with the best interests of students at heart.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you very much, Madam Minister, for that area. It's not one that I really wanted to drill down on in detail. It's one that exists and, you know, hopefully we won't have situations where front-line workers, whether it's Education, Health or Community Services, suffer at the expense of another person in administration. So it's one that certainly is brought to my attention periodically, and one from within the system that I sometimes challenged. I perhaps maybe won't go any further. I was interested in the minister's personal, professional and department viewpoint.
One of the areas under the minister's responsibility that came to the standing committee during the past year was APSEA. We know that APSEA is, of course, an Atlantic Provinces' commitment and certainly you know, the School for the Deaf does have a strong reputation, especially in terms of the personnel who deliver the program, most of it done in an itinerant fashion, but these children are registered, of course, in schools and sometimes it's actually a visit to school. I'm wondering, however, the actual central building - and that
location continues to serve a necessary purpose as it once did - what is the future of the School for the Deaf in delivering the APSEA mandate?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, I will go back to that word that is becoming I guess synonymous with my position here, and that's "review," but I do know that APSEA has undergone a review to determine if the facility and if the services are serving our APSEA students appropriately and we would certainly be interested in the outcome of that. It is a critical service, it is an Atlantic Provinces group that comes together to provide that service, and it is in the form of itinerant service, but the location and the facility that is currently used as the focal point of that is something that has been under review.
MR. GLAVINE: Mr. Chairman, again, probably it is one that may be best pursued once that review is indeed complete.
There was one little area around the school review or what was traditionally known as school closure. I know there is currently a moratorium on school closures in the province. I was wondering if there were any school boards that approached the department or the minister this year that, in fact, found that keeping a school open was a real challenge because of the moratorium? Were there any schools this year that, in fact, in everybody's wisdom may actually have needed to be closed?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, I have spoken a fair bit about that review and it is before the Law Amendments Committee now, but it does state that when the moratorium was struck, those schools - if the amendments are passed and the changes to the Act are in effect - will have to begin a process of review all over again if they wish to put those schools under review. I have not had any requests from boards to give special consideration to any school during that moratorium; however, we do recognize that for health and safety reasons that request could come forward that would be outside the review as it is now presented.
MR. GLAVINE: Mr. Chairman, one of the groups that I think all of us who have had an association with the public school system have traditionally and presently still have some difficulties with, and that is delivering a program that would help the children of severe physical and mental disabilities make the transition from school, perhaps whether it be to a shelter workshop or some type of community centre, some type of program, as adults they can continue with. I'm referring here to the 18- to 21-year-olds who have been in a school, they have had very specialized help along the way, assistive technology in some cases, and often when they leave school this is no longer available to them. I was wondering if the minister is moving to try to have a greater set of accommodations for that particular group? I know there have been certainly at least three or four families who have brought their stories to the media to try to get the attention that they certainly deserve and that the public system
commits to until the child is 21. I was wondering if there has been any update or new information in that regard?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, the question of 18- to 21-year-olds certainly was one of the first challenges I had as a minister, so I can speak to that a bit. We do recognize that we have a responsibility under the Education Act to provide programming for students until they reach the age of 21, and we have many students in our schools who do require individualized programs. Those are designed, as we know, with the needs of the student in mind and with a lot of the people who have input into that, in particular teachers, parents and sometimes outside experts who may be better able to guide a plan that is appropriate to the student's needs. So we have many students who have individualized program plans.
When students are ready to make a transition we work very closely with Community Services, and what we found was that there was a gap there between what we offered in our schools between the ages of 18 and 21. Students who have completed the expected outcomes in their IPP. If they reached those and achieved those outcomes before age 21, there seemed to be a void. We did go back and work with Community Services last year to put funding in place so that we could bridge that gap and make sure that that program was still there, and we're continuing to work with Community Services to make sure that no students are left without a facility and program designed for their specific needs.
No student should be out of the school system until they have completed the outcomes of their IPP.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you very much, Madam Minister. I know that is an area that we will continue to be challenged on, as all MLAs. Moving on to an area that certainly I feel has been growing in my riding for perhaps a whole host of reasons, and that is home- schooling. We are finding due to whether it is the uncertainties around guarding a child's health in regard to allergies, whether it is religious education, whether it is the travel difficulties that some families may still encounter, home-schooling is on the rise.
