HALIFAX, TUESDAY, APRIL 9, 2013
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HOUSE ON SUPPLY
Mr. Alfie MacLeod
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I call the Committee of the Whole House on Supply to order.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Chairman, would you please call the estimates of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We will resume the estimates of the honourable Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development. When we recessed yesterday there was 52 minutes left for the Progressive Conservative caucus.
The honourable member for Cape Breton North.
MR. EDDIE ORRELL: Just continuing from my questioning when I left off yesterday - we were talking full-time equivalents within the department. We were talking about estimate to forecast, and I believe we were on Page 7.6 when we were talking 72 estimated full-time equivalents, but we only used 61.9. This year's forecast is now 69.1. So we're saying we're decreasing the Education and Early Childhood Development Department staff, but we're not using what we had last year and we're going above what we had last year. So my question, I guess, was if the department function was 69.1 last year, did the job of the department get done at that time, and if didn't get done at that time, why didn't we hire more people to do the job that was sitting there?
HON. RAMONA JENNEX: Before I begin I would just like to say good afternoon to everyone and to also recognize that Dr. Lowe is with me on my left and Frank Dunn is with me on my right, from the department, to assist me this afternoon in answering your questions.
So the question was in terms of the number. I guess what I want to say is that we have to make sure that the department is functioning appropriately and, therefore, we are making sure that the department is doing the work that it needs to do and, therefore, we'll have the staff that is in the estimate to continue the fine work of the department.
MR. ORRELL: So I guess we're saying that work got done last year with the 61.9 people - and if it didn't get done with the 61.9 people, how come we didn't hire more and do the work then?
MS. JENNEX: There are many things that are happening in the department all of the time and there are some things that do end up being put on the back-burner or take a little bit longer to get to because of staff, either due to illness or attrition, people decide to leave. It's very important that the department has the staff that they need to do the work efficiently and I do know last year of the many projects, some of them didn't move forward as quickly as we would have liked so, therefore, it's very important that we have the appropriate number of staff. As the member knows, we have done our share at the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to meet the reductions, so we are making sure that the staff that are going to be there in our estimate continue the fine work of the department.
MR. ORRELL: As a health care worker, when someone in our department went off on a long term, whether they were off sick for a week, we as other physios could pick up the slack for that week, but if it was any longer, if it was going to be a year or six months we couldn't do the job that we had to do, we didn't have the manpower to do so, and we had to hire somebody to replace the person who is going to be off.
If the job was done with 61.9 people last year, why can't it be done with 61.9 this year? And if it's not done with the 61.9 people last year, how come you weren't hiring people to do the job? What I'm saying is you say the job was done last year with 61 people, why do we need 69 people next year to do the same job?
MS. JENNEX: What we're talking about are FTEs and during the year we do bring in expertise from outside sources. We heard the term "secondments", but we also apply for people to work on contract to move some of our projects forward. But we're talking about full-time equivalents, this is not to say that some of the critical work was not done, it just doesn't show on these lines because we did hire contract workers that came in to work with different projects that we're working on.
The underlying assumption that was being made by the member opposite was if we were able to get work done last year with these numbers why would we need them this year. Well, that is just the point, these are numbers that we do need to have, the full-time equivalents in the department, and some of the work was delayed and other work we did have to bring in contract workers to work on specific projects.
MR. ORRELL: So is there a particular line item in here that says about the contract people that we hired, how much they hired, they don't show up on the full-time equivalents I'm hearing so, if that's the case, where would their budget numbers show up in your budget?
MS. JENNEX: They would show up in Professional Services, but I think there is a bit of confusion and that's the difference between a head count of people in the department and an FTE. A funded staff measured in a full-time equivalent, when we use that term FTE, is a measure of the annualized person years of full-time and part-time staff. So the terms that we're using and the actual people that are in doing the work can be different in terms of what shows on our estimates. People are in the department, people are working, and the contracts show up under the Programs line.
MR. ORRELL: I understand what a full-time equivalent is, but if we had 69 full-time equivalents and we budgeted for 72, the budget should be way under budget. We're going for 69 next year, but we only used 61.
I'll move on from that because I'm not getting the answer I'm looking for - I asked the same question last year and still didn't get the answer.
If Corporate Services will get a budget cut of $1.1 million from estimate to estimate, the biggest percentage cut that I can see on there is to Education Funding and Accountability. What is changing to influence this budget cut?
MS. JENNEX: It is the reduction due to a delayed start in our business integration, there was a delay and it was $910,000, so that was that line item.
MR. ORRELL: In the estimate this year it's down again, so does that mean we're not going to spend as much money on Accountability or our Education Funding?
MS. JENNEX: Because of the delay we're just moving forward in a year delay, so it's the same situation, we were delayed and we're just moving it forward.
MR. ORRELL: On the same page, Corporate Services, the only sub budget lines that went over budget were Administration and Financial Management. Why was the administration allowed to go over budget while all of our school boards are held accountable to balance their budget?
MS. JENNEX: Thank you for that question, I'm very glad that you asked that, because the reason for that going over budget was that the department actually was providing services to Labour and Advanced Education - we were providing services for another division under this line.
MR. ORRELL: Did Labour and Advanced Education put their money into your budget because of that?
MS. JENNEX: It sits with us and it's, from my understanding, three FTEs and we are providing services through Education and Early Childhood Development to Labour and Advanced Education.
MR. ORRELL: The budget for those three FTEs comes from Labour and Advanced Education to the Education and Early Childhood Development budget?
MS. JENNEX: Thank you for the question. No, it is coming from the Education and Early Childhood Development budget and we're providing services to LAE.
MR. ORRELL: So is that money coming from the front-line Education and Early Childhood Development budget or is it coming from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development budget?
MS. JENNEX: This budget line is in our department; this does not impact on funding to school boards. The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Corporate Services Branch, is a corporate service and is providing services to LAE. This is separate from the funding that goes to school boards. It has no impact on the funding that goes to school boards.
MR. ORRELL: I hate to do this, but I'm going to go back to full-time equivalents for a second. From estimate to estimate, the full-time equivalents are going to decrease by about two and a half - could you tell me what budgets or what positions are being cut because of that?
MS. JENNEX: The answer to the question is that we are reducing by an Education Officer, a Clerk 1(A), and the Program Administration Officer. Those are three full-time positions that have been taken out of 2013-14.
MR. ORRELL: Can I ask if those positions are being cut - are they empty now or are they positions that are operational at the time?
MS. JENNEX: The three positions that are being taken out are now in a vacant position, so it's not people, it's the position now is closed.
MR. ORRELL: So those positions weren't filled and you're cutting them. So anyway, in your forecast estimate, full-time equivalents are going to increase by seven. If those positions are vacant now, how long have those positions been vacant?
MS. JENNEX: We had Mr. Rick Alexander in the department for the year working with the department on a restructuring - and not necessarily, when the honourable member makes a comment that they were vacant and we're cutting them, it's a restructuring so there has been some movement around the department. But in terms of the FTEs, there has definitely been a reduction in the overall department by four FTEs for the year 2013-14. Last year we had a reduction of six FTEs, and the year before that, 9.12.
We did ask our school boards to do their reductions, and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development did work diligently to streamline and to work efficiently and effectively. We did get some support from Mr. Alexander this year to make sure that we are looking at how the department works. Still, work is ongoing in that and, of course, as you know, there are going to be changes with the bringing in of another department, an integrated department.
So over the last three years there has been a reduction in the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development of 19.12 FTEs.
MR. ORRELL: So is that a reduction in estimate to estimate full-time equivalents or is it a reduction in forecast estimate full-time equivalents?
MS. JENNEX: That's estimate to estimate.
MR. ORRELL: So if you're not using your full-time equivalents in your forecast, it's actually not a reduction in full-time equivalents, it's a reduction in estimates.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is that a question?
MR. ORRELL: If you're not using the staff you have estimated for this year and you're estimating it to be lower next year, is that really a cut in estimates? Is it a cut in personnel or is it just a cut in estimate to estimate?
MS. JENNEX: As I said, there is a reduction of FTEs within the department; there has been a restructuring. A lot of work is being done and this is a reduction of FTEs.
MR. ORRELL: I assume that's no real reduction in real staff because we talked a minute ago about the position - anyway, we'll move on, I'm not getting an answer again.
Under Public Schools, Administration, the budget is being cut by 42 per cent. The count for this section is only being decreased by two, so what is changing to account for such a significant budget cut?
MS. JENNEX: I apologize, but unfortunately I couldn't hear the question, there was some background noise, and also I didn't hear the page to which the member's referring to for reference.
MR. ORRELL: On Page 7.7 under Public Schools, Administration, the budget is being cut by 42 per cent, but the FTE count for this section is only being decreased by two - what is changing to account for such a significant budget cut?
MS. JENNEX: I need to ask the honourable member to ask me a question that - I'm not able to answer the question because I don't see a 40 per cent reduction in the numbers. We went from estimate $35 million to, well, $34 million - it's a little bit less than $1 million which is not a 40 per cent reduction. So I'm a little confused and I want to answer the question, but I guess I just need to have it framed in such a manner that I can answer it. I don't see the 40 per cent reduction in these figures.
MR. ORRELL: It's the line on Administration, under Public Schools, on Page 7.7 - it goes from $438,000 to $254,000, estimate to estimate.
MS. JENNEX: There was one FTE eliminated in that line.
MR. ORRELL: So that's one of the positions cut from that budget. On the same page, what programs and services fall under Education Quality Services?
MS. JENNEX: The Education Quality Services was a division that oversaw the school accreditation process and that has moved into a different process in board-based continuous school improvement. That's why there is a reduction there; the model has changed.
MR. ORRELL: If I could, Mr. Chairman, the honourable member for Inverness would like to ask a question, if that's okay?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Inverness.
MR. ALLAN MACMASTER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Madam Minister, for letting me come in and ask a couple of questions - it won't take too long.
My first question is I know there's an amount set aside for Early Childhood Education and I think it was Dr. Fraser Mustard, the father of Jim Mustard, who is a councillor in my area of Inverness, who has been a big proponent of this. I'd like if you could give us a little bit of an explanation of the amount that is budgeted this year and what it is hoped to accomplish.
MS. JENNEX: I was a big fan of Dr. Fraser Mustard. He did an incredible amount of work and especially his work around children, and it's unfortunate for his passing. He has had a great deal to do with our government's thoughts around how we can support our youngest from birth right through to the school; his philosophy around early childhood. I do know that Jim is your constituent and he is doing really fine work up in your constituency.
This is a really exciting time right now in the department. We're changing the way that we look at how we're delivering services. We, over the years, have been delivering services to our families and our children for a very long time, and they're scattered all over government. As you know, we serve children in the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development; we serve children with the Department of Health and Wellness; with the Department of Community Services; and with the Department of Justice. We're bringing everything together over at the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. It's going to be an integrated division and we're going to be looking at what is best for our children from birth - from zero - how we can integrate services, and how we can best serve the needs of our families and our children. So that's the exciting time.
So you're seeing in our budget line the $1.2 million, and this is the beginning of a different way of looking at how we serve our children. All of the services, everything that's taking place in the province for our children - everything stays the same at this point. There is going to be no change in service delivery for our children; there is no change in the way we deliver anything at this time - this is a shift over to a division that will integrate those so that we can make sure we can have a seamless way of supporting our families.
I know that as an MLA, the member opposite and myself, we have to call a couple of people to find out the best way we can serve our constituents. This is going to be a place that if a child is in need of support we know how we can work together, so it's a shift at this time. The money is divided out for three different sites that will be developed, and also for the integration of services and the work that's going to be done to move forward and set policy.
MR. MACMASTER: If I understand correctly, the division is set up to seamlessly support families who have children who may have special needs, potentially, but also set up such that a school could contact this division as a resource to help them provide some early development support to a child who may be in the school system or may not yet be in the school system. It sounds to me like it's a division that people can actually call and can help an actual child - is that the case?
MS. JENNEX: Not quite the way that you've described it. What we're working on is more people working together in a collaborative way. There is the information that we can use to support our families.
I just want to say to the honorable member that this is the very beginning stage of a philosophical shift of what we're doing to support our youngest. This is a very good thing for our families and children as we move through this. What it looks like exactly at this time - we're still working on the policy part, but part of that is, as you know, in the Speech from the Throne, we're going to be checking in on children. Children check in with the family physicians, so family physicians will have a key component of this, so that's where we have the Department of Health and Wellness. We have the Department of Justice; we have the Department of Community Services; we have the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development all working together for the child in a more holistic manner, as opposed to having different pockets and different programs all over government.
There are over 200 programs that the province has for children in the province, and we want to make sure that we can integrate that in one division, looking at the child in a holistic manner - so not looking at the child fitting into the health program or fitting into the education program or where does it fit, so if you need to have a support, it's going to be integrated.
This is the very beginning stages of the work that needs to be done. As you know, any time you make a shift or you change a way that you do things, it takes a long time to move through and do it appropriately. This isn't something that tomorrow things will be different, this is as we move through working together with organizations, stakeholders, with our advisory councils, that we set policies and put everything all under one umbrella, it's to look at the child from birth right through to senior years.
MR. MACMASTER: Thank you, Madam Minister, that's helpful for me. The next question I have, and I want to give you a chance - I have written you a letter on this matter - to respond in writing, but I guess I'd just like to raise the point. At the Whycocomagh Education Centre it's one of the schools that is actually growing in population and a lot of that is because of the population growth at Waycobah, the First Nation community there.
There has been a recommendation that has been supported by the School Advisory Council, which includes a member from the Waycobah community, to have a First Nation support worker to address cultural differences at the school, because we have children who are learning in their native language - which is wonderful, I'm happy to see that because I want to see the Mi'kmaq language be maintained in this province - but when those children go to Whycocomagh Education Centre, of course, they're learning in English at that point. I know it's creating some challenges, but they're not challenges that cannot be overcome; they are challenges that can be overcome. It is felt that a support worker might assist teachers in the classroom so that the education experience is more efficient and that the children get more out of it. I don't know if you can offer anything today, but can you?
MS. JENNEX: Mr. Chairman, I can speak to this issue, and thank you.
MR. MACMASTER: Okay, thank you.
MS. JENNEX: I thought that you had received correspondence from me so, therefore, there's a snag somewhere, because I can tell you the information I delivered to you is that we did have a discussion with the superintendent and I know that they have addressed the issue you have brought forward. It's not being addressed necessarily in the way that you described to me that you felt it should be addressed, but I do know that the school board, of course, works with the schools and with the principal and with the teachers there.
It is my understanding by hiring that they have two support workers who have gone in to work in the schools; two people have been hired to work in the school at this time. It is unfortunate that you didn't get that information. The superintendent has dealt with the situation in the school - so that was the information that I delivered to you that you didn't get.
MR. MACMASTER: Thank you, Madam Minister. There may, in fact, be something on the way to me and I think maybe we should leave it at this point because we've covered it. I know there was something, I think, done last year or for this present school year, but I don't think it was exactly putting in a First Nation support worker. I think we can look at that another time, but I know there is action happening on it and I thank you for that. Perhaps we'll continue discussion on that another time, in another venue.
