HALIFAX, TUESDAY, APRIL 10, 2012
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HOUSE ON SUPPLY
Ms. Becky Kent
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The Committee of the Whole House on Supply will come to order.
The honourable Acting Government House Leader.
MR. MAT WHYNOTT: Madam Chairman, would you please call the estimates of the Department of Education.
Resolution E5 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $1,112,830,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Education, pursuant to the Estimate.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I now invite the Minister of Education to make some opening comments and if you would, I would ask that you introduce your staff to members of the committee as well.
The honourable Minister of Education.
HON. RAMONA JENNEX: Thank you very much, Madam Chairman. It's my pleasure to stand here to speak a little bit about the great work my department and school boards are doing, and will continue to do over the coming years, to maintain and improve upon the high quality of education in Nova Scotia.
Before I begin, I want to introduce Frank Dunn, associate deputy minister, and Dr. Alan Lowe, our senior adviser of school board relations, who will be assisting me in answering your questions today. I would also like to note that these are the same people from the department that were here on our behalf last year. This is my second estimates debate in this House as Minister of Education, and like last year, I want to open my remarks by acknowledging the great work department staff do day in and day out in support of the students of this province.
Everyone in this Chamber knows that Nova Scotia, like every province in Canada, is managing through challenging times. Every sector, including education, has a part to play in restoring our province back to balance. Our highest priority is ensuring that we use our resources as effectively as we can to the benefit of all of our students.
Government has again tabled a budget that recognizes two imperatives: that we protect what we value most in education, and that we do so while living within our means. What we presented to the people of Nova Scotia last week is a budget that puts children and learning first by maintaining our significant investment in public education even as our student population declines for the 41st consecutive year.
This Chamber has heard many times talk about challenges to the public school system, rapid and significant enrolment decline being a major one. On the first day of school this past September there were 2,500 fewer children sitting at their desks than there were the year before. When the school bell rings and classes resume this September, there will be 2,200 more empty desks. This will go on for at least another decade. We have almost 30,000 fewer students than we had 10 years ago.
Over the last decade more teachers were hired, spending rose and administration grew even as enrolments dropped. Today, surprisingly I'm sure to many here, we have 361 more teachers in the system than we did in 2001-02 school year when there were almost 30,000 more students. Parents know the importance of teachers. I know how important teachers are to the success of our students, but the past practice of hiring a teacher for every 100 students who leave the system is not a sustainable practice. What we started to do last year and will continue to do this year is ensure we align and rebalance our system to meet the needs of and numbers of students currently in our system.
Declining enrolments aside, we will continue to move confidently into the future providing quality education to students. To position ourselves for the future, we are taking steps to support today's students in today's classrooms. Just a few weeks ago I introduced our Kids and Learning First plan to Nova Scotians. It is our blueprint for student success in an era of rapid technological and demographic change. Our plan is in part based on the recommendations of educational expert Ben Levin, who provided us with excellent advice on managing through challenging times. It also reflects the priorities of parents, teachers, students, school boards, communities and employers.
The plan builds on what is working well and identifies key challenges that must be accepted and addressed. Student enrolments, as I have just mentioned, keep going down. Education costs keep rising even as student numbers drop. Our test and achievement results improve very little or not at all. In fact, as you have heard me mention on a number of occasions, in some key areas they are declining.
Kids and Learning First is about doing things differently while getting better results for every student. Our education plan, our vision, is for every student in our classroom to become well-educated, confident, responsible adults with the skills they need to create and work in good jobs, ready to build a life in Nova Scotia.
Nova Scotians believe that if a child stumbles and falls, we are there to pick them up. Kids and Learning First ensures every child has the supports available to them that when they stumble, we are there to pick them up and put them back on the right path. This will be accomplished by supporting four goals: putting students first; supporting effective teaching in every classroom; preparing young people for good jobs and citizenship; and strengthening the links among schools, parents, and communities.
Government's plan builds on our current successes and targets new investments, more than $6.7 million over the next few years. Students will get more support in critical subjects and transition years.