When we take a look at home-schooling, it really is a huge saving to government, to the Department of Education. I'm wondering if there is anything under review with the Department of Education to support those who are home-schooling and also the transition from home-schooling for those who want to come into the public school system, what are those requirements?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, parents do have the right to educate their students at home. We have a number across the province who make that choice. We certainly encourage and support students coming into the public school system to participate in some of the activities that we provide in our schools for those students who are being home-schooled. We ask that the parents register with the Department of Education so we know what students are
being home-schooled and we ask them to give us a report at the end of that. Parents do have the right and they do not have to seek permission, but they do have the right to do that.
We are seeing an increasing number of students who do that and the transition back into the school is really something that parents try to work out with the particular school involved in the best interest of the student to make that transition.
MR. GLAVINE: Mr. Chairman, the other area, as kind of a natural connection there, are students who are not in the public school system but are in private schools. Again, for example, in my riding there is a Kings County Christian School, there is a Mennonite school and there are a couple of other smaller private schools. Again, of course, this is a choice that parents make in terms of their children's education. I'm wondering if your government or the department has looked at perhaps some way of assisting those schools? There is certainly a model emerging now in British Columbia and Ontario where those schools are given greater public support. I'm wondering if there is any way in which there may be any initiatives taken to support those schools in our province?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, we do have a number of students in our province who are registered in private schools. We have looked at - I think perhaps the member opposite is referring to charter schools - but we have looked at that model and at this point we have not made any decision to move forward.
MR. GLAVINE: One of the other areas that I wanted to bring up today to, I guess, get on the record during estimates is the Tri-County Regional School Board. We all know that funding to our school boards has undergone some change, probably some transformation after the Hogg report, and I know there are still some things to be implemented across Nova Scotia in the post-Hogg period. Certainly Tri-County is one of the boards that is certainly finding challenges because of the Hogg report. I think a couple of the boards that had identified themselves as the lowest funded boards, which were the Halifax Regional School Board and AVRSB, I think there is a greater degree perhaps of comfort from those boards generally speaking. There are always areas of course that a school board funds, especially with non-targeted funds, that they would certainly like to have access to more funding to be able to continue to have those programs expand.
Tri-County, again, one of the unique boards in a way, in that their student enrolment has stayed fairly constant and is below the threshold of 2 per cent. They certainly see now a difficulty with that, also when they compare transportation needs that they have - also, sometimes the inability to replace a retiring teacher with a new teacher. Again, there are a small number of teachers that perhaps want to go to remote, the Island schools, for example, and some of the isolated communities that are covered by the Tri-County Board. So they are certainly now putting forth arguments and I guess just as a first question to the minister, what is the process that the minister is prepared to take to perhaps give Tri-County the assurance
that there is fair funding to their board and if they do have any anomalies, that they will certainly be investigated?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, the member opposite brings up a very important question and it doesn't have a quick and easy-to-understand answer. However, the Hogg report, as we know, contained recommendations that focused on funding to boards. At that point in time when the review was done there were some discrepancies across the province as to the allocation to boards.
The Hogg report established a formula for funding that was deemed at the time to be fair to all boards and that no board lost money as a result of the implementation of that Hogg report. The final instalment of dollars to bring all boards up to the recommended level within the Hogg report is included in this year's budget, $1.8 million. So those three boards that needed a bit of increase in their funding to get to the recommendations in the Hogg report do have that this year.
As I said, it is a very complex formula that is used to determine the allocation to boards and it is one that is not a simple mathematics division calculation based on the number of students. There are a number of factors that fit into that.
I had correspondence with respect to the Tri-County situation and as a result of that did sit down with my deputy and with two MLAs to help them understand the funding formula and how it applied to that particular board and to all boards.
One part of that which looks like it's not a fair distribution of dollars has to do with the declining enrolment factor and boards that have declining enrolment do get an additional 2 per cent funding to help compensate and get them through that period, and that's based on the September 30th numbers of the previous year. There are some boards, and the Strait Board is one of them, that does have that factored into their funding. The Cape Breton Board does as well. Sometimes a board does and Chignecto is one of the boards that did receive that extra funding last year. South Shore has received it some years and some not.