I just have a couple of other points and I'll certainly give you a chance to comment on them. I met recently with some teachers and parents in Whycocomagh and one of the issues brought up was - I know the age of children going to school has been changed, the cut-off month for children, so we have younger children going to school. I did read something in allnovascotia.com today about some consideration of having children start school earlier, I don't know if there's anything to that at this point.
But the concern raised to me by the teacher, and she was somebody who has taught for over 20 years, is that the children who come to school who are younger - and by that they may only be six or eight months younger - if they're only four, even if you put them through the same course in Primary for the year, they just can't get to the level that the age five children can get - maybe it's an issue of their minds just aren't developed at that point.
I wanted to raise that concern as something I think we should be aware of - if we're expecting too much of children too soon. Maybe we need to let them develop as children a little bit more before we start trying to educate them, but I want to give you the chance to respond to that.
And just another, and to make it quick - the other suggestion was not to have combined classes for Primary.
MS. JENNEX: Thank you for the opportunity to offer my thoughts on early childhood education and the age of children when they come to school. Some children when they come to school - even they can be five or six sometimes - are not ready for school per se, but I do want to say there was an awful lot of work done in the department and in schools across Nova Scotia quite a few years ago to get ready for children who are coming to school before they turn five, because the age was changed to turning five by the end of December. Nova Scotia was one of the last provinces to have children coming to school at that age.
When children were transferring around Canada, there was a little bit of a discrepancy, but I want to say that our CSAP provide the opportunity - I'm just going to look over the name of the program - CSAP, that age fours come to school. (Interruptions) Our CSAP schools, there is a name that the four-year-olds come to school and their schools are built to accommodate children coming at age four. I know that's a program that has been supported by the federal government around French First Language families.
The issue that I was talking about - the philosophical shift that I was speaking of, what we're doing with early childhood development within the department is addressing the fact that some of our children are arriving at school, for many reasons, not quite ready to learn. Therefore, under our shift that we're looking at is looking at the children from zero, you know, from birth.
The first teachers that children have are their parents, so children are always in the process of being educated - not necessarily schooled - but we're always teaching our children. So your comment about children not arriving to school, absolutely, I taught for 30 years, I was a Primary to Grade 1 teacher for most of my career, and many times I would see children arriving at school completely unready for the rigours of a classroom and being with their peer group, so this is a very important part of what we're doing to address that in the department with our early childhood education.
Your comment around not having combined classrooms in the early years, I guess I'm going to speak on my - I'm going to give you my personal opinion. I find it problematic to teach single-age grades. I much prefer a multi-age classroom. I find that having children of different ages in the classroom, especially our youngest - Primary - being with a Grade 1 class. If you look at my career, it was a P to 1 class that I would have taught, it actually enhances the Primary classes, the newest children in the classroom, and the experience of having children who already could be with them and show them where to go.
It's pretty scary for children - it's pretty scary for parents to send their child to school. I used to always have a box of tissues ready at the door for parents, but in terms of the teacher having all of those new people coming in, that was a pretty exciting day, but it's pretty scary for little people to arrive at school and have all the peer group in the big building, and how you line up and go into the gym and go into music. It can be pretty intimidating.
I've always really appreciated having Primary students, half of the class arrive with the other class that you've had already for a full year and they say, this is where you are, this is what reading time looks like, this is where we go for recess. I personally prefer a multi-age classroom.
I think that if I hear a teacher saying that they don't want combined classrooms, what I would like to have a conversation around is providing the opportunity for some professional development and exploring and researching what multi-age classes look like, because if you're expecting a teacher to do a split class - and I'm going to use that - then it would be problematic, but if you're looking at a philosophical that you have multi-ages in your classroom and everyone is going to be working in groups around the classroom, if you look at it in a holistic way it is a fantastic way to teach and everyone benefits.
Having the children for a two-year cycle for Primary/Grade 1, as they move in and out - I absolutely loved teaching in that way and I saw its benefits, and I think if you go interview some of the adults I've taught over the years you get to know them better over a two-year period. I know that that's not a policy anywhere, but that's my own personal view. And if a teacher finds a combined class problematic, then that is the time I really feel that there could be some in-servicing done at the board around making those classrooms look different by a philosophical shift on not teaching two individual curriculums, but combining it appropriately to benefit children.
MR. MACMASTER: Thank you. I'd like to return the questioning to my colleague, the member for Cape Breton North.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton North.
MR. EDDIE ORRELL: Madam Minister, the French Second Language Program is very important to us in Nova Scotia, and we certainly support that and encourage the language advancement for anyone who is interested in that area. However, the forecast is almost 200 per cent of the estimate from last year - what happened to cause such severe over-expenditures? And that's on Page 7.9.
MS. JENNEX: I have a new accounting term that my colleague has just given me. That was money that came in from the federal government to support French First Language programs and it was a "bump" last year, so we're back to our regular funding from the federal government around our French First Language, so that is the difference in those numbers. I'm just looking at my colleague - did I explain that appropriately?
The honourable member asked me a question yesterday and I think it was near the end of our session, but I didn't have the information at that time and that was around the classroom ratio, and the pupil/teacher ratio, and how many people were in administration. I'm going to look, Mr. Chairman, if it's all right with the honourable member, I can answer that question at this time. Okay, I see that the honourable member . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Please do.
MS. JENNEX: I think the question was how many people are in certain positions. In 2012-13 across the province we had eight superintendents, 17 assistant superintendents, 42 supervisors, 179.4 system consultants, 397 principals, 309.7 vice-principals, and 136.8 department heads in the province - so the overall administration is 1,089.9. In the province we had 8,359.7 classroom teachers, to a total amount of 9,449.5; our enrolment last year was 122,985, bringing the classroom ratio to 14.7. The pupil/teacher ratio, that's including the specialists, was 13 but the classroom ratio was 14.7. So I will table that information for the member.
MR. ORRELL: So the extra funding that came from the federal government, what was that used for exactly?
MS. JENNEX: That money is used in the department for the folks who work in French First Language and also for CSAP, a lot of their funding under the French First Language. So the money is with the French school board.
MR. ORRELL: So according to the estimate for this year, that money is not going to be needed this year, it goes back to the actual estimates. We're not sure, does the federal government not provide that money again this year or is it not needed anymore?
MS. JENNEX: Some of the funding coming from the federal government is for specific projects that the school board is doing, and so they apply for it, they get the federal funding. So yes, they are providing the funding from my understanding; I haven't heard anything coming from the school boards. These are agreements that they have for the federal government, so some of the money that you saw with the big bump last year - my accounting word being "bump" - was one-time projects.
MR. ORRELL: On Page 7.8, the numbers for needs for children with special education needs are increasing. The budgets of the boards are strapped in order to provide for these children. How come the funding for the Atlantic Provinces Special Education Authority is flat over last year - or the same as last year, sorry?
MS. JENNEX: The honourable member is talking about APSEA, the Atlantic Provinces Special Education Authority, and it remains the same year over year. That's an agreement that we have, it's a four-province authority, and so that is the same amount. I think all provinces are seeing that it's the same thing that they are contributing together from year over year.
MR. ORRELL: Okay, if we jump back to Page 7.2, we talked earlier about totally funded staff, and in the line there, there are positions that are Staff Funded by External Agencies - what positions were funded by external agencies there?
MS. JENNEX: We just made a comment around the French First Language, and through the federal agreement. All but one was from the outside agency, was paid for by the OLEP agreement - that is the outside agency. The other one was research, and that was recovered from the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada. We have a person working in the administration office who is funded by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, so most of it is by the OLEP agreement.
MR. ORRELL: On the same page, there, from forecast to forecast, there are less full-time FTEs working right now - is there a reason we're going to increase that forecast, and how much turnover would there be in those positions if we're increasing?
MS. JENNEX: So, honourable member, I'm going to look over to see - you're looking at the Departmentally Funded Staff, the estimate is 194, and our estimate for this year is 194, and you're looking at the forecast difference. The FTEs last year were at 174, and I think it's the same question that you asked regarding another one of our line items. You're going to see variation at any time during a year, in any department of people moving in and moving out, maternity leaves, change in jobs within the department, not necessarily saying the position is not filled, but the FTE position is not filled. Our estimate for last year and our estimate for this year remain the same.
MR. ORRELL: On Page 7.10, Amortization of Furniture, Fixtures and Equipment - can you tell me how that stuff is amortized?
MS. JENNEX: There's no difference in the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development on how things are amortized. It's according to the criteria for amortization over a time period. I know that I'm going to be getting some information about that in just a minute; I haven't been able to find the page yet.
The amortization is based on its useful life, if you're talking about furniture and those items, over a period of time, as you understand; the useful life of it diminishes. It's according to standard accounting principles.
MR. ORRELL: In 2009-10 the amortization for Furniture, Fixtures and Equipment was over $3.6 million. This budget calls for $1.7 million - about half of what it was - what's happening to decrease the amortization expense so drastically?
MS. JENNEX: As the life of the materials get older, the amortization decreases.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Honourable member, you have approximately five minutes left in this round of questioning.
MR. ORRELL: I guess this is kind of an off question, but what is the average age of the furniture, fixtures and technology in the school systems today?
MS. JENNEX: That's not a question that I can answer at this time, so I would have to ask the department if there is such an inventory in terms of when materials were purchased and what the standard time period would be. I know that would be different in every school and every board across the province. It's a very large system and I know some of the furniture is purchased on a yearly basis and some furniture comes back to a central storage place. It would be a question I couldn't answer at this time, but definitely I will ask staff to see what information we can bring forward for the honourable member.
MR. ORRELL: I guess the reason I ask that is I was trying to figure out how often furniture and equipment is either the same age as the school, or maybe some schools are using equipment that could be replaced and would that budget reflect that at a later date.
I'll move on from there to the Early Years questions. We know Early Years has moved over to Education and Early Childhood Development - what actual programs are going to be falling under your department and your budget lines?
MS. JENNEX: I'm going to go back to the former question if you don't mind, just to say that the community colleges were included in our figures a year ago. Community colleges moved over to Labour and Advanced Education, and that would also show the difference in our figures.
Your question about what programs will be fitting under the Early Years - this will be an integration of all of the services that our children - Health and Wellness and Community Services, any of the services for children would be integrated over at the department. I want to repeat, there is no change at this time and into the foreseeable future - no change in delivery of the services - people are where they are working, but this is the beginning stage of integrating. Literally, I want to use the term "breaking down the silos" and bringing it in under one umbrella.
MR. ORRELL: On Page 7.4 we have an increase - well, we have an estimate of 5.5 positions needed in the Early Childhood Development years. What positions will be created by these 5.5 positions being added?
MS. JENNEX: Thank you for the question. Under the Early Years we will be funding an FTE coming from the Department of Community Services. There will also be a transfer over from Health and Wellness, and I also see that there will be funding from English Program Services for this and also there'll be an internal transfer for IT. So we have 5.5 FTEs that will be in Early Childhood Development.
MR. ORRELL: The ones coming from other departments - Community Services, Health and Wellness, IT - what are they going to be responsible for, or has that to be determined as of today?
MS. JENNEX: These folks have been mandated to do the transfer; they're going to be doing the work of transferring all of the programs and services and working at the transition of how we do the work of the Early Years.
MR. ORRELL: So is the work of the Early Years going to be changing or is it just going to be changing portfolios, because if you're transitioning with these people they must be doing something that's going to be done differently within the Education and Early Childhood Development Department than it was in Community Services?
MS. JENNEX: In the province right now we have many, many programs, $100 million worth of programs for our young people. I know what they'll be doing is looking at each of the programs to make sure that we're delivering services to the best of our ability, to make sure that every child in the province has the ability to benefit from the programs that we have.
There'll be a review of the services that we have, but all of the folks will be together under an integrated service model over in the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time allotted for the Progressive Conservative caucus has elapsed. We will now go to the Liberal caucus.
The honourable member for Colchester North.
HON. KAREN CASEY: I would like to pick up where we left off and ask the minister and staff to check Page 7.7 in your budget document, in particular the line on French Second Language. We're looking at a significant shift there, $2.3 million, actuals over estimate - could you explain that, please?
MS. JENNEX: The forecast is because of federal funding. Some of that was for one-time projects and so that money is back down to the regular funding that they usually do, but these were federal funding dollars.
MS. CASEY: Would that same federal funding - was this the first time, the only time, or is it an annual thing? How often does that federal funding impact?
MS. JENNEX: It is my understanding that this was the end of a multi-year agreement and a lot of this was for one-time projects, so that is all encapsulated in what happened, that has been forecasted. A lot of them were one-time projects and it was the end of an agreement.
MS. CASEY: So would we expect to have seen any such change in the budget line for French Second Language in the past?
MS. JENNEX: What I'll have to do is ask the staff to go back to the work that was done - the reports from five years ago when the agreement was signed - to find out that answer. That is not information I have, but I will definitely ask the department to provide it for you.
MS. CASEY: When you check the budget document from last year that line does not show any significant change, so I guess my question is, was this only this year? You're saying it's a five-year agreement, but no change last year?
MS. JENNEX: This is the end of the five-year agreement and that is why there was a bump in this year's funding coming from the federal government.
MS. CASEY: If we continue on Page 7.7 and we're looking at the Funded Staff FTEs and a significant change in the estimate over actuals from estimate to forecast, can you explain that difference of about 10 positions?
MS. JENNEX: We are down two positions - one of them has been transferred over to the Early Years and one of them was a reduction.
MS. CASEY: I was looking at the difference between the estimates of 2012-13 and the actuals of 2012-13, which shows a difference of more than two.
MS. JENNEX: The difference is that at any given time, in any year, in any department, there are people moving in and out due to illness, maternity leaves, changes in jobs, so the snapshot of last year is that those were the number of FTEs - this year we are estimating 106.
MS. CASEY: I will ask the same question as my colleague had asked earlier. The department operated with 12 fewer people in that particular division last year - would that be correct?
MS. JENNEX: Under Aboriginal Administration, the estimate was 1.0 and the forecast is .42; the Senior Executive Director of Public Schools Office was 3, now the forecast is 2.79; under the African Canadian Services, we have African Canadian Services Administration, the estimate was 4, the forecast was 3; the African Canadian Services Studies, 2 and 2; African Canadian Services Community Education 1 to 1; and African Canadian Services Student Services, the estimate was 1 and the forecast was 2. That is where the numbers are encapsulated.
MS. CASEY: So I will repeat my question. It looks like the actuals were 12 less than the estimate - does that mean there were 12 fewer FTEs during that last fiscal year?
MS. JENNEX: There were 12 fewer FTEs last year.
MS. CASEY: My question would be, if the department operated with 12 fewer FTEs, what services and what programs did not get implemented?
MS. JENNEX: The fewer 12 FTEs does not necessarily mean there were any fewer people working in the department.
MS. CASEY: Explain.
MS. JENNEX: Funded staff are measured in full-time equivalents, or FTEs, which is the measure of the annualized person years of full-time and part-time staff. Only staff charged to a salary account in departmental expenses and having an employee/employer relationship with the given provincial department or public service appropriation is included in the FTE count. While funding appears in the Estimates Book for an agency or organization as a grant or contribution from the province, employees of that agency or organization are not included in the FTE count. Staff employed by the province but funded by an external agency are reflected in the funded staff details that appear after the departmental expenses by object. The FTE counts that appear in the funded staff figures shown in the Estimates Book are net of those funded by the external agencies.
This funded staff is measured in full-time equivalents which is the measure, as I explained, so that does not necessarily mean there were fewer people working on projects and working on behalf of our students in the department.
MS. CASEY: Let's go back. There were 12 fewer FTEs, whether that was one person per FTE or two or three or whatever, there were 12 fewer FTEs in that department during last year. My question to you is, what programs and services would those 12 FTEs been working on had they been there?
MS. JENNEX: I will go back to our Public Schools, Administration, the Aboriginal Administration, the estimate was 1, and in the department was 0.42; the Senior Executive Director of Public School Office, we estimated 3, and in the department the working was 2.79; the African Canadian Services, the African Canadian Services Administration there were 4 in the estimate, and the forecast we had 3, the actual; the African Canadian Services Studies, 2 for 2; African Canadian Services Community Education, 1 for 1; African Canadian Services Student Division, we estimated 1, but there were 2; under the Education Quality Services, 2 were in the estimates, we had 0.6 in the department; under English Program Services English Program Health Physical Education, 2 for 2; English Program Services Elementary, 2 for 2; English Program Administration, 3 and 3; English Program English Language Arts we had in our estimate 4, the actual was 3.96; English Program Fine Arts, 1 to 1; English Program Mathematics, 4 and 4; English Program Science, 1 and 1; English Program Senior High, we had our estimate as 4 and we had 3; and English Program Social Studies, the one position and 1.
Under Evaluation Services, we had an estimate of 19 FTEs, the actual was 18.28; and in French Second Language, Administration, we had an estimate of 7 and we had 5.66; under French Language Support Services we had 2, the actual was 1 working in the department; Learning Resources and Technology and the Correspondence Studies, we had 6 in our estimate, but 7 were working in the department; Learning Resources and Technology Media Production, 2 and 2; Learning Resources and Technology Training and Evaluation, 3 were in the estimate, 2.9 were working; Learning Resources and Technology Administration, 4 were in the estimate, the forecast was 3.66; and Learning Resources and Technology Media Library, 4 were in the estimate, 3 were in the department.
The Mi'kmaq Liaison Office under Mi'kmaq Services, we had in our estimate 4, the forecast was 3.62; the Regional Education Services, I see that in Sydney we had 2, 1 was in the department; Regional Education Services in Truro, 2 were in our estimate, there was no one in that position; Regional Education Services, Yarmouth, we had 2, and 2 were working; and in Halifax, 1 and 1.
School Board Labour Relations, we had 1 and 1; Student Services Administration, 3 and 3; Student Services for Autism, 1 our estimate, and I see that FTE wasn't filled this year; Student Services French Language, 1 and 1; and Guidance, we had 1 in our estimate but it was 1.5 in the department; under Race Relations we had 2 and 1.45 in our forecast; Student Services Reading Recovery - that's very interesting - that's 1 and it's 0.69; and Student Services SchoolsPlus, 2 and 2; and Student Services Special Education, 2 and 2 - which is the discrepancy that we see in our numbers. As I said, it's not people, it adds up to a difference in terms of FTEs and people. There is a difference, it's not a head count.
MS. CASEY: To follow that line along, it looks to me like the forecast of 96.1 is going to be up by 10 to the estimate - so can the minister tell us which 10 FTEs will be filled?
MS. JENNEX: In Mi'kmaq Liaison Office, or Mi'kmaq Services, our Mi'kmaq Liaison, there would be a position there; and under Regional Education Services, there would be for Sydney, Truro, and Halifax - so Autism position there, and a position under Guidance - I say "position" - a 0.5; a 0.55 for Race Relations; a percentage under Reading; and under English Arts there would be part of an FTE; and under Evaluation Services there would be part of a position there in terms of an FTE; and under French Second Language Administration the forecast was 5.66, there would be 7 FTEs there; and under French Second Language Support Services in the forecast last year it was 1, and that goes to 2; and there would be, under Learning Resources and Technology, a part of an FTE at the evaluation component and also administration.
MS. CASEY: If we could go back to the list that you were just giving, which should add up to 10, you talked about REOs and you mentioned Sydney, Truro, and Halifax - you are talking how many REO positions?
MS. JENNEX: I just want to make it clear - you're asking about our regional education officers, how many are going to be hired?
MS. CASEY: When you were going through the list you were talking about positions that would be filled and you said REOs and you mentioned Sydney, Truro, and Halifax. My question is, how many positions is that?
MS. JENNEX: These are vacant positions that are being filled for Sydney and Halifax.
MS. CASEY: So is that two FTEs?
MS. JENNEX: That is correct - that is two FTEs.
MS. CASEY: If we could go on to Page 7.9 and looking at French Language Grants, and the significant expenditure over estimate, perhaps you could explain that.
MS. JENNEX: That's $4.2 million that is coming from the federal grants and that was the end of the agreement, at the end of the five-year agreement. So that's $4.2 million that came from the federal government.
MS. CASEY: Perhaps the minister could tell me why there are two separate lines showing federal grants.
MS. JENNEX: One is French First Language and one is French Second Language.
MS. CASEY: So on Page 7.9, it talks about "provide funding for French instruction in public schools" - is that first language or second language?
MS. JENNEX: That is French First Language.
MS. CASEY: So my question will be - without that federal money, because I understand the five-year agreement is up, and that's why we're not seeing that extra $4.2 million in the estimates for next year - how will those programs be funded?
MS. JENNEX: That funding agreement has been renewed.
MS. CASEY: So my question would be, if it has been renewed, why is there nothing showing in the estimates for next year?
MS. JENNEX: Our estimate to estimate is exactly the same.
MS. CASEY: Could you perhaps explain if the additional $4.2 million that came from the federal grants, which was shown as an expenditure in 2012-13, is going to be continued or is not going to be continued from the feds?
MS. JENNEX: As I said, this was the end of a five-year agreement, and this is $4.2 million, which was a one-time, at the end of the five-year that was brought in, but the agreement has been re-signed, so our estimate to estimate is the same.
MS. CASEY: Thank you, and perhaps the minister could tell us what that federal grant will be for this upcoming year.
MS. JENNEX: It is the estimate.
MS. CASEY: So when we're looking at actuals for next year, it will be the estimate plus whatever the federal grant is, which would be the actual expenditures?
MS. JENNEX: Obviously, I wasn't clear enough. That is the federal grant money in French Language Grants. That is federal grant money.
MS. CASEY: Are we saying the $4.9 million is federal money, is that what you're talking about?
MS. JENNEX: I did state this was federal money. It is federal money. It is French Language Grants - the $4.9 million is federal funding.
MS. CASEY: So if we can go back and look at this - the $4.9 million was federal money in last year's estimate and $4.9 million is federal money in this year's estimate, explain the $9.1 million as an actual.
MS. JENNEX: I'm going to repeat this again - the $4.2 million was at the end of the agreement, and it was one-time funding that came in at the end of the five-year agreement. It was used by the CSAP, is my understanding, for equipment and things that they needed in their schools - I understand computers, overheads, you know, things that were needed to deliver the program, and it was one-time funding. But as I said, the grant has been - the agreement has been signed again for the five years.
MS. CASEY: If we go back to my earlier questions from Page 7.7, where we talked about the federal grant money, which would be for French Second Language, can you give me the total amount of federal money that was received to cover both first-language and second-language instruction?
MS. JENNEX: French First Language for this year is $8.5 million.
MS. CASEY: So could you also give me for French Second Language - it was the two grants you spoke about.
MS. JENNEX: French Second Language for this coming year is $1.74 million for administration; for the French Second Language support it is $279,000 for administration for - sorry, for French First Language it is $581,000, and French Language Grants, this is $6,400. I think I've covered this. Unfortunately - and I apologize for the delay in answering - the font, I think, is the smallest they could make it to get all the information on the page, so it was just hard to read the chart.
MS. CASEY: The question was, how much federal money did we get to cover both first- and second-language instruction? I believe you told me in the first part of your answer that French First Language, the grant was $8.5 million. The question now is, what is the grant for French Second Language from the feds?
MS. JENNEX: The $8.5 million is the total grant coming from the federal government for French First and Second Language.
MS. CASEY: Do you have a breakdown of which is which - how much for French first and how much for French second?
MS. JENNEX: Thank you for your patience. Under French Second Language, the administration portion, the federal government grant will be $1.74 million; French Second Language Support is $279,000; French First Language, Administration, is $206,000; French First Language is $581,000; and our French First Language grants are $6.4 million.
MS. CASEY: Perhaps I'll check with you later. That doesn't add up for my numbers, but I won't spend any more time on it. Could we go to Page 7.3 please? Page 7.3, which is the Public Schools Education Funding and when you look down through the estimate to actual and then actual to the new estimate, you see significant decline from actual to estimate. Can the minister explain why the $11.2 million difference?
MS. JENNEX: I will ask staff to look at the numbers that we have provided in our books because I know the staff have worked hard to bring all of this information for the public to know where our money is being spent. That's the information that staff have at this time so I'll ask them to add it up just to see if there is a discrepancy between the $8.5 million and the numbers that I read out on the floor because we need to make sure that information is correct, so I'll ask staff to do that.
The question was the difference in funding from estimate to estimate; it is the difference by the MET, the Mandatory Education Tax.
MS. CASEY: Perhaps I could ask the minister that question again. If we're looking at the total funding in the Public Schools Education Funding, which is on Page 7.3, we're looking at $1.093 billion and $1.082 billion. I'm asking what programs or where the difference is in that - which I think is about $11.2 million.
MS. JENNEX: As the honorable member knows, there are two sources of funding for school boards in the province, one is from the provincial government and one is from the MET. The increased assessment has given $12.2 million in terms of the Mandatory Education Tax, and so that is the difference the member is seeing. It has to do with the MET; it's $12.2 million because of an increase in the provincial uniform property tax assessments.
MS. CASEY: I'm looking at the difference between the forecast and the estimate and it is $11.2 million less than it was over actuals. That's what I need to have explained. I don't think it's the MET. I don't believe the difference of $11.2 million in funding to school boards is the MET.
MS. JENNEX: The difference in that is when we put 73 teachers in - I think it's the first of October, the end of September - it was the class cap that's in that. Also, that's the difference along with the increase in the MET that goes in, so the provincial portion is reflected in that. What you're seeing in the forecast was from the class cap when we put 73 teachers in the classroom.
MS. CASEY: Could I read into that then that since the estimate for next year is $11.2 million less that we will not need those teachers next year?
MS. JENNEX: When we did the work of the budget this year, we have included the class cap in the funding formula. The class cap is in the formula; therefore, the Primary to Grade 3 classes have that included. I cannot answer if teachers who were hired in the school system, the 73 who were hired, what their positions will look like next year because school boards have received their budget. We've increased the budget this year for special education. We ran it through the Hogg formula to make sure all of the things that school boards need to have funded, that target funding is provided to our school boards. That is the difference.
In terms of our provincial portion, this has been offset by the increase in the MET this year.
MS. CASEY: Let's continue on Page 7.3. We have a forecast, which would be your actuals, of $1.093 billion. We have an estimate of $1.082 billion. That translates into a cut of $11.2 million, would that be correct?
MS. JENNEX: No.
MS. CASEY: Perhaps the minister could explain what it does reflect.
MS. JENNEX: This is a reduction in the provincial grant because of the increase of the MET.
MS. CASEY: If you look at the top of the page, to me it says it's the funding that goes to our public school system. The difference is $11.2 million over what it actually cost last year. Would that be correct?
MS. JENNEX: Our funding sources are the Province of Nova Scotia and the Mandatory Education Tax. Last year the province's funding for our school boards was - oh my goodness, a lot of money here - $841,572,200, and this year for the province is $832 - I'm sorry I'm saying this, I did learn how to do this in school, I can do it better backwards. The Mandatory Education Tax last year was $202,710 - I can't even say this anymore. The increase is under the Mandatory Education Tax and the total going out to our school boards has increased in our estimate for next year. There is no reduction, no reduction in any way, shape or form for funding for our school boards. We have increased our funding for this year. There is no cut, as the honourable member says.
This is the way that school boards have received their funding, they received the grant from the province and they also received the Mandatory Education Tax directly from their municipalities.
MS. CASEY: I guess I'm concerned about the statement the minister just said, that there are no reductions to school board funding this year. I'm reading from the 2012-13 funding and the 2013-14 adjustments, which show the Annapolis Valley getting a 3.6 per cent increase; Cape Breton, a 1.5 per cent decrease; Chignecto, a 0.10 per cent decrease; CSAP, a 6.05 per cent increase; Halifax, a 1.35 per cent increase; South Shore, a 1.5 per cent decrease; Strait, a 1.5 per cent decrease; and Tri-County, a 1.1 per cent decrease. My question to the minister is if five school boards are getting less money, how can we say that there are no reductions to school board funding?
MS. JENNEX: As I said there is no reduction to school board funding in the province. In the Annapolis Valley we have a change in their - they will be receiving more. This ran through the Hogg formula. We're making sure that we're funding our students appropriately. Not only are we making sure that they are encaptured in the model but the model was also worked very carefully to give school boards flexibility.
Within the formula we see that Annapolis Valley is receiving over $1 million more funding. Where the Cape Breton - sorry the adjustment is 400, I made a mistake there, sorry. In Cape Breton the actual, if you ran through the formula they would have been reduced over $9 million so, therefore, we are supplementing that so the reduction is capped at 1.5 per cent. As I made mention yesterday, there is a very challenging situation in Cape Breton with the extreme declining enrolment in Cape Breton. Chignecto had a small decrease in funding. CSAP had an increase in funding by 6 per cent because of increasing enrolment. Halifax received 1.35 per cent more. South Shore and the Strait both were capped at 1.5 per cent; they received funding that was based on their students but we protected them because the declining enrolment exceeded what we consider the cap, which is 1.5 per cent.
The cap was very carefully crafted to make sure that no permanent teachers would be affected and Tri-County had a reduction in funding. Overall, we are funding our school boards. Going through the funding formula, we are making sure that the school boards have the funding that they need for the students that they have in the school, and the Hogg model was formulated very carefully to make sure that school boards had some flexibility. We are protecting our boards by making sure we have a cap. The overall funding - I will repeat that, the overall funding - for our school boards has increased from last year.
MS. CASEY: I'd ask the minister to look at Page 7.4 and the Early Years part of that report and the 5.5 positions that were talked about earlier today. I'd ask the minister to repeat what those 5.5 positions will be.