I have made a commitment to go down to meet with the Tri-County Board to help them understand how the formula worked, how that determined the dollars that they would get. I guess I will have good news for them in one sense and not in another. In order to get the additional 2 per cent you have to suffer declining enrolment. So it is good and bad news, they will be eligible because unfortunately they have had declining enrolment, but they will be eligible for the additional 2 per cent. Again, that is all part of that big formula that is used to determine that. So I've shared that information, as I've said, with the MLAs from the area, have made a commitment to meet with the Tri-County Board to explain that to them, and as with all boards, if they come to us with some concerns about whether they can adequately deliver the program based on the funding that they have received, we are prepared to sit down with them at any time and look at how that is having a negative impact, if it does have.
MR. GLAVINE: Mr. Chairman, just one further question around Tri-County. I know that any time services are shared there certainly can be effective cost savings. We can have certain efficiencies that are created by sharing the expertise, one board to another. One of the areas that is still an outstanding issue for Tri-County - and having as many students as the South Shore, as the Strait, and likely to stay ahead of them because they have a very small percentage of declining enrolment - they certainly would like the opportunity, even if it were done on a pilot or a trial basis, to become an autonomous school board in Nova Scotia. I'm wondering if the minister is prepared to again address that issue with the board and possibly set out a timeline for that to be accomplished?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, I would certainly want that to be part of the discussion when we meet with the board to talk about funding overall. I recognize that those shared services are Finance and HR, but we're prepared to sit down and talk to the board about that, hear their views and share ours.
MR. GLAVINE: Mr. Chairman, moving to another area that I know is really pretty exciting for schools and school boards across Nova Scotia, and that is meeting the needs of our top students. This was an area that I felt that as we struggled to put special needs programs in place, perhaps they were weighted stronger in terms of their support from the Department of Education, always not completely, of course, there's always a challenge around funding, expertise and so forth to support any kind of special needs. Some schools went without even a single honours course, and therefore the challenge to our brightest students was really based on how a teacher would challenge a student. That is why the AP and the IB programs are a welcome addition to our public school programs.
I'm wondering if the minister and the department will continue to support both the AP and the IB or will there be a division here and the department just support one of those advanced programs?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, the member opposite makes a good point. We have some of our best and brightest students who will be the leaders in our province and in our country. We need to make sure that we provide them with challenging opportunities when they are in school. To that end, we have obviously chosen the IB program and the AP program as two ways to do that. We have put more money into IB this year, looking at 10 schools that may qualify to be IB schools, and that would bring our allocation for this coming year up to $862,000 for the IB programs, hopefully, in 12 schools. We currently have two and one school in CSAP.
We currently have 375 students who are participating in the IB program, so that's something that we want to grow. Along with that is the AP program, and we have 14 schools that have the AP program and they're spread out around the province. There are four in the Annapolis Valley Board, there is one in Chignecto, six in Halifax and three in South Shore.
We are committed to putting dollars in to provide programs to challenge those best and brightest young people that we have in our schools and who want that rigorous challenge.
MR. GLAVINE: I'm wondering if there is any discussion at the Department of Education level to make sure that all high schools in the province have at least some courses that are beyond the regular academic requirements for graduation, in other words, honours-type courses that would see every single high school in Nova Scotia have at least some curriculum that would be challenging and would be an enhancement and a better preparation for those students going to post-secondary?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, we spoke about a few number of schools and a few number of courses with respect to IB and AP, however, many of our schools have honours programs or have advanced programs. Our goal is just as you've said, to make sure that every school can provide students with that opportunity if they choose to follow that, and that is our goal to move toward that.
MR. GLAVINE: A couple of questions getting toward the latter part of my hour. One of the areas in the post-secondary area that has had some additional monies placed this year is in the area of needs-based grants for post-secondary. I was reading a report recently from the Educational Policy Institute, which is a non-partisan, non-governmental organization based in Toronto, the United States and Australia. One of the things the author of the report, Mr. Usher, said: Governments have been pouring money thoughtlessly into universal benefits such as tax credits and to a lesser extent tuition freezes. That has been a big bonus for middle income and wealthier Canadians, meanwhile governments have been neglecting grants for lower income Canadians. As a result, in much of the country net prices for richer Canadians are falling while net prices for poorer Canadians are rising. I'm wondering, with the additional dollars, how many more students, what percentage may gain from needs-based grants under the current system?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, we did look long and hard at the C-48 money that we received, and we recognized that students of low income did have access to Millennium Grants - and that's federal - but we also recognized that that was going to end in 2008, so we took some of the money out of the C-48 and invested it into a needs-based trust fund; $6.1 million in fact went into that. That was designed to help those low-income students who, perhaps after the first year with the support of Millennium, were left without any resources to help them through, so that fund was established so those students could have access to that in their second, third, fourth and fifth years. So we've addressed it a bit there.