MS. JENNEX: I'd like to make an apology to Mr. Dunn, he was looking for that and I actually had it on my desk so I make apologies for that. In the Early Years we have one FTE coming from the Department of Community Services, an FTE coming from Health and Wellness, an FTE approved by Treasury Board, an internal transfer from IT, and we also have an internal transfer from the English Program Services - which adds up to 5.5 in the Early Years.
MS. CASEY: That looks like we have two internal transfers and 3.5 from other departments, would that be correct?
MS. JENNEX: Three internal.
MS. CASEY: So is that three internal and 2.5 transferred from other departments?
MS. JENNEX: Thank you and that is correct.
MS. CASEY: So my question would be, with the transfer of 2.5 FTEs from other departments to Education, does the funding come from those departments to Education?
MS. JENNEX: Yes, from Community Services the FTE is 85,000 and funded from Health and Wellness is $85,000. Then there was some operational funding that came from Treasury Board. Thank you.
MS. CASEY: If I could look at the 5.5 that we're funding on this particular Education budget, is that in addition to the one from Community Services, one from Health and 0.5 from somewhere else?
MS. JENNEX: They are in this number; it is an inclusive number. Thank you.
MS. CASEY: If they are coming from those departments and if their funding is coming with them, then is this double-counting them in the 5.5 for funding?
MS. JENNEX: In our budget for our Early Years we have salaries and benefits at $549,000; another line of salaries and benefits at $549,100; travel would be $9,000; professional services, $316,900, supplies and services, $7,000; and "other" on that line is $4,000. Our operating grants would be $336,900; grants and contributions, $300,000; grants and contributions $300,000; and gross expenses, $1.186 million. Thank you.
MS. CASEY: Thank you for that breakdown. When we're looking at whatever this is supposed to look like, Early Years, when people are moving and programs are moving, what programs from Community Services and Health and Wellness will be moving over to Education?
MS. JENNEX: The 5.5 FTEs that have been discussed here are the actual people who will be doing the transfer and doing the work for this. This is a transitional year coming up and they will be working on what that looks like, how that's going to work. We're going to be integrating the programs and services. We're going to be building a more collaborative method of making sure that the services are there for our families. At this point, these people are in the department doing that work.
What will evolve in terms of what programs, I just want to reassure Nova Scotians that there's no change in the delivery, or any services, of any of the services that we provide for our families and for our children. This is a transformation of how we are going to be moving forward but at this point it stays the same. Everyone gets the service that they have been getting while the department is working, under the leadership of these 5.5, to do the work. There is a lot of work that is being done that I don't think that many Nova Scotians would see on a daily basis, but it's quite a lot of work in dealing with all of the different stakeholders and all the different programs to make sure that we can find a seamless method of making sure that we are supporting our youngest in our province and their families.
MS. CASEY: The question was, what services are coming? The minister had made a statement earlier this afternoon that all of the services in the Department of Health and Wellness and the Department of Community Services would come over to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. My question was, what are those services?
MS. JENNEX: We have over 200 programs and services available to our children and families across the province. I know what we're working on is building an integrated system that's going to improve the service and the programs to our children. If it's a service that is for our children, that is what is going to be integrated under the umbrella of our Early Years under our Early Childhood Development. I am not the Minister of Health or the Minister of Community Services to know exactly all the names of all the different programs that we have. I know the programs that we have in the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. The project, the vision, is to make sure that we are building an integrated system to benefit our children from the time that they're born until the time they finish school and beyond.
MS. CASEY: Yesterday I mentioned the list of salaried employees from the department and the difference in the numbers was quite significant. I know staff were going to check that. Perhaps I will repeat the question. We have 70 fewer employees listed on this year's report than last, so could somebody explain that?
MS. JENNEX: As the member would remember, there was a change in departments and the Advanced Education folks were on the previous list. They've moved over to the Department of Labour and Advanced Education. Also, the Library Branch, which was under the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, has moved over to the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage. That's reflecting the difference in the numbers. I know that yesterday, even I was taken aback, but reflected in the lists of salaried employees were Advanced Education and also the Library Branch, which are now in two other departments.
MS. CASEY: Thank you for the explanation because it was difficult to understand, when you're looking at lists of names, what had happened to some of those people. I would like to ask a couple of questions from that document, if you have it. I noticed that there are names on the travel allowances that are not on the list of employees. Perhaps you could explain that.
MS. JENNEX: Not everybody would be a salaried employee under the department. It could be a person who was seconded, who is doing work on behalf of the department. Their travel expenses would definitely be covered by the department because they're doing department work, but their salary is actually still paid for by their school board, is how a secondment works. It's an exchange of funds. They are seconded so what would be reflected in our list would be a person who is seconded. It wouldn't be on the department's list, but definitely does do the good work of the department and is funded by the department.
MS. CASEY: So if we look at secondments on Page 121 and secondments have come from three different boards, I would take from that. Could the minister confirm how many secondments from each of those three boards?
MS. JENNEX: There will be three secondments in total in the coming year.
MS. CASEY: I'm referring to the document that has the list of employees. It was last year's list - it's not this year's. It's the list for 2012-13.
MS. JENNEX: It looks as if what I will have to do is take that question and provide the information at a later date. We don't have that information with us today.
MS. CASEY: When I'm looking through the list of secondments there are three boards that are identified with secondments. Last year I believe there were four boards that had secondments identified. My question was - we're looking at Halifax Regional School Board, Secondment Salaries of $448,000. My question would be, how many secondments would that have been?
MS. JENNEX: I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to clarify. We have for our fiscal year 2011-12 as a Supplement to the Public Accounts, which is the information that we're using, we do not have the document that the honorable member is using at this time. I just want to clarify that we're working from the Supplement to the Public Accounts document and that is where we had the list for travel that I answered and the list of funded employees that I answered the question. So I'm just clarifying - you have a different document that you're getting information from.
MS. CASEY: I have the provincial document that you're referring to. You went back and checked the difference in the numbers. The difference was, I think, 70 employees and you explained to me that was because people from Libraries had moved and people from Labour and Workforce Development, so I believe you must have the document.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time allotted to the Official Opposition has expired. Is there a response from the minister on that? No response. There was no response required on that, I'm assuming.
MS. JENNEX: The response is that we always use the Supplement to the Public Accounts in arrears, which is 2011-12, so I think there might be some misunderstanding. We're working from the document 2011-12. I did answer the question she asked of why the discrepancy, based on the information that I received in the Supplement to the Public Accounts, 2011-12.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton North.
MR. EDDIE ORRELL: Madam Chairman, I'll go to Page 7.7 again and I just want to ask - on that page there are about 10 full-time equivalent positions that are empty. I just want to know how long those positions were empty during the last year.
MS. JENNEX: The question that the honourable member asked, we can calculate and we can get that information, but right now it would be a very lengthy process. I would have to do some math on each of the budget lines, so what I think I'll do is just clarify the question that you're looking at, how long were positions vacant? I will ask staff to tabulate all of this information and get that back to you, as opposed to taking the time to manoeuver through this document on the floor. Thank you.
MR. ORRELL: I'm going to go back to the amortization of equipment. If the expenses are decreasing as quickly as they are when we talked earlier, is the equipment in our schools starting to fall below their useful life, because of the quick decrease in the amortization period?
MS. JENNEX: There is a formula based on amortization. If it's over a 10-year period, it's a percentage each and every year that is taken into consideration. After the end of the 10 years - and I'm using 10 years as a general, I think that's the general accounting number that they use - after that the amortization is less because it has been captured in the first 10 years. That is the accounting piece of around amortization but in terms of - I think the concern that I'm hearing from the member opposite is, are things falling apart in our schools? Do we have the appropriate desks, chairs and computers in our school system?
Because of declining enrolment, we've actually ended up with a surplus of desks, chairs, and bookshelves. I know that what we do is make sure that they go to areas where, if another school needs something, that they can use them. But as you do know, because of declining enrolment, school boards are able to use different things in different schools, moving things around.
I have not been in a school where I've seen any problem with any of the equipment and/or the desks, but if there are problems that school boards or schools are facing, they have a procedure in which the principal would write a request to the school board and then the school board would look at that.
In terms of amortization, what happened was that big chunk that the member saw that looked quite dramatic is that there was a movement of Advanced Education and NSCC that used to be in the Department of Education, they moved over, so it looks like a dramatic drop when actually part of the department went over to Labour and Advanced Education.
I think in every department we make sure that employees have the appropriate desks and chairs that they need and school boards do the same thing. We also have a surplus of materials within our system that we can move around from one school board to another because if a school board doesn't need it anymore, they give it to the central government storage area. I know that at that point, if a government office doesn't need it - that's the first place that the Department of Education, by the way, if we've needed any desks or chairs in the department, the first place we go to is the surplus, before even considering purchasing anything. I think it's twice a year that the public can come in and purchase the surplus. Thank you.
MR. ORRELL: This may be a question that you may not be able to answer, but how much equipment and technology may be in use in the system now that has been written off or reached the end of its amortization period?
MS. JENNEX: You're right, I can't answer that but I do know that there is a program that we have within government, it's run through the Finance Department, that we have businesses and sometimes individuals when they are changing their computers at home or especially in office refreshes, they will bring that equipment to the department and there are people within the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development who will refresh that. Computer systems, there is lots of it; it is not necessarily that you will use all of it but the parts and pieces.
Then the company and/or individuals that have donated that, it's fairly evaluated and assessed, and the person gets an income tax receipt for their donation. Many of our schools benefit from computers that have a lot of useful life left. There are many ways that we can get equipment, computers into our schools and I think that this program - it has a name, it's a type of recycling program - it has been really good. We've ended up with an awful lot of technology for our people in our schools and also the businesses are able to benefit from getting an income tax receipt.
MR. ORRELL: In conjunction with that last question, could we get a copy of the state of our equipment with a breakdown on where on average some of it is in the 10-year amortization period, over the last 10 years?
MS. JENNEX: Now, I just want to make sure before I ask for staff to do this work, it's a very big system. We have over 400 schools so I need to know are you asking for desks, chairs, computers or the technology in our schools, or . . .
MR. ORRELL: Technology will be fine.
MS. JENNEX: You're looking at what is in technology in schools? That would be a question that we would need to ask the boards and the boards would have an inventory which would be ever changing, especially around technology. All I can do with your request at this point, honourable member, would be to make a request, and I'm just clarifying, around technology in our schools.
MR. ORRELL: I only have a few questions left, and I don't think they're getting much easier. Could you tell me what the costing forecast for the equipment need, due to the depreciation of current equipment, will be over the next five years?
MS. JENNEX: That is not a question I can answer at this time.
MR. ORRELL: On Page 7.4, we're under Early Childhood Education again, and their development. I want to ask of the $1.1 million, how much of that money is devoted to salaries, programs, administration, communications, and/or policy advancement?
MS. JENNEX: The $1.2 million breaks down in this way: salaries and benefits, $549,100; $9,000 for travel; for professional services, $316,900; supplies and services budgeted $7,000; under the line item "other" would be $4,000; the operating costs are $336,900; grants and contributions $300,000; grants and contributions, $300,000; and program expenses, $1.186 million - we just rounded it up to $1.2 million. It's so close that it just makes it easier.
MR. ORRELL: I know we are expecting an announcement tomorrow on our early childhood educators and speculation is that four-year-olds are going into the classroom system. The question I'm going to ask is if we go that route, will the early educators' salaries be brought up in line with public school teachers' salaries?
MS. JENNEX: That's not a question I can answer at this time but I definitely appreciate the intent behind that question. Thank you very much for the opportunity and tomorrow we are looking forward to providing more information around our Early Years. Thank you.
MR. ORRELL: I would like to thank the minister and her two assistants, Mr. Dunn and Mr. Lowe, for their patience; I appreciate their help with answering those questions. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Bedford-Birch Cove.
MS. KELLY REGAN: I would like to take a few minutes to ask the minister a few questions about some schools in my riding. First of all it was mentioned in the Speech from the Throne that there would be a new school coming in for Bedford. I'm assuming that is the new high school that was announced in 2009 by the previous government. Is that correct?
MS. JENNEX: The Bedford school has been built under our government and it's a beautiful building, and it's my understanding that it will be opening this Fall. Am I correct? Yes. That is the Speech from the Throne, opening a school would be the Bedford school. I heard your comments the other day that you were hoping it would be more than that, but it is a beautiful school and I know that you, as a member, are very proud of that school. It's going to be a wonderful place of learning for our young people.
MS. REGAN: Thank you, minister, for clarifying that. I was pretty sure that was the school that was being referred to but I just wanted to check in case there was some gift there that I didn't know about. My understanding is the school is on time and on budget and all of that.
Once the students from Charles P. Allen move into the new Bedford high school, which will be called Charles P. Allen, then we have an empty school on Rocky Lake Drive, the old Charles P. Allen building, and my understanding is - well, not my understanding - the plan is to take the students from Bedford Junior High, which is also on Rocky Lake Drive, which is a 50-year-old building that has seen better days, take those students and put them in the old Charles P. Allen building along with the students from Grades 7, 8 and 9 from Bedford South. They've just gone through a rather contentious boundary review about that. They will join together and go to Charles P. Allen.
Are there any renovations slated for the old Charles P. Allen, prior to the move of the junior high students?
MS. JENNEX: It has not been submitted at this point. If it is a priority for the board, it would be submitted under their capital asks.
MS. REGAN: Okay, since it hasn't been submitted I would like to bring to the minister's attention, there is no elevator at Charles P. Allen. For students who are on crutches or in wheelchairs, there is a series of ramps, but to get from the bottom floor up to the third floor is quite a hike and it's quite a long ramp. I wanted to bring that to her attention. I know there are other issues that the school advisory committee has been working on, but that was the big one that had been mentioned to me previously.
There are also a number of issues at a number of schools throughout my riding. First of all, Waverley Road School, there was a boundary review last year for that school and the gist of it was that all the students from that school were moved from Waverley Road School to Basinview Drive Community School, which is a lovely newer school. Those students were taken out of Waverley Road School. There were no students, no teachers at Waverley Road School this year, and it went on the closure list, I think last month, for HRSB. Do you have any objection to them closing that school where there are no students in it right now?
MS. JENNEX: I'm not familiar with all of the different areas and all of the different schools and boundaries. I can tell you about my own constituency, as we all can, which is a good thing. What I want to say is, to answer the question, Dr. Lowe just informed me about a motion that was made at their board. I really feel that taking another approach with the school review process, where I've asked for boards to suspend the process at this point and to delay any closures of decisions that were made in the current year, it would not impact on the motion that the school board made on an empty school. That has nothing to do with the school review process.
I think they are working through the process of how that looks. I think if we would have had a school review process that would have had that encapsulated in the case of a school that emptied out - I mean, we did have a case two years ago where a school actually did empty out. People didn't come to the school. It was down on the South Shore, I remember. What happens, because the legislation says it needs to be reviewed, but there's no one there, I know the board will figure that particular thing out, but I think this just highlights the importance of having a review process put in place that a school board wouldn't be left in a situation going, what should we do here and having to seek a legal opinion to find out.
Personally, if this is a school where there are no students, it doesn't make any sense to me why they would need to have a review process before closing it, but since we have a suspension on this, I've asked for a suspension so we can look at a better way forward on that. That is something that I know that Dr. Lowe will work with the boards around. Personally, if that is something the board feels is inappropriate, I support in that decision.
MS. REGAN: That is not the only school where that is going to happen because just down the road from Waverley Road School is Bedford Junior High. If those junior high students and the Bedford South students join together and go to the old Charles P. Allen High School this Fall, that school will, in fact, be empty. This is another case where we would have a school sitting empty, not as the result of a school closure but as a result of boundary review.
I actually did get a letter from a parent the other day who wanted to know whether this was a way for boards to skirt around the contentious issue of a school closure if they could use boundary reviews to get around that whole process. I'm wondering if you could speak to that.
MS. JENNEX: I think this just highlights the need for a school review process that takes many considerations into place. I'm not familiar with this situation and I don't want to speak to it, but I would like to speak over at a higher level in that the school review process obviously has caused communities, families, and school boards a great deal of distress over the last two years and beyond. I mean I think it has been contentious all along. I know that we did try to clarity it, adding more input for families, for communities. It was still adversarial. What I'm saying is that in the move forward, all of these things need to be taken into consideration around a review so that we can work collaboratively with the community in the best interest of children.
As you've heard me say many times, the school review process is in place to make sure that the public education of the child can be delivered appropriately so it's fair and equitable for everyone in the province. Coming out of school review processes, I know in many cases, especially in my own area, it has created enhancements in the school. The addition of technology - the schools have been rewired.
You made a comment about accessibility; schools have been made more accessible. Actually old schools - and I know that Mr. Chairman will know that we have had many schools in Annapolis Valley built all exactly the same, at the same time. Nowadays because of renovations, you would think that it is a brand-new school. A review process can also lead to enhancing of the school.
I've asked the boards to suspend; I'm looking forward to working with them, with other departments across government, working with Ray Ivany's commission. Ray is going around, and his commission is doing a lot of work, getting that input at how we can look at a school in a more holistic way. I think that encapsulates the concern that the board has, and maybe for the person who wrote to you, as we move forward, we can make sure that it is very clear for the boards on procedures.
MS. REGAN: It was interesting, we were discussing accessibility, and I do have a number of schools in my riding that are not particularly accessible, because they were built a number of years ago. I would like to note, for example, that Fort Sackville School, which is a lovely little school, my children all went to that school. It only goes up to, I think, Grade 2 now, but there's no gym in it, and there are stairs, you know - not a lot of stairs, but there are stairs in it - and that does make life difficult for some people.
From there, the children go up to Eaglewood Elementary. There is no elevator, and it's a two-floor school. When my son went there, French immersion was on the second floor. If you can't get upstairs, it makes it tough. The library is on the second floor, so you can't get upstairs to reach the library. I did want to mention that to the minister. The other thing is, I have received conflicting reports from various places about the capital requests, when boards were putting in capital requests. Has that, in fact, happened?
MS. JENNEX: Well, we have made the requests, and it's my understanding that boards are sending their requests to the department but they are not due until the end of this month. I think, due, or we won't be reviewing them until - is it due April 30th? Are they due? Oh. They're due in the office on April 30th. That's the timeline. So yes, the request has already gone out. I don't know, but I'm sure that maybe some boards might even have theirs in. It's hard to say.
MS. REGAN: Is that for just renovations, or is that also for new school buildings? (Interruption) Sorry, is that just for new buildings, or is it for renovations as well?
MS. JENNEX: It's for both. It's what school boards need and their priorities for schools. Thanks.
MS. REGAN: Thank you. So since I have the minister here, I might just make a few pitches. Mentioning Fort Sackville and Eaglewood, the plan, last time I checked, was in fact to do a renovation at Eaglewood Elementary to make the building bigger and more accessible. The minister and I have met up at École Grosvenor Wentworth Park School, which has some renovation needs, including roofing and some ceilings, flooring, et cetera, and I have written to the minister about that.
My understanding is that the other thing the board will be requesting is a new high school for the Ravines area because the new Bedford high school, which will open this Fall, in 2013, was built for 1,200 students and will open with about 1,300. According to population projections, by 2018, we are expecting that school to be well overcrowded and we will need another, so I just thought I would put the plug in for the new Ravines high school. With that I would like pass questioning over to my colleague, the member for Richmond.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Richmond.
HON. MICHEL SAMSON: Madam Minister, tonight the Strait Regional School Board will be meeting and as part of their meeting there is going to be a motion introduced by the school board member for West Richmond requesting that the school board's decision to close the West Richmond Education Centre and the Heatherton school be revisited and be reversed. I'm just curious whether the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development would be supportive in light of her request made to school boards earlier last week to see that both those schools remain open.
MS. JENNEX: I want to be very clear that the request that I made of the school boards was to suspend the school review process for the coming year and to delay the school closures that were made during the current year. That is the request that I made of the school boards.
MR. SAMSON: I'm wondering if the minister could clarify. Does that mean it would apply to schools that were voted for closure in 2011-12 when she says stop the process now, plus go back and reverse the process that was started before? I'm wondering if the minister could clarify exactly what dates she is referring to.
MS. JENNEX: I really feel that there has been some miscommunication because there were some media reports that put out some incorrect dates in some of the media. I think it has made this a little bit difficult for members of the school boards and the general public. The decisions were only for decisions for school closure made in this current year, so decisions that were made by March 31st of this year, decisions made in this current year. That was the request that I made. It didn't encapsulate any other request. If a school is going to be closed in September based on a decision made three years ago, that still stands.
MR. SAMSON: I'm wondering if the minister could clarify. The vote to close the West Richmond Education Centre took place last year, with the school slated for closure in June of this year. I'm wondering if the minister could clarify - does West Richmond Education Centre fall under the request that she made to school boards?
MS. JENNEX: No, it doesn't.
MR. SAMSON: I'm a bit confused, when you said a decision made this year.
MS. JENNEX: This current year.
MR. SAMSON: Okay, this current year. Your announcement was last week so you're basically talking about January 1, 2013, to when you made your announcement. You're saying that it's only for decisions that were made during that time frame, is that correct?
MS. JENNEX: The school review process goes from October to March 31st - I think I've got my timelines there. So decisions that were made October 2012 to March 31, 2013 - this is what I call the current school year - decisions made were to be delayed. The request was to be delayed so it doesn't encapsulate any other decisions that were made outside of that timeline.
MR. SAMSON: I'm just curious. How does the minister pick the arbitrary date of October 2012 when you've stood in this House and you've told Nova Scotians that the review process was flawed, that it pitted community against community, it was very divisive? How is it that you can now tell the parents, the students, and the administration of the West Richmond Education Centre, sorry, but you're a couple of months off of the October date even though it was a flawed process; I acknowledge that now, it was flawed from the time we made amendments in 2010? How can the minister possibly tell this community, sorry, you're off by a couple of months because any decision made prior to October 2012, even though the school is only slated for closure in June 2013, does not apply?
MS. JENNEX: The school review process, as the honourable member knows, sits with the school board and the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development can only make a request. I made it around this school year, this current school year, and anything upcoming, I have asked the school board to do a suspension and a delay. I have heard back from many people in the community and I've heard back from school boards that they felt this process was extremely adversarial and was pitting community against community and school board against community and it just wasn't working. I've made the request for them to suspend it.
One of the things that I did hear and I know all of us, through media reports, have heard that many of the communities came to the school review process, the meetings, with ideas around a community school, a hub model. At this point there is no criterion, no protocol, no way that the community group can work with the school board at this point because it's in an area that the school board really doesn't have jurisdiction in terms of what commercial entity the school could be used for.
We've had many good ideas. Each community has a different idea and I feel that as we move forward through a new process that we can find a way to work with communities and have the criteria and protocols put in place so that we can look at alternate uses of schools, using the schools in other ways and also a community hub model. I know that working with the community, we can enhance how we use our schools. At this point, there is no protocol, no criterion.
Schools that have done it, I know there are a number of small schools that have made some changes over the years, but in terms of what communities were asking for and asking the school boards, I know in Chignecto they were asking the school board for two different schools, giving them some time to work on a model for a community school or a hub model. I would like to see, through a review process, that we can work with other departments to enhance it so we can actually work together with communities and with other departments so we can see what we can do in our smaller schools, especially in our rural areas.
MR. SAMSON: I'm just advised now that the final vote on the West Richmond Education Centre was made in March 2012. It was done so under what the minister has described as a flawed process, a process that was divisive. The minister knows that many members, many parents, students, administrators attempted to contact the minister. She refused to respond to any of their concerns until after the vote was actually taken.
Is it safe to say that the minister's and the government's response to the parents, students and the entire community impacted by West Richmond Education Centre is too bad, you're out of luck? Even though it was a flawed process, the vote was before the arbitrary date of October that you've chosen and they do not have the support of the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development to try to keep their school open.
MS. JENNEX: I just want to be very clear that the terminology that the member opposite is using on how I described the process, I did not use myself. I said the process was adversarial and not meeting the needs of our communities. (Interruption) I did not use the term "flawed" at all in any of my media. I've used the terms "problematic" and "adversarial". I think that all members here recognize when a school review process is in place the outcome is to make sure that our children benefit. It has turned into a very adversarial, confrontational - I'm hearing the word "heart-wrenching" - process.
The situations that any community has with their school and their connection with the school is very strong and I am not, as minister, legislated, not allowed to get involved in the process. I was following appropriate protocol and appropriate legislative authority. Unfortunately, the message is that I would not meet with them. I did not. I could not because I could not interfere. I am being criticized by the member opposite for actually not interfering in a process which has been adversarial, trying to put a stop to moving forward and another year of community pitting against community and school board members, so we can work through a better process.
I'm hoping that members of your constituency, the West Richmond school, and you mentioned the Heatherton school, that they definitely will have some input on ways to move forward in terms of a process that can be much more collaborative and work for the community. We need to look at it in a holistic manner.
The member knows that any school board member can put a motion on the floor about any decisions that are made. That is something that any board member in any of their meetings can do, and it's up to the board to look at that decision. You can revisit decisions if there is a motion put towards the school board.
I understand that this has caused some concern for our school boards, but I do feel that even though it was a difficult decision to make to ask for the suspension, it is to benefit our students to find a better way as we can move forward. If we can find a better way of looking at schools and how we can do a school review so that the best outcome is there for our students as opposed to having students and their families so disrupted and concerned.
MR. SAMSON: Basically the minister's statement is that the review process wasn't flawed; it was just adversarial and problematic. For any parent who is going to sit there and think there's a real difference between those terms, I don't think you're going to find any.
It's interesting that the minister said I've accused her of interfering in the process. My question all along has been asking you, what is going to happen to West Richmond Education Centre? That has been my question. It's interesting because when I said earlier how the parents, students, and community members tried to contact the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, her response was, I didn't reply to any of them because I couldn't interfere.
MS. JENNEX: I didn't say that.
MR. SAMSON: You said you couldn't interfere as minister. (Interruptions) They didn't ask you to interfere. They asked you to listen. They asked you to hear their concerns. They asked you to hear their ideas. They asked you to hear what they thought was flawed about the program. They asked you to hear what it was going to do to their community, what they thought it was going to do to their kids. With all due respect, you turned a blind eye by saying, I can't interfere. They didn't ask you to interfere; they asked you to listen, and today your response is very clear that you did not listen. Now you're coming after the fact and saying I couldn't interfere, which is why I did not respond.
Minister, that's not good enough and for these parents, they're now being told because the decision was in March, because it was before October 2012, that under the rules that you've put in place, the requests that you've made, they really have no option.
I have to ask the minister again, why is it that knowing all of the flaws that were in the system, the parents who want to communicate, why would she not have responded to those concerns?
HON. LEONARD PREYRA: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order. It has been a long-standing practice to speak through the chairman to a witness and not to berate and harass the witness. I would ask the member to speak through the chairman. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Richmond has the floor.
MR. SAMSON: I'm going to say the same thing to the Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage that I had said, I think it was back in 1999 when I was asking questions of then Minister of Health Jane Purves, and I remember Jamie Muir and Angus MacIsaac got up on similar types of points and as I said to them then, I don't think Minister Purves needed any of the men to defend her and I'll say right now that I don't think the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development needs the Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage to defend her either. I think she's quite capable of doing that herself.
I think I've asked her reasonable questions and she's given me the best responses up to date. With all due respect, when it comes to an issue talking about parents and talking about education in Richmond County, I don't need any lecture, any direction from the Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage here in this House.
I go back to my point again: the parents wanted you to listen, they wanted you to hear what was flawed in the process, what they felt was not properly addressing it. Will the minister advise why she did not respond to the parents?
HON. LEONARD PREYRA: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order. It is a Rule of the House that he should speak to the witness through the chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, I was just going to remind the member. Thank you, member, and I do remind all who are speaking to estimates to address the chairman.
MR. SAMSON: Will the chairman ask the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development why she did not respond to the concerns raised by the parents, students, and other community members regarding the closure of the West Richmond Education Centre prior to the board's decision to close the school?
MS. JENNEX: I find the accusation a bit unfair because I actually did listen to the members across all Nova Scotia, every community that has a school and is undergoing a school review process. If they write letters, I do read every single one of them. I get requests on a daily basis to be either in Cape Breton, Yarmouth, or Amherst to meet with parent groups. I think I've had six invitations this week alone.
Unfortunately, I cannot meet with every group that asks and I do meet with lots of groups. One of the things that I know we pride ourselves on, as government, is listening and I did listen and I did listen to - actually I was there and I listened to the board and the board members who represent that area. I have read every letter. I have not been able to meet with every group that has asked me for a meeting. That is something that I would like to do but there are over 400 schools in the province, home and schools, SACs that invite me all the time. It's not that I was in any way meaning to be, and never will be, disrespectful to any community member, any community group, any group of parents or children associated with anything that is happening in our school system.
I understand that the process is extremely heart-wrenching and that the people who are having their school reviewed and changes being made, definitely are very concerned and upset. Never would I have been disrespectful to any member. I did read every one of the letters and e-mails that came in, and it is my hope that all of those people recognize that they did get a response and the response would be the same for any of the school review processes: it was sitting with the hands of the board.
Now I have stepped in and have asked to make sure that the process works as well as it possibly can. I have heard from parents, from the school boards, from community groups - and I am hearing from businesses too - around the school review process. The school review process was never intended to look at a school for closure; it's a school review process.
I think I'm going to read something from one of the school board members in Halifax that was reported in The ChronicleHerald. As you know, sometimes they might not be accurate but it says: Unfortunately, the school review process is the tool we have to get the information that we need to find out about our school and our community.
Obviously, we can see, from what happened this year in particular, that the school board wasn't able to take other considerations under the school review process. So it is my hope that the school boards take the request that I made to suspend it and to look at this.