We also have the reduction in the parental income so that more students from more families will be able to access dollars for student loans. We anticipate there will be a number of students take advantage of that. We're looking at in excess of 1,000 students perhaps that will have an opportunity that they didn't have before because their family income restricted their ability to apply.
MR. GLAVINE: In terms of the student loans, government is going to move into the area of providing a program, I guess, a government-orchestrated, government-regulated student loan program. Just as a beginning question here I'm wondering, is that coming about because the bank wants to get out of this program, or does government see it as much more advantageous for students and for the direction that our student loan program can take going forward?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, no, we want to make sure that our students and their families get assistance as they move through the post-secondary education years. We know that interest rates can be high, so what we're proposing is that in fact we have called for an RFP to try to find a lending agency that will have a reduced interest rate so students will have to pay less interest, and any of the savings that come out of that will be direct savings to the students. So we have called for the RFP, we're waiting for a response from that and if in fact we can find a way to do that that will save the students any money at all that would be our goal.
MR. GLAVINE: Mr. Chairman, one other area that I wanted to touch upon today was the Nunn Report and its impact on the delivery of programs and services, and this very important connection that is being made between education and what happens in the developmental years of our adolescents and young adults.
In terms of the recommendations that were put forward, and I do have a list of them here, I was just wanting first of all a general comment from the minister in regard to what she sees as a reasonable timeline to get a number of these implemented and hopefully key ones that can impact on youth development in this province?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, as the member opposite would know there are five departments that are coming together to work towards achieving and acting on the recommendations in the Nunn Report. Community Services has been given the responsibility to take the lead on that and to develop the youth strategy. There certainly will be involvement from Justice, Health Promotion and Protection, Health, and Education working alongside of that department. It's my understanding through Community Services that they have laid out a plan for that youth strategy to be developed making sure that all of those groups who have input into that do have an opportunity. When that youth strategy is unrolled it will address those concerns that were identified in the Nunn Commission.
I do want to though, take this opportunity if I could, to say that if you read carefully in that report I think you would find that the Halifax Regional School Board is to be commended for the services and the supports that were readily available to that young man, and to know that they were there - whether they were accessed by him or not is a disappointment - but the fact they were made available to him speaks well of that Halifax board and their staff. So I'd just like to take that opportunity to say that. I believe all of our
boards are anxious to provide that level of service and support to those youth in need, and this was an example of where the services were in fact there and we're proud that they were.
MR. GLAVINE: One of the areas of recommendation, and a comment was that "Commissioner Nunn's concern about school attendance is shared by the Department of Education and educators. A committee of principals has identified it as the number one issue challenging student success in high school. The committee has agreed to make recommendations to the Department of Education before the end of March 2007. Accountability for students for non-attendance will be considered." I was wondering if the minister could provide an update in terms of that report and also if the minister shares that as a number one concern as school principals have identified.
MS. CASEY: We recognize that students can't learn if they're not in school. We have to do everything we can to keep them engaged in what's going on in our classrooms and to make sure that it's meaningful and that they see it as a positive learning environment. We understand the recommendation in the report and that the committee has prepared a preliminary report that has been received by the deputy, and the deputy has made a commitment to respond to that by the 25th of this month. We are moving along in accordance with the recommendations in the report.
MR. GLAVINE: I'm going to finish off with one further question or area of comment and then I will pass over the few remaining minutes to my colleague from Clayton Park. One of the areas that I think will be a challenge, or a challenging requirement, for the Department of Education in the future - and that is really, I think, given a springboard by the document that is before the House - and that is on environmental goals and sustainable prosperity, what we would call, I guess in simpler terms, the environmental act. I think one of the components that was missing there identified by a number of presenters in Law Amendments Committee over the last few days, is in fact around environmental education. I guess my final comment and question, is this, and I think environmental education is going to be one of those requirements that directly and indirectly is going to be required in our school system. We know that through some courses there is sometimes a unit on environmental education. Some of our senior high biology courses give a considerable emphasis to it. I know our global studies courses do have that there.