The idea of this is if they grant my request to suspend, the first thing we want to be doing, after the House rises, is to meet with the board superintendents and - well actually, I apologize - I want to meet with every board. I'm looking at meeting with the boards in a regional way. I would look at the Cape Breton and Antigonish area for one meeting, probably one in Halifax, and maybe one in the Valley so that school board members don't have to drive too far, with any member who is interested in looking at the process so I can glean as much information, from the school board members, of how we can move forward in a positive way.
They've gone through this process; we tweaked it two years ago, it ran through the model that we had in place. Now, in the second year we see it obviously was problematic and we didn't get it where we needed to get it. After I meet with the school board members and hear what they have to say, my desire will be to strike an interdepartmental committee bringing in Justice, Health and Wellness, Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, and UNSM.
Interestingly enough, UNSM has a big stake in schools; as you know, our municipalities are one of our funding sources for our schools. In many cases, when a school is slated for closure, and closes, in some areas of the province the municipalities can hardly wait to get that school vacated so that they can use the property in another way. In other areas of the province it becomes an extreme liability. We did hear from one of the former members, Mayor Don Downe, that it's causing undue hardship in the South Shore.
We're going to strike this intergovernmental committee. We're also going to have UNSM. It's interesting too; I know our Premier submitted legislation back in 2006, which actually talks about striking an interdepartmental committee to look at the school review process. This is something that has been discussed on the floor of this House. We would then have that committee meet with Ray Ivany and the commission. Ray won't have a complete report at that point but he definitely will have an interim report and he will have met with every community across Nova Scotia.
I want to say very clearly that Ray Ivany and the commission are not going around getting information about schools, but it's coming up in the conversations that people are bringing forward. What we're looking at is getting input from the commission on what communities are saying about schools. After hearing all of that information, we're going to ask for a discussion paper.
I feel it's important to have a discussion paper so that people in Nova Scotia have a springboard to work from. I know there are many groups, I'm getting a lot of information, full abstracts, full reports, and I actually got an e-mail this morning. When I woke up I opened up my e-mail account and there was a person in Australia working on exactly the same problem in Australia that we're having here in Nova Scotia and they offered support on that. I'm getting a lot of people who feel they can be part of this moving forward appropriately.
If we have a discussion paper - because I think there are so many people with so many ideas, it would be hard to bring them all together - but if we have a discussion paper as the springboard, put this out for people in Nova Scotia to read and then after they have the opportunity to read it, reflect, I'm looking at the submissions back to the department from community groups, from individuals.
I don't know what it's going to look like when we get that discussion paper out. It might mean, coming from the committee, that we feel we might actually travel around the province and listen to people right in a room. We might just have submissions put in through the traditional manner, which would be electronic or through Canada Post. I am looking at hearing from every single person in the province who has an interest in what we can do to look forward to our school review process benefiting our communities and our students as opposed to it being problematic and adversarial.
As I've said, I'm looking forward to the communities that have gone through school closure, that they can offer their suggestions on how it would have looked for them if another process would have been in place and make the suggestions on what that would look like. I don't have any preconceived notion, at this point, to what the school review process is going to look like at the end of the day because this is something that needs to be decided upon by the research and by the intergovernmental committee and also by Nova Scotians. I know and I have a great deal of faith that we can move forward in a much more positive way.
I know that the community groups that came forward with plans - we met with one of the members of the community group, in the department, to look to see if the plan was viable. I want to tell you right now that some of those community groups worked a very long time, they struck a committee, they went out to businesses, they looked at what they could do in the school, and they put together a really good plan. The problem is that you can bring a plan forward, but a school board, their mandate is not a mandate to implement a plan in that way. It really needs to be looked at with TIR and with the Department of Justice.
We can move forward with this, with the expertise from all of the other departments. That is why I say I have no preconceived notion as to what it looks like, but I have a hope that at the end of the day, when a community group comes forward and says this is a school that's really valuable in our community and we want to work with the school board, that we have a mechanism in place that the school board has - it might be a liaison person with government, I don't know what it's going to look like - but that they can take that plan and actually implement it, because at this point I know we have community groups in the Chignecto area that are working on plans, but there are no criteria in place.
For example, if at the end of the day they work really hard and they work with a local business person and they wanted to put, for example, a restaurant in a school that might work in one community but might not work in another, there are considerations that we need to look at. The infrastructure we have to look at first and foremost is the safety of our children. Whatever we use our schools for, the focus is what's best for the child in the school.
At the end of the day, some of our schools in Nova Scotia are not going to be remaining opening. We need to have that very clearly clarified because we get to a capacity - and I know I'm looking at the chairman. The chairman and I have been educators for a very long time. When you get to a school that is too old and is in a situation - I know I heard some things today about accessibility - and we have so few students that they are not getting what they need in terms of our public school program, some schools are going to close. I just want to clarify that.
At the end of the day, I think that by working together with Nova Scotians, we can come up with a review process. Considering the amount of submissions that have been coming into my MLA account and also through the department, there is no lack of passion and expertise in Nova Scotia of ways we can move forward in a much more collaborative, positive way that will benefit our students.
I know that there might be some hard feelings in the Richmond area around their school. For that, I feel very badly because I want people to know that I do listen and I want to make sure that people feel that they have been heard. I hope people in the Richmond area recognize that there was no intent, ever, on my behalf to be disrespectful in any way. If anyone feels that I was, I apologize for that because all I was able to do at that point, in looking at the legislation, was say, this really is a board matter.
I did meet with the board and I know that the community, probably, is still very much concerned and hurt around the outcomes of their schools. I'm not 100 per cent sure if it is going to close or the timelines. I know that I get an awful lot of paperwork each day, a lot of letters. I really appreciate members of the general public writing to me with their thoughts and I appreciate getting people's thoughts on what's happening in their school. I learned about the community in that way. I appreciate the members from Richmond who did write to me and I apologize for not being able to drive to Richmond to meet with them.
I do want to say too, to the members from Richmond, I did hear today that the honourable member did mention that there was going to be a motion. There is a procedure and an opportunity for that motion to be discussed again at the school board.
It's very important that we recognize that the school boards work really hard on behalf of our students. I know that every school board in this province wants the best for our students and they have a difficult mandate in looking at a lot of our schools because of declining enrolment. We only have one school board in the whole province of Nova Scotia that has increased enrolment and that's CSAP. Even Halifax is struggling with declining enrolment.
It's a situation that we have in Nova Scotia. I had an e-mail today from Australia and they're having the same pressures in rural communities. I'm hearing this from ministers across Canada. The situation we have with declining enrolment is definitely a situation that other jurisdictions are seeing. I also am quite optimistic that if we have another process in place, I think it would be really good if we could come up with a model that would be something that would benefit other jurisdictions. We have the opportunity to put something in place that other provinces in other jurisdictions would be able to emulate.
I also want to go back to looking at this as an interdepartmental committee, that we're not looking at this as a silo, that this is an educational concern. This is a community concern so we're going to involve TIR, Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, and the municipality. We're going to involve Health and Wellness because one of the things that we need to make sure of, when we're looking at our schools, is the health of our students.
We're going to involve all of the areas that have anything to do with schools and community to make sure our children are going to benefit from this process. It does not benefit any child in this province if their parents are concerned or the communities are concerned or if their teachers are concerned. We want to make sure that people have a process where they feel they're being heard and that there is a positive outcome.
As I said, not every school in the province is going to stay open but at the end of the day, if the community feels comfortable that it's in the best interest of their child, then I know the outcome will be more positive and communities will feel that not only have they been heard, but they've been able to contribute to this.
I think this process has created a little bit of misunderstanding. I know that early on the news reporting of this caused some concern and I mentioned to the member for Richmond that I thought his community might have been confused about the dates. I was very clear in the press release and in any of my conversations that I've had with the boards and that I've had with community members. I have asked for a delay of decisions that were made in the current year. As the honourable member would understand, it's very difficult for governments to continue to go back to correct things that might have been problematic.
We have to move forward and this is a forward-looking process. The reason I put a delay on the decisions that were made in the current year is for the very reason that I hope I was able to articulate: that the community members who worked very hard at coming up with plans - and I'm looking at the member for Lunenburg West, I know that one of his constituents worked very hard with the community to come up with a plan for a community hub model, but we don't have any way of being able to support that at this time. We need to look at a new way of moving forward with the ideas coming from the public so we have some criteria.
I mentioned restaurants. We want to make sure that whatever we do in our criteria that we wouldn't have a community group say we would have a restaurant if we've made a determination. That wouldn't be good in terms of safety for the children, extra traffic, maybe fire or safety considerations, so we want to make sure we have the criteria.
We saw very innovative ideas but within the criteria that there is enough flexibility but that we don't have community members taking their valuable time to come up with ideas that will not be able to be used and/or sustainable. That's the other thing, you move forward, you could actually set up a model, a community hub, and it worked but was not sustainable.
We have to make sure that we look at involving the private sector in our schools. We have a school, I think, in the Tri-County area that actually is leasing out part of their school and has for a very long time without any trouble. I know we have a school in Halifax Regional School Board that half of the school at this time is being used for a daycare. They just made some modifications and the school, a very small community school, is able to be extremely viable and serve the needs of the community.
I think there are many ways that we can move forward with this hub model, the community model, or alternate use of schools. I do know that the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board is leasing out space for offices in some of their schools, criteria always being first, of course, that it has to make sure it doesn't impact on our children in any way but if we don't have criteria in place and if we don't take the time to take a deep breath and stop this process, which I've asked, we're just going to keep spinning year after year and have communities upset and have this being adversarial.
When a school board and a community want the same thing - what they want is what's going to be best for their child in the classroom and they want the best possible education. If we continue to fight with each other, and if we continue to have it adversarial, as soon as you hear the term "school review", immediately people think school closure, and it shouldn't be used in that way.
As we move forward through this process, I will hear back from the boards by April 30th. I understand the school boards are concerned that I put a delay on this and I understand that some school boards have expressed their concerns about some needed repairs in schools if they are going to operate next year. I met with the chairs and the boards, mind you by a teleconference, and reassured them to submit the repairs that were needed, through the process. We have an envelope to do that so they should not have financial hardship around the repair of the school.
As we move forward through this process, I will hear back from the boards. I'm optimistic. We're on the edge of something that can be quite exciting, as I said, that can be a model that other jurisdictions are getting. We're not alone in this and we'll also look to see what other jurisdictions are doing, but from the look of it and from the amount of e-mails and documentation that come into the office, it looks as if no one has really solved this problem yet.
I'm looking at the people in Nova Scotia to work together on this as we move forward, when I hear back from the school boards, because as I said, and I will say it again, we all want the same things. We have elected our school boards to work on behalf of our students. We have parents who want nothing but the best for their children. We have communities that want nothing but the best for our future citizens in our society. Everyone wants the same thing here, so I've asked for a suspension so that we can take a deep breath. We need to look at a process that has Nova Scotians working together instead of Nova Scotians working against each other.
I want to say that the honourable member - you know, I definitely understand his concern. I know each one of us, as Members of the Legislative Assembly, have a deep connection to our constituencies and a deeper connection to the people in our constituencies. There is nothing more important in our constituencies than the health and well-being of our children. Our children, from the time that they're born until the time that we let them go off into the world, are our responsibility and our passion. I definitely understand the member's concerns for his community, and I admire him for standing up for them, but I also would like to say that I am disappointed that he felt he needed to accuse me of not being respectful to the community, because I have always prided myself on being as respectful in my demeanor on the floor and in the community, my whole entire life. It's the way I live.
I am concerned that he would say that I was disrespectful and dismissive of members of his community. I know the members of his community are hard-working individuals, wanting nothing but the best for their students. I don't know all the particulars of the timelines for the school in his community, but I know that the people in his community love their children and love their community.
I know that there is a motion on the floor this evening. We'll have to see what the outcome of that is. I know that asking for the suspension has caused a great deal of buzz in the community and I know that it wasn't a popular decision for some people because they didn't feel it was far-reaching. Also, a number of people, as I've heard, have interfered in a process. It's a process that isn't working, and I feel it's incumbent upon us as a government to ask for a pause so that we can make sure the outcome benefits our children.
Mr. Chairman, I hope the member opposite understands that I do care about his community and the members of his community, and I am concerned that they feel I was not listening. Believe me, I am listening, and I read everything that comes into the office and I answer everything that comes into the office. But I will qualify that. The member for Cumberland South submitted 1,000 copies of the same letter to me. I'm not sure how I'm going to work through that particular one, but I just wanted to make sure that people know that I do hear their concern and they have every right to be concerned.
For those 1,000 letters that came in, I can't guarantee I will answer every one of those, but I do definitely answer all my correspondence. Sometimes I have heard that correspondence has gone missing. If a person has not had an answer from me through my office, then I would want them to write and inform me of that so that we can definitely have a dialogue through e-mail and/or through the Canada Post.
Mr. Chairman, I know that you've heard how I feel about this. I am concerned and I am offended that the member would feel that he couldn't speak to me outside of this process around the members of his constituency. I do know it has been an extremely emotional time for the community. The decision that I made is to put a stop to what has happened in this year. I know that every government struggles with decisions that other governments have made, or decisions in the past, but I'm putting a stop to what's going on now so that we can move forward. The most important thing we have is to move forward in this process so that we end up, at the end of the day, with a model that other jurisdictions may be able to copy, take pieces from, or utilize this.
I want to be cutting-edge in Nova Scotia. We're on the forefront of many initiatives in this province, and as I meet with other ministers from around the world, we don't realize that we're not blowing our own horn enough here in Nova Scotia. We have well-trained teachers doing an excellent job in our classrooms. Even though some of our schools do have some concerns, we have, for the most part, a lot of our schools meeting the needs of our students, and especially with a lot of the renovations and our new schools.
The member for Bedford-Birch Cove is really looking forward to opening the new C.P. Allen High School in the Fall, being there to - I don't know if they'll cut the ribbon or what they'll do, but I know that it's going to be an exciting time.
We all want the same thing and that is that we want to make sure that our students get the very best education, and in some cases, some of our schools have gone past the date of no return. I have to say that brings to mind the situation in Amherst. I drove by a school there last year and I saw teachers working. It was at the end of August and I think members would like to know that many teachers are in their school in the last two weeks of August. I know the member for Kings West knows what I'm talking about. I saw cars in the yard, so what I did was I pulled in. That school in Amherst is 101 years old now. This school needed - they need a new school, so they are getting a new school. It took a little while to find the right spot for the land, but we cannot have our children going into schools that do not have the appropriate facilities.
I really would like to just end by saying that I do listen, I do care, and I want nothing but the very best for each and every one of our students. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time has elapsed for that round of questioning.
The honourable member for Lunenburg West.
MR. GARY RAMEY: Mr. Chairman, I think people would find it a bit strange if I didn't ask at least a couple of questions of the minister, since I spent the bulk of my career in the education system. I would actually like to just mention something first before I ask the question, or speak very briefly about something.
A number of years ago when I worked at the Nova Scotia Community College, I was in a position called a college prep coordinator at the Lunenburg Campus, and I was talking to the person who was the superintendent of the school board and I was asking the person how many students are leaving high school and what are the ages of these people, why do you think they leave? It happened to be Trudy Johnson, an excellent person, and she came back to me and said, you might be surprised. I thought it would be Grade 12 students who got a job and then they got interested in making money and then they kind of just gave up and wanted a car or something and kept making car payments and maybe left school. She informed me it was Grades 10 and 11 students and she said more boys than girls, but there are some girls too, and we wanted to stem the tide of these students leaving school early because we knew that's not a good road for them to go down.
We had several meetings and I asked her, do you think if we could introduce some form of trades training to these students that they might become interested in a different form of education and that they might, therefore, continue to go on in school and, indeed, become successful in life later on? She said, if we could design a program that would introduce them to trades, that would be good. There would have to be some essential pieces to meet the Nova Scotia curriculum. We were talking about math, English and subjects like that.
We worked out a system whereby the students stayed in the high school four days a week, and on Fridays they would come to the Nova Scotia Community College. Now that caused us a bit of a problem because the shops at the Nova Scotia Community College were occupied by the shop instructors and so we had to reorganize the schedules of the shop instructors so that they would do the related subjects - blueprint reading, math, and communications - all on Friday and that would free up the shops so that I could bring these students in.
I got them to sign up. We were able to do industrial electricity; industrial mechanics; cooking; at that time cosmetology, as well; carpentry; diesel repair; and auto mechanics. The students would come in and they'd sign up for a period of maybe two months and they'd do that trade. Then they would circulate into another trade and they'd try that for two months, and then into another one. So it exposed them to a lot of different skill sets.
What we found very quickly was that those students loved it. Back at the high school they had designated teachers. They didn't have to go to a whole bunch of different teachers. I think we ascertained that might have been one of the problems. They needed somebody who would more like a (Interruption) There is a question here. My friend, the member for Glace Bay asked me if there's a question and there is.
In any event, what we found was happening was once we did that, students became re-engaged in education and we were keeping a lot of kids from leaving school, which I thought was a great idea. That program then morphed into something, I believe, called O2, which is in the school system now, so my question to the minister is about O2. I'd like to know how many schools have that program at the present time and what the success rate of the students in O2 happens to be.
MS. JENNEX: While staff go through the documentation to get the answer for the member for Lunenburg West, I just want to - he actually outlined one of those programs that we have in Nova Scotia that I will use, the term "lifesavers". This is an opportunity that many of our children who are at risk or at risk of leaving school, as the member mentioned, who are not engaged in school, have the opportunity to look at all different kinds of options.
I'm trying to think, it was last Wednesday evening, when we rose from the House, I went down to the Westin Hotel and they had an O2 showcase. Now I want to tell you, if you wanted to be anywhere on Wednesday night in Halifax, it was at the O2 showcase. Students and their teachers from across the province came in to showcase the work they are doing. Now, some of them were actually physically doing some of the work that they have learned through Options and Opportunities so I had a chance to meet with stakeholders. Those are the very kind and generous people in communities who work with our O2 students.
I spoke with one woman who was just so dedicated - St. John Ambulance - teaching our children about appropriate first aid and safety. I spoke with the stakeholders, as I said, then I met with a number of the teachers. You know what? I always appreciate talking to teachers. It's a really important thing to do. One of the teachers when I saw her, I could not believe it, she was my student teacher that I had when I first started teaching in the 1970s, but in the early 1980s I had her as a student teacher. I also saw a young man who is the lead O2 teacher who I've watched, from birth, grow up. He's teaching out in the Queens area. That was really heartwarming, but the most heartwarming thing was to see the excitement, the confidence that our young people have who are participating in the O2 program.
I talked with a number of the students and they explained what they had been doing. Every single student who I talked with, who was in Grade 12, with the exception of one who had two opportunities and they didn't know which way they were going, every child had a plan of what they were doing when they were leaving school.
The nice thing about O2 is that children can make the decision to go into the NSCC because the nice thing about Options and Opportunities is it gives them the opportunity, if they're in there, to have a seat at the NSCC. Then a lot of the students were going to university. They were engaged in schools. This was an absolutely fantastic showcase.
On Friday, I think a number of the members will remember, I did have people in the gallery who came down from the showcase to view what was happening in the Chamber. They were from the Cape Breton Highlands school; I met a number of children from Cape Breton who were at the showcase.
The question the member brought forward - and thank you very much, Dr. Lowe and Mr. Dunn - in the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board we have Annapolis West Education Centre, Avon View High School, Bridgetown Regional, Central Kings, Horton High, Middleton Regional, Northeast Kings, and West Kings. I would just like to mention that West Kings is the school that the member for Kings West used to be the principal of - vice-principal or principal - I know he taught there for many, many years. Those are the schools that have Options and Opportunities in the Annapolis Valley.
In Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board there is Breton Education Centre, Cabot Junior/Senior High, Glace Bay, Riverview - starting second semester this year, I see, so that would mean they're doing that now - and Sydney Academy. I met some fine students from Sydney Academy.
For the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board there is Hants North Rural High, North Colchester High, Oxford Regional Education Centre, Pictou Academy, Dr. Thomas McCulloch Junior High School - I think that's one place - Pugwash District, and South Colchester.
For CSAP we have École du Carrefour, École secondaire de Clare, École secondaire de Par-en-Bas, and École secondaire du Sommet.
For the Halifax Regional School Board we have Auburn, Charles P. Allen, Citadel High, Dartmouth High - where I graduated from - Eastern Shore District High, J.L. Ilsley, Lockview, Millwood, Prince Andrew High School, Sackville High School, and Sir John A. Macdonald High School.
For the South Shore Regional School Board we have Bridgewater Junior/Senior High School, Forest Heights Community School, Liverpool Regional High School, New Germany Rural High, North Queens, and Park View Education Centre.
For the Strait Regional School Board we have Cape Breton Highlands Education Centre, Dalbrae Academy - I met with the teacher there. They make golf courses, it's fantastic, you know those mini-putt, they use cement and everything - Dr. John Hugh Gillis, East Antigonish Education Centre, Saint Mary's Education Centre, and Strait Area Education Centre.
For the Tri-County Regional School Board we have Barrington Municipal High, Digby Regional, Lockeport Regional High, St. Mary's Bay Academy, and Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High.
With that, I also would like to say that as we move forward, as a plan we've increased looking at Options and Opportunities. It has worked so well and has been so successful that we're moving it down to Grade 9 where we're calling it Discovering Opportunities.
There's nothing more I would love to stand here and talk about than our Options and Opportunities program but with that, I thank you.
MR. RAMEY: Mr. Chairman, my next question is - and I'm going to have to get kind of a general answer on this, I believe, because of the nature of the way I'm asking it. I apologize, I was over in the Red Room and I missed some of the questions that went on in here last night and I missed a bit of today as well, so I apologize if I'm re-asking a question. I think I was here for the answer to the first part of this. My question is how many teachers are there in the Province of Nova Scotia right now?
I would like to know, generally speaking, what the average qualification level of those teachers happens to be.
MS. JENNEX: I won't be able to answer all of your question, but there are 9,449 teachers. I apologize, we must be getting near the end of my four hours so I apologize. I know that we won't be able to get the information for not only our teachers but also all of their credentials. That would come through the school boards, so I will ask the school boards for those lists and how specific the honourable member wants it, I will discuss.
MR. RAMEY: My next question is related to the number of students. I just asked about the number of teachers and I think the answer was 9,449. How many students are in the school system in Nova Scotia?
MS. JENNEX: Our last count shows 120,541 students who are enrolled in our system this year.
MR. RAMEY: I guess in relation to that, I would like to know how many home-schooled students? I assume the number that I just got is for students who are in the public school system, so I would like to know how many students are being home-schooled in the Province of Nova Scotia.
MS. JENNEX: We have 850 children in the province being home-schooled.
MR. RAMEY: That's a very small percentage, I guess, of the number of students. I'm wondering, are home-schooled students funded in any way by the Province of Nova Scotia?
MS. JENNEX: We have a province where parents have the right to decide on how their child is educated so we have a mix here in Nova Scotia. We do have private schools, of course; we have our public schools, which is in the department that I oversee; and we also have home-schooling. If a parent decides to send their child to a private school, they have to fund it themselves; if a person decides to do their home-schooling, then they do it themselves. We do not fund our home-schooled families.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. We have reached the moment of interruption. The committee will now rise and report business to the House.
[5:58 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[6:32 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Victoria-The Lakes on an introduction.
MR. KEITH BAIN: Madam Chairman, it is my pleasure to introduce someone in the gallery opposite who is here to spend his birthday watching over the Budget Estimates and the discussion that will be taking place this evening - I don't know if that says anything about the kind of life he lives or what it does, but he's a great constituent of Victoria-The Lakes, and I'd ask all members to make Tom Vickers welcome and say happy birthday to him. (Applause)
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We welcome our visitors to the committee today.
The honourable member for Lunenburg West has the floor.
MR. RAMEY: Thank you, Madam Chairman, and happy birthday to our guest up there in the gallery as well.
Madam Chairman, through you to the minister: what is the total Education and Early Childhood Development budget for the Province of Nova Scotia?
MS. JENNEX: It is $1,105,659,000.
MR. RAMEY: Is that the second largest budget of any department in government?
MS. JENNEX: Yes, it is the second largest budget item for the Province of Nova Scotia - the Department of Health and Wellness is first, and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development is second.
MR. RAMEY: I'm just wondering, as well, if you could tell me - we talked about skilled trades actually a little while ago when we were talking about O2, and we've talked in here many times about the ships contract and what the ships contract is going to mean going forward. I know that the school system is starting to put an emphasis on skilled trades education because it's important for our future development. And for our future economy we're going to need every skilled tradesperson we can get both from here and, I hope, from other places, as well, because we're going to need lots of workers.
I was wondering, could the minister explain how skilled trades education fits in with Kids and Learning First?
MS. JENNEX: One of the things that we have done is we've looked at what our students need to be successful citizens. Things have changed not only in Nova Scotia, but all over the world there has been - I'm sorry, Madam Chairman, I thought there was a question being directed to me and I stopped talking. I am going to try to answer this question and I have been very respectful in this House when anyone is on their feet - I do not speak back because I like to hear their answer or their question.
We, in our Kids and Learning First, made a commitment to double the number of schools offering our skilled trades because, as I prefaced my comment, there has been a change and a shift in our world and we need to make sure that we respond accordingly in our education system.
One of the very key things that happened in Nova Scotia is that we have a shipbuilding contract and we need to know that we can count on having skills in our society that can apply for the jobs. We want our students, our children, to get the skills and have the opportunity to apply for the jobs so they can stay here in Nova Scotia. We made a commitment to skills trades and we've identified some schools - the school boards identified the schools where there are going to be skills trades added. But we also have funded the creation of skills trades in nine schools to date: Annapolis West, Breton Education Centre, Hants East Rural, École Beaufort, J.L. Ilsley, Sackville High, Eastern Shore, Parkview, and Shelburne.
Now I want to say that I was at one of the schools that offered skills trades, I think it was about a year ago and it was exciting. Skills trades are taught by a journeyperson, a person with all of the - I don't know all of the language, but the red seals; they are people who are not teaching a subject, they are teaching a skill and have all the appropriate qualifications to do that. Students are in the school with real tools and real projects that they are working on.
I was in a school a year ago, I think it was a year ago February, and the students in the school had designed, which is part of skills trades, a huge playhouse and they built it; that was their project. They learned carpentry, they were using carpentry and wiring. While I was at the school I had the opportunity to don my safety goggles and hard hat and one of the students, I think it was a Grade 11 student, taught me how to put an outlet on the wall to intersect all of the wires. I was a little bit nervous but I have to say, Madam Chairman, that the student led me through that.
You know how we're always accused of photo ops - well I'm going to tell you they took pictures but it wasn't a photo op; I was really a little nervous on how to do this but they did teach me how to do it and I was led through this by a high school student.
What I saw was a young woman at the school where I was, and a couple of the young men, talking about how important it has been in their experience at school to have the opportunity to actually check out carpentry, electrical, plumbing, and the list goes on. We're also making sure, and as you heard in my speech, we're expanding to welding - I'm trying to think - there's fabrication, and they're in the process now of designing a new course that will be going into the schools called Manufacturers 11.
We've also identified some schools for further expansion, to make sure that we can roll this out. We've made the commitment that we're going to double the amount of schools that offer this. I know that not every school can offer it because there are some considerations. You have to kind of have a shop and not every school will offer the same things, but it's giving an opportunity for our students to actually try out a skill, see if they like it, and we've worked with the community college around skills trades so that we are making sure we're working in partnership with the community college.
I know that we're doing some more work around skills trades in the department. As I said, with the Manufacturers 11, which will be starting in February of next year - and when we talk about year, a school year is always different than our calendar year, but February 2014 we'll be doing the manufacturing course.
Skills trades is something we have made a commitment to. We are doubling it - we are working at making sure we have the opportunity to provide this for our students. One of the things, and I don't know if members know that there can only be 16 in a class so this is a really good time for instruction with a qualified journeyperson in the classroom. So with that, Madam Chairman, I look forward to another question from the honourable member.
MR. RAMEY: We have heard a lot in the House about declining school population. I don't know if you have the statistics there or not, Madam Minister, but I was wondering, could you tell us what the decline in school population has been over the last 10 years?
MS. JENNEX: I know many people have heard me talking about declining enrolment, but when you actually see a graph about declining enrolment it's actually extremely scary. Back in the year 2000 we had 156,761 students in our school system; by 2005 we had dropped to 143,000 students in our system, so that's over a five-year period. So I'm looking at 2006, we have 139,964 students in our system, that's in 2006-07; and in 2008-09 we're at 134,801. I'm going to jump ahead, so 2009, as I mentioned, 2008-09, we had 134,800 students; and to this current year that we're in now, we have 120,541. So we have dropped dramatically over the last decade.
What I will do is I am going to ask one of our Pages to photocopy and provide the opportunity for the member to see the decline. We have it graphed on this. I know we can't use props, so I'm not going to turn it around, but we definitely can show where we have lost - a dramatic decline in our enrolment.
MR. RAMEY: Another program that I certainly heard a fair amount about and I think a lot of school jurisdictions want to get this program, is the SchoolsPlus program. I haven't heard any bad comments about it. I don't know a whole lot about it. There's one school in Lunenburg County for sure, it's the Forest Heights School that has SchoolsPlus. I know other schools that want it - I assume they want it because it's a good program, but perhaps you could tell us a little bit about what SchoolsPlus is all about.
MS. JENNEX: SchoolsPlus is an integrated service-delivery model. It is a program that I could talk all night about, but I'm going to try to make it as succinct as possible.
When we made government we came in and there was a pilot project in place through the former government called SchoolsPlus. We did an examination of SchoolsPlus, to gather information to see if its implementation was actually doing what it was intended to do - was it successful?