I think from Primary to Grade 12, some units, some school strategies around environmental education, is just going to be one of those natural outgrowths of the current climate, the legislation that is before us in this House, and I think what more and more Nova Scotians are expecting of us as educators, as leaders in the Nova Scotian society.
I'm wondering if the Department of Education is mapping out some plans or preparing to extend some of the work that is currently being done through curriculum
delivery. I'm anxious to hear the minister's comments in that regard and where things are moving.
MS. CASEY: We are all becoming more environmentally aware, I think there's no question about that. I just might, before I talk about curriculum, share with the member opposite that the new construction for Citadel High, in the design process there, they've designed in attempts to get LEED certification in that building, and of course LEED certification is a level of certification based on design that is environmentally friendly. So, even in the new school construction area we're looking at that.
We do have, as the member has mentioned, a number of opportunities through the curriculum that we currently have - whether it's our elementary or junior high science or whether it's at our high school - dedicated parts of that curriculum that speak specifically to environment and sustainability. We're also a part of a national consortium.
So, we are taking steps to raise that awareness level and also to make sure that as our students are moving through the curriculum that they are getting a constant opportunity to learn about and participate in those kinds of awareness activities.
MR. GLAVINE: I wish to thank Madam Minister and her staff for her response to the questions and the engagement of the past couple of days. I'll pass my time over to my colleague.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax Clayton Park with five minutes to go.
MS. DIANA WHALEN: Just a couple of questions. I may only get one, who knows. One question I wanted to raise is something that was brought to my attention around Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School, and that was that an addition for that school had been promised to the community in 2001 and that nothing has been built as of 2007. Really, the community has no idea where that is at or that promise. I guess a bit of a theme because there have been other schools that have been talked about in the last little while and I know there are often extenuating circumstances or reasons, but I was told that at the school in Yarmouth that the windows are screwed shut and don't open at all, and they are wondering when they're going to get their addition that was planned and needed. Thank you.
MS. CASEY: To the member opposite, yes, I have spoken about renovations and additions and new schools a fair bit the last couple of weeks, and recognize that we respond to requests from the school boards, what their priorities are. I understand there was a renovations request to deal with the issue at Yarmouth. Along with that, of course, came the unfortunate window situation.
Then there were other discussions with the board about whether it was a renovation to that school to make it a high school, whether it should be a new high school and convert that one to an elementary. We're prepared to continue to talk with and work with the school boards to identify what their priorities are. There are no dollars in this particular budget to address the situation at the Yarmouth High School.
MS. WHALEN: I wonder if the minister could be a bit more specific about where exactly they are in this discussion. At this point in time I understand you are saying there are a few options available. It would appear that the choice is to the school board, not to the Department of Education, about what needs to be done, a renovation changed to a different level of school or what have you. The community feels an urgency in this instance and I wonder if you could tell me exactly what the options are and where they are with them.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, we do take direction from the school boards. Our staff will work with school board staff but the request to have renovations, additions or new schools, that request does come from the school board. It goes to the school capital construction committee and they will look at needs. They will go out and assess the situation and try to work with the school boards to make sure that what they have identified as their priorities are ones that we would be prepared to support, but we do not go to the boards and say you need a new school. They come to us and they request it and they have their homework done so they can justify why they are making that request. We are prepared to sit down with the board at any time and, as you might have heard earlier, we have already been in negotiations - or discussions perhaps, rather than negotiations - discussions with a couple of boards as a result of dollars that we have in our 2007-08 budget.
MS. WHALEN: Another quick question. Your commitment to add a high school physical education credit has run into problems where some of the high schools haven't got enough gym time or big enough gyms. Halifax West High School is one of those that has 1,600 pupils in the school and apparently not enough gym space. What will the solution be for next year? I know you have postponed it for a year but how are you going to deal with that?