We recognized it was extremely successful, so we made sure, we've taken SchoolsPlus out of a pilot, it is now into full implementation, and we are hearing it has nothing but positive impact on our children, youth, and their families. We know that it was a good thing in pilot, we researched it, so we've taken it out of pilot and we're implementing it, and Kids and Learning First, we have made a commitment to have 28 SchoolsPlus sites across the province by 2016-17 - that works out to four each and every year.
Each SchoolsPlus site receives a coordinator and an outreach worker funded by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development - there are also operational costs provided to support the SchoolsPlus site at the school. I was in Guysborough at Guysborough High School - wow, that is a school, and that is a magnificent place to be. The kids and the teachers there are energized and enthusiastic. I had a meeting with the SchoolsPlus team - and I think it was my first real opportunity to have stakeholders and partners and people who are participating in SchoolsPlus, because you hear about it but what does it look like?
Around the table that day were people who were part of the SchoolsPlus site at Guysborough High School. I met with a person who was considered a social worker, the probation officer - I was actually quite surprised there's a probation officer that works in the school, and to find how successful that has been for students that have had some problems with the law, giving them the opportunity to be successful in school, to have their probation officer there to supervise and support them. It's a really positive thing to have the probation officer.
I could go on with all of the different things - I think there were at least 12 different components in terms of people I met with. I met with a coordinator that was at the SchoolsPlus site that recognized the need for young women to be involved in science and had designed a camp and program for young women. This is all facilitated through the site at the school, the SchoolsPlus site.
Then I had the opportunity of travelling over to Dartmouth and I was in a SchoolsPlus site there - totally different look, different feel. Of course, Guysborough is totally different than an area in downtown Dartmouth. We're talking about a very rural community really responding to children who were coming from very long distances to the school - Guysborough is a beautiful area but it is very rural - to a downtown urban school.
When I went to that SchoolsPlus site I met with parents who couldn't tell me enough about how important SchoolsPlus is for them. They used it as a meeting place, there were young mums there the day I was there and they were involved in a playgroup and they were being supported in how to play with your child, the appropriate play. They were also being given support on snacks and healthy eating.
So we have young mums - and I'm talking really young mums that needed some support, and they're getting it right at school, and what better place than at a school, because everyone knows where the school is in the community and to connect them to being with the teachers and staff as you're travelling through. It was a really warm and inviting and comfortable place with couches and chairs, and there were babies there, and then I met with some parents who were telling me that they bring their children to school and then they have groups that they can talk with each other, there's some peer group counselling. So they're really responding to the needs in the community. And after school hours, the SchoolsPlus site transformed into a little hub for support for children with their homework.
So we have all of these agencies - we have Community Services working in the school; we have Justice, as I've already mentioned; and we have Health and Wellness in our schools - all of the agencies that need to work with our children can do it right at the SchoolsPlus site. It has been nothing but successful; it is very valued - we are finding from research that it has changed attendance rates at school, and academic performance.
Now, when I talk about sites, we ask the school board each year to submit four and the reason for four a year is basically the capacity of setting them up and getting them working properly. We have a young woman within the department, Tara Moore, a fabulous coordinator. She works in the department and oversees the set-up and works with the staff. So each SchoolsPlus site, coordinator, and outreach worker coordinates all the services and programs that children need in that community, so each and every year it's four because, really, that's about the capacity to get them up and running appropriately. I know that I hear from a lot of people, and a lot of the members ask, can I please have one?
Well, it goes through the school board, they suggest the site, then the site, the school board says which area they're going to put it in, they make space within the school, then through Tara, and working with the coordinator and outreach worker, they get things set up, and then the rest is nothing but positive history. So I know that the four have been submitted at the end of March. I haven't heard exactly the decisions of where the new sites will be, but our commitment is to have every county covered by SchoolsPlus sites, we've committed to having 28. But under those SchoolsPlus sites, we have schools served by - so we have a site at a school, but it catches the family of schools.
You can see in Halifax Regional School Board that we have numbers of schools that are being supported by a number of SchoolsPlus sites. We have Nelson Whynder; Harbour View; Joseph Howe; Oxford; Ross Road; John Martin Junior High; St. Joseph's- Alexander McKay; J. L. Ilsley; Rockingstone Heights, which we'll be visiting tomorrow; Central Spryfield School - I want to go back to Rockingstone just for one second. I had the opportunity of meeting with students and parents at that school when then they were starting their SchoolsPlus site, and I'm looking forward to go back and meeting the students and the parents again.
We have Cunard Junior High; Chebucto Heights Elementary; John W. MacLeod-Fleming Tower School; Elizabeth Sutherland School; Herring Cove Junior High; Harrietsfield Elementary School; Sambro Elementary; William King Elementary; Bicentennial School; John MacNeil; Shannon Park; Prince Arthur; Southdale-North Woodside; Alderney; Crichton Park; Hawthorn; and Harbour View - it is interesting that Harbour View is not on here, because I - oh, did I? I mustn't have read it out loud - it was the second one; I visited there. That is an amazing place with an amazing energy in that school, and you can see it has been nothing but positive for our families and for our young people.
When children feel safe and they're coming to a safe and caring environment, which all of our schools do have safe and caring environments, but when they have a special place to go for someone to talk to, it makes it even more special. Especially when parents really feel that they have a place that they can get their services and the programs in one spot. So that's just in the Halifax Regional School Board.
Our South Shore Regional School Board SchoolsPlus is able to serve Forest Heights Community School, Aspotogan Consolidated, Chester District, Chester Area Middle School, Gold River-Western Shore, New Ross, North Queens, Greenfield, Dr. John C. Wickwire, South Queens Junior High School, Liverpool Regional High School, Milton Centennial School, Mill Village Consolidated School, New Germany Rural, New Germany Elementary, West Northfield Elementary School, Bridgewater Elementary, and Bridgewater Junior-Senior High. All of those schools are covered by our SchoolsPlus model.
I would just like to mention that my cousin, Colleen Finck, was a teacher at Milton Centennial School and they have a scholarship in her memory. She was a teacher, and most of her career was in Milton. At one point I was able to provide my services setting up her classroom for a substitute when there was a death in our family, so I have a real sense of where everything is in Milton, because it's nice that I was able to do that. Not many people can actually go in and support a family member by getting ready for the substitute for a week the next day. She was a Grade 1 teacher. I'm five years younger than she was, and I followed right behind her through Acadia. She was my hero and that's her school.
The Strait Regional School Board has Chedabucto Education Centre-Guysborough Academy, Canso Academy, Fanning Education Centre, St. Mary's Education Centre/ Academy, Mulgrave Memorial, Richmond Academy, Strait Area Education-Recreation Centre, East Richmond Education Centre, Felix Marchand Education Centre, Tamarac Education Centre, and West Richmond Education Centre. So in the Strait Area the SchoolsPlus are serving those schools.
In the Chignecto Central Regional School Board we have Amherst High School, Cumberland North Academy, E.B. Chandler Junior High, Northport Consolidated School, Spring Street Academy, West Highlands, Truro Junior High School, Truro Elementary School, Harmony Heights Elementary School, and Cobequid Regional.
In Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board we have Sherwood Park Education Centre, Cusack-Cornwallis-Ashby Complex, Brookland Elementary School, Mira Road Elementary School, Shipyard Elementary School, Southside School, Membertou Elementary School, Whitney Pier Memorial Junior High, Harbourside Elementary School, and - I've met students from this school - Sydney Academy.
In the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board - and I will just stand here and say that there are none in Kings County, but we have them in the Annapolis Regional School Board, they are in Annapolis County. I think everyone heard that there's none in Kings, where I live - I wonder if I can speak to the minister about that. There's Champlain Elementary School, Annapolis Royal Regional Academy, Annapolis West Education Centre, Clark Rutherford Memorial, Bridgetown Regional High, Bridgetown Regional Elementary, Lawrencetown Consolidated, and the Lawrencetown Education Centre.
In Tri-County we have Digby Regional High School and feeder schools as I mentioned, Digby Elementary School - and that's the other one I visited. That is a fantastic school. During the day there is a person who comes in and works with students and she teaches them yoga. Now someone made a comment to me one time, why yoga in schools? Well, why not? It's a great discipline, it's very good exercise. A community member came in and the yoga is done in the SchoolsPlus site. That's just one of the many exciting things they were doing there - Barton Consolidated School; Digby Neck Consolidated School; Islands Consolidated School; Saint Mary's Bay Academy; and Weymouth Consolidated School.
Then we have in our CSAP - and I always worry when I read the schools because I unfortunately don't have even a high school credit of French, which is an embarrassment to me - École secondaire de Par-en-Bas; École Pubnico-Ouest; École Wedgeport; École Belleville; École Beau-Port; and École acadienne de Pomquet. Those schools right now are all being served by SchoolsPlus, and our commitment is to expand so we have SchoolsPlus all across this absolutely wonderful province.
We have four new sites coming that will be announced, I would imagine, not too long from now. I know they must be in the department. Those decisions are made by the school boards, and they go through the department and are vetted. Then it will come to my office, I'll be able to see where the four are, and then we will definitely make an announcement as to where they are going to be.
I can't say enough about SchoolsPlus. They are different in every area. They serve the total need of the child and their family in the community where they live, and what better place to serve the needs of our children but in the school?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Before proceeding, I would ask that the minister table the document that she gave to the member so that all committee members would have access to it should they want it.
MR. RAMEY: Thank you, Madam Minister, for that answer. When I was at the Nova Scotia Community College, one of the best programs that we offered, as far as I was concerned, was our co-op program, because co-op programs give students a chance to get real-life experience. We had on-the-job training and we had co-op.
As a matter of fact, my niece actually took a co-op program. She went to Bishop's University and took an undergrad degree; and she came down here to Nova Scotia and went to Mount St. Vincent, took a PR program, which was co-op, got a job at the Toronto-Dominion Bank, and now she's a vice-president of Toronto-Dominion Bank - all done through a co-op program and some hard work. So I've got nothing but good things to say about co-op.
I was just wondering, Madam Minister, what is the status of co-op right now in our education system, in the schools?
MS. JENNEX: It brings to mind a number of things when I heard the honourable member make comments about co-ops. I was at Northeast Kings Education Centre - NKEC - to talk to some students, and the students were actually part of a co-op program. Two young women I was speaking to had actually made their career decisions based on the experience that they received in the co-op program.
What I was at the school for that day was we launched a program that is going into every high school and junior high - I think we're moving into the junior highs, but it is in every high school. We provided a kiosk, and what I mean by a kiosk is that we provided the computer and screen, and the stand for the computer, and the department had worked on a program called Futureseekers. This is an opportunity for the guidance counsellors and teachers in the school to show either the videos or give information, and students have access to go on this program. It's called Futureseekers.
The general public can see part of the program, but the children actually sign in with a password. I know there are 50 videos of jobs that they can go into. I know when my own children were talking about things that they wanted to do, my idea of going out in the workforce was very limited - I couldn't think of all of the jobs that there are because I know that jobs have changed so quickly over the last decade. People are doing things in jobs that we hadn't even thought of 10 years ago, 20 years ago - so I wish that Futureseekers would have been available for my children to go on and have a look. I always said to my children, what is it that you really love? Go with your passion. And that's all well and good, but it's nice if you can go with your passion that makes money so that you can be successful and pay the rent.
My oldest son, as many people know, is a substitute teacher in Newfoundland and Labrador, and he went with what he loved, and he loves what he's doing. My oldest daughter who went to university and just wasn't able to really figure out what she wanted to do went with her passion, and many of you know she's a chef and loves her work. She doesn't let me say she's a chef - she's a sous chef - she works in the industry. My youngest daughter has taken art at NSCAD. (Interruption) She is a beautiful artist, yes, that's very true. I'm very proud of my children, as everyone knows. One of my children, as you know, Fraser, went into the trades and he was a machinist and he loved what he did too.
My children were lucky they ended up in those positions, that they're liking what they're doing, but through Futureseekers and through the co-op program, you have an opportunity of testing things out, so we're providing more opportunities through Options and Opportunities, discovering opportunities through the co-op program. We also provide IB for students in our province, too, but I encourage everyone to have a look at what Futureseekers looks like.
We also do something else through the department. I met the gentleman who delivers this program, it's called Career Coaches. The department has a person who goes to different areas of the province, has meetings and talks to parents, and talks with them about all of the opportunities that are available to our young people, and parents can then help mentor. I wish I would have had this because I only knew such a limited amount. I'm hearing back from parents, it's like wow, I didn't know there were so many opportunities.
We're in an age of digital technology, our arts community is vibrant and vital and people don't really think when you're in school of steering your children towards arts and culture when actually arts and culture is as much a part of the industry as is shipbuilding. It's a very vibrant part of Nova Scotia - actually, it's the fabric of why we are Nova Scotia when you think about all the fine artists and musicians that have come from Nova Scotia. And because we have a very balanced approach to education in the province, we do provide the opportunity for every student to have an arts credit as they graduate.
We have career coaching and I'm hearing back from parents that they really feel we should continue on in high school, but also take it down to elementary. I met with students at Acadia University and they felt they would like to see something like that provided at the post-secondary level, too, because we're always searching.
The co-op program actually provides the opportunity for our students in school to not only do their academic work, but also get out into the field and in industry and work and find out, is it something they like and is it something they want to continue with? I met two young women at NKEC that day, one had decided they were going into the medical field - and when we think of medical field we always think doctor, nurse, but there are so many opportunities in the medical field for our young people. Through our Futureseekers you can go on and they can actually look at what a lab technician does.
I'm showing you my 20th Century mind because I know there are many other things - I've asked people who do our MRIs and all that technology that we have, you know, there's a whole new world in front of us and we need to make sure our children are not only knowing about them but also planning their courses so that when they finish school they can take the opportunity of going into the fields that they want.
I know that with our math that's why we really are taking the time and really planned out changing the math program in the Province of Nova Scotia, because we were finding our children were leaving Grade 12 and were having to take - I'll use this for want of a better word - a remedial math course in university before they could take the first-year math. This was happening all across the province. I was hearing back from industry and from our universities - our children were not prepared to do the academic math, we were not providing them the opportunity to have the foundational skills they needed.
We're making sure that through Kids and Learning First that we're covering as many bases as we can to provide opportunities for children to be successful, by providing the opportunity for them to look at all the careers through Futureseekers, by working with parents so that they have Career Coaches - it's actually like an in-service for parents, it's a course for parents for Career Coaches and providing Options and Opportunities, discovering opportunities, and also that valuable co-op program that is very much still a part of our education system and will continue to be under this government.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Honourable member, you have 30 seconds.
MR. RAMEY: My question was going to be about the virtual school. I wanted to know something about the virtual school; I wanted to know two things - how much money we spend on the virtual school and what the nature of it is and which schools you can access the virtual school through. However, because we're rapidly running out of time, I will take my seat and I will ask the minister that another time.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time allotted for today's consideration of CWH on Supply has elapsed.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. FRANK CORBETT: Madam Chairman, I move that the committee do now rise and report progress and beg leave to meet again.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.
[The committee adjourned at 7:10 p.m.]