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, we recognized that this would be a challenge to some of our facilities, a challenge on the facilities, on the actual space, a challenge on the scheduling and a challenge on the staffing. What we are doing at this point in time is to look at the PAL/CALM section of curriculum, which is the required course, and do some enhancements within that block of time and that particular course to include the strands that we feel are important to address the concerns about physical activity among our high school students. This will not cause an additional drain on the resources that are there because right now there is an expectation that some of that will be conducted in the gymnasiums, and we also are encouraging schools and teachers to do outdoor and offsite kinds of recreational activities which support that physically active lifestyle that we want.
The components of the CALM , which are currently a half credit there now, will be integrated into other courses that currently exist. There will be no increase in the number of requirements for students to graduate. It will just be a redefinition of the current PAL/CALM.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time has expired for the honourable member for Halifax Clayton Park.
The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. LEONARD PREYRA: Mr. Chairman, it's a pleasure to rise again here to talk with the minister. We had a very brief exchange - she didn't think of it as brief, perhaps, but a too-brief exchange last time. I want to follow up by asking a couple of questions held over since that last exchange. In large part, I want to go to look at two other issue areas, in particular the implications of the McEvoy inquiry for the Department of Education and also to look at the Youth Secretariat, but before I go there, I would like to go back to a question I asked last time about the new Citadel High School auditorium. There was a great deal of noise in the room at the time and I think I would like to give the minister an opportunity to answer this question again.
My question was about the lack of an auditorium in Citadel High School. As I heard the minister answer at the time, she said there was not enough space, but I think what she needs to know is that the shell of the auditorium has been built there and the pit is there, so it is not a question of finding new space on the exterior of the site, it's more a question of how the department, and perhaps other government departments in conjunction with the Department of Education, can support this community initiative.
As the minister knows, when St. Pat's and Queen Elizabeth, the two high schools were closed down, they both had their own auditoriums, very flourishing auditoriums that the school board and the community used extensively and these auditoriums were used for other community events as well. As the minister knows, these facilities are the centre of the arts and cultural community here in Halifax and any other community that has an auditorium.
So my question for the minister really is whether or not the department would consider or reconsider providing support for this auditorium, so that the auditorium can have seats and galleries and stages and all of those other things that would make this such a wonderful resource, resources that have been lost in the consolidation, make this a wonderful resource to this school and the community in Halifax Citadel, and in Halifax Needham, I might add, and Chebucto and the surrounding communities.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, thank you, and yes, we did have a bit of background music the last time we spoke. The commitment to that school, of course, is part of an
enhancement from HRM. That's an opportunity that our new school construction provides and the shell for that has been built, I understand that.
I also want to remind the member opposite that when a municipality participates in a school project through the enhancement, it's actually a good investment of HRM's money because the design work, the parking and a lot of those other things that go along with building a new school help to support the enhanced area that the HRM is putting in. So it's a partnership that we believe will be good for all of the residents of HRM, and where they are with their commitment to complete that shell, I can't give you the details on that but I know that that is their enhancement and it's ready to be completed.
MR. PREYRA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I thank the minister for seeing that opportunity and the partnership potential with the HRM and other groups. I did want to ask if the minister was willing to use the good offices of the Department of Education and her partners in the ministry, other departmental ministers, to maybe enhance the government's contribution to that, given that the benefits of the auditorium will adhere not just to the school itself but to the wider community and will serve to support that economic development base and tourism base. It'll just be a valuable asset to the community itself.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, I recognize the importance that facility will have to all of the different departments and all of the different aspects of HRM, but I'm not prepared to make any commitment on behalf of those other departments.
MR. PREYRA: No, my question was whether she would use her good offices to talk with her colleagues in the ministry. I don't expect the Minister of Education to be spending other people's money, as much as we would like her to some days.
In any case, I thank the minister for that answer. I would like to put it on the record and maybe put it on her radar, if it isn't already on it, that I will be asking her again and I will be asking her colleagues in the department for some support if they are able to provide it.
I do have other questions in relation to the McEvoy inquiry and I would like to turn to those now. As the minister knows, and I thought I heard her answer earlier today a question related to the McEvoy inquiry, Justice Nunn made a number of recommendations which have been adopted by the government and have been widely applauded by the stakeholding groups in this issue, and I would like to ask the minister about the recommendations relating to the Department of Education that arise out of the Nunn Report. I should say that I received a letter from the Halifax Peninsula Community Health Board that talks in part about the McEvoy inquiry and its implications for education. The minister was copied on this and, unfortunately, I don't have a clean copy of this but if she would like, I would send it to her. It's a letter from that board dated March 14, 2007. In any case, this board recommends, as does McEvoy, funding for assessment and early intervention of
students with attention deficit and other disorders. Most specifically, that's Recommendation 31.
Nunn essentially has said that if we had identified this problem earlier on, if we had detected it and provided resources, we would have been better off and I'm wondering if the department is in a position now to say what it will do in light of what it has done and in the light of what Justice Nunn has recommended there?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. If the member read from that letter, could he table that, please. Thank you.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, I'm not sure if you were here for my earlier comments with respect to the Nunn Report, but I do want to repeat them in case you were not, that there were a number of recommendations in that report that will have an impact on education. It's my belief that many of the recommendations from Justice Nunn are exactly in line with a lot of the initiatives that we have. We recognize that early detection and early intervention are critical in order to provide supports for our students and, as I said earlier, I was very pleased when I read the report and noted his comments with respect to the role that the Halifax Regional School Board played and the services that were available through the Halifax School Board and through that system, and the schools in particular, and there was more than one school obviously that he attended, but that in those schools, those services were readily available and whether he did or did not take advantage of those opportunities, it's unfortunate that he did not in some cases, but that those services were available.
It does indicate and I guess support that the dollars that we're spending for guidance counsellors and school psychologists and for other services, professional services that will help students in need, that we are putting our money in the right place. So the recommendation from Nunn is consistent with what we were doing but we'll continue to build on that. We have ratios that we have set, targets that we have set, and we want to reach those and we'll continue to put the resources in place to do that.
If I could go on, the responsibility to develop the youth strategy, of course, in response to the Nunn Commission is that of Community Services, but we will continue to work side by side with Community Services and look at how we at the school level can provide additional supports for students in need.
MR. PREYRA: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for that response. Recommendation 34 in the Nunn inquiry talks about the problem of school attachment. I'm sorry, by the way, Mr. Chairman, through you to the minister, Nunn didn't really say in part that the resources weren't there. What Nunn said in part was that the resources were there but it's very difficult for parents to navigate their way through that system. So one issue that I think is worth looking at is how those resources can be made more available and accessible
to parents and students in the system. Having three children in the system - well, one of them is at university now - but I know that that is a real challenge and if some of us find that challenging, you can only imagine how families that are under stress would find that system inaccessible.
I also had a question about school attachment which is something that Nunn talked about, more specifically Recommendation 32. Just the fact that so many students don't feel connected to their schools and to their communities, and part of this behaviour is a result of feeling not particularly attached, and I'm wondering, maybe this is my own bias, but it seems to me that cutting out these programs after school and cutting out these other avenues that other people have to participate in school life and community life is not also the problem, just the sheer fact that they might have after-school programs that would divert them from engaging in other kinds of behaviour.
I wonder if the minister would reconsider the direction, the pattern that we've seen in so many of our schools, where schools are getting less and less involved in extracurricular activities like sports and music and other community programs.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, I do acknowledge that my comment was specific to services that were available and I think we all want to make sure that wherever we have parents or students wanting to access our services, that we need to help them navigate through the system. It can be challenging and, as the member opposite has said, sometimes challenging for those of us who think we know the system, so for those who don't or who may be uncomfortable, I think we have to acknowledge that there may be some ways that we can better help parents and students take advantage of that.
I also want to make a comment about students and how they are engaged when they are in school. I think we have to make sure that we provide programs and opportunities, either in the curriculum in the instructional time or outside of instructional time, so that students feel that it is a meaningful experience for them to be in our schools, that they are feeling welcome, that they are having success, and a lot of that depends on the climate of the school, the atmosphere that's there and the students' willingness to participate and to co-operate.
We certainly recognize that school spirit and school involvement is important in order to help students feel that it is a place where they do want to be.
MR. PREYRA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would like to note that in Recommendation 32, and again in the report from the Halifax Peninsula Community Health Board, we get the same recommendation in part that says there's a real problem at the junior high level, that there's not enough support for junior high students, and many of these interventions and early identification has to take place at the junior high level and the supports we have at that level are inadequate.
I would like to leave that question for now because I have a few minutes left and I would like to speak about the Youth Secretariat, and whatever I can't do today I will pick up when we next resume this discussion. The minister is responsible for the Youth Secretariat and I'm the Youth Critic, so I'd like to draw attention to the work of the Youth Secretariat. I must say I am very concerned about what the Youth Secretariat has been doing and not doing, particularly in light of the Nunn inquiry.
As I understand it, the Youth Secretariat was established to collaborate and coordinate and bring together the activities of the various departments of government that related to youth. To me, the Nunn inquiry in part is an indictment of our inability to coordinate and collaborate. Nunn, as the minister knows, commented on the fact that there are so many silos there, the departments don't talk to each other.
I have gone to the Youth Secretariat site and I must say I'm very surprised at the poor quality of the site itself and the poor quality of information on that site. I see very little evidence at the Youth Secretariat that it's doing any of the work that its mandate allows it to do and I'm wondering if the minister is going to review the work of that Youth Secretariat and bring it again to the centre of policy making, as Nunn suggests - not in those words, but Nunn essentially says that a department of government or body of government should try to bring together these various government department. It seems to me that when the Youth Secretariat was established this was an important part of its mandate.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, having youth councils, youth secretariats, provides an excellent opportunity for our departments and ministers to speak with and get information from those people who are directly impacted by the decisions that are made and who can make excellent recommendations to us as to how we might frame our policies in the future. With the assumption and the transfer, I guess, of the Department of Community Services' responsibility for the youth strategy out of the Nunn Commission, along with that went the transfer of the Youth Secretariat. So as of April 1st, the Youth Secretariat has become part of Department of Community Services and, with that transfer, we transferred two FTEs and the budget to go along with that. I think it's more appropriate that it would be there, they are the lead on the youth strategy, and so they will be working directly with the Youth Secretariat.
The Youth Advisory Council, which is another group of young people who meet with me, and also the post-secondary education council, are ministerial appointments. They do provide me, as I said, with information about what the concerns are at the school level, and my most recent meeting with the post-secondary education council, a few weeks ago, certainly helped to confirm that some of the things that we struggle with in our policy development are really addressing some of the concerns of the youth. I agreed, at that time, that we would make those meetings more frequent, because I do believe that they will be driving any changes that we make with respect to programs and policies. With respect to the Youth Secretariat, it has gone to the Department of Community Services.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Would the honourable member allow an introduction?
MR. PREYRA: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Pictou Centre on an introduction.
MR. PATRICK DUNN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would like to have your attention to the east gallery and introduce a good friend of mine, an administrator. It's a great day for an administrator to be here listening to the estimates of the Department of Education. Eileen English, current administrator of North Nova Education Centre, and is the principal there. Of course I was one of her favourite vice-principals when I worked with her for three years at this education centre. Anyway, I would like Eileen to stand, and the House to recognize Eileen. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations on an introduction.
HON. JAMES MUIR: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and I thank the honourable member for Halifax Citadel for allowing me the time. Also in the east gallery we're joined by another school administrator, Dr. Scott Armstrong, who happens to be the principal of the Tatamagouche Elementary School and will be principal at one of the new schools in Truro. Another role he has, which is somewhat important to people on this side of the House, he's president of the Progressive Conservative Party of Nova Scotia. I would ask Scott to stand and be welcomed.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel, you have approximately one minute left.
MR. PREYRA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. As I understand the minister, all of the department, all of the Youth Secretariat (Inaudible) service or only a part of it, because I was under the impression that one small part of the secretariat had been transferred, but some of it remains in the minister's area of responsibility.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, to the member opposite, the secretariat is being transferred, but the group of which I spoke, the post-secondary, will remain with me.
MR. PREYRA: I'm assuming that in this in-between period that there is no particular reason for me to ask the minister further questions of the Youth Secretariat, or is she willing to answer questions? I'm not sure exactly what this means. I am a political scientist and I
should know the answer to this, but who is accountable when a department's group is being transferred? Who will be able to answer questions on the Youth Secretariat?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time allotted for debate in Committee of the Whole House on Supply has now expired.
The honourable Deputy House Leader.
MR. PATRICK DUNN: Mr. Chairman, I move that the committee do now rise and report progress and beg leave to sit again on a future day.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.
[The committee adjourned at 2:48 p.m.]