Succeeding in Reading will expand into Grade 2 this coming year and Grade 3 the following year. Students will soon learn the same math curriculum used in leading western provinces, giving students more time to learn and master key concepts at the right grade level. Grade 9 will be reviewed, to help keep students interested and motivated and to prepare them better for high school. A new Discovering Opportunities program for struggling students is part of that work.
Parents know what a tremendous difference a great teacher can make in the life of their child but teachers tell us they are facing challenges. Working with teachers, the province will develop standards for quality instruction. As one example, teachers are sometimes expected to teach courses without the background and experience they would like. Standards will define what qualifications are needed for courses taught. Teachers also say they struggle to find time to teach all that is expected and we will work with them to help them find ways to spend less time on paperwork and more time with students.
I also want to talk to teachers, parents and others about time for learning, Madam Chairman. How can time be used to get the best results for students? Do students have enough time now to learn all that they need to know? These are important questions that everyone should be prepared to discuss.
It's also time to take a closer look at what is happening in our high schools. High school courses will be reviewed based on what today's graduates need. There are more than 150 high school courses offered across the province, with just 18 credits needed for graduation. While students deserve and want choice, courses must more closely match the needs of employers and communities. The courses, as well, must keep students interested and motivated.
The province will double the number of high schools offering the skilled trades program from nine to 18. This program will allow students the opportunity to explore the trades in a hands-on way and to enable students to seize the opportunities that come with the $25 billion shipbuilding contract.
Skilled trade centres, Madam Chairman, are a real solution to addressing the skilled labour shortage and will help grow our economy. A new manufacturing-trades course will be introduced in September 2013, which will allow students to prepare for the good jobs arriving with the Irving Shipbuilding project. Kids and Learning First also presents new ways and new places for students to learn.
The province will triple the number of students who can access on-line courses through the Nova Scotia Virtual School. Over the next three years we will increase enrolment from the current 500 students to 1,500 and we will double the number of courses from 22 to 44. By expanding the Virtual School we will increase access for students to courses unavailable in their own school; it will help students who need a credit but have scheduling difficulties; it will help all students develop organizational, independent learning, and technological skills; and it will also ensure that students in math, sciences, and other courses are taught by a teacher with background and experience in those subject areas.
Madam Chairman, Kids and Learning First also takes the novel step of making community a classroom. Students will soon be able to earn a personal development credit by working in their communities with organizations like cadets, 4-H and Junior Achievement, just to name a few. Young people will be able to benefit from the citizenship and leadership skills offered by these groups. Students will also be able to earn a credit in the arts and language programs not offered in schools. We expect to pilot this in the Fall.
Schools are vibrant, energetic places and they are the heart of our community. The province will expand SchoolsPlus, a program that brings services and supports for children and families into schools. A new grants program will be available to enable more community groups to use our schools after hours for physical, educational and cultural activities. Our education plan also ensures funding supports to protect our small, isolated schools while ensuring that school space is used effectively to provide the greatest educational benefit for all students.
These are just a few of the actions the province is taking to help students succeed. It's an ambitious plan but it's a plan that students, teachers and parents deserve. The province is being realistic in its approach; we do not expect to see student results improve overnight, that will take time. But we all know we do share the same goal: giving students the best chance for success.
Some of the province's longer term goals require further work and collaboration with our education partners, with boards, teachers, families and the wider community as well. The province looks forward to these conversations. By working together we can help improve an already strong education system. Students deserve nothing less.
We are presenting a budget that will deliver on our plan. It closely matches spending to enrolment declines and provides boards with funding to maintain the current level of high quality and to fund the new and expanded programs outlined in Kids and Learning First. The province will provide $1.1 billion in the year 2012-13 for public education. This is a significant investment in the students of our province. Given the reduction in enrolment, school boards will see a reduction of $13.4 million or 1.3 per cent. Still a significant investment and one that is manageable and is less than the 1.7 per cent provincial drop in enrolment. Boards, as well as all publicly funded agencies, like all Nova Scotia families, will have to manage their inflationary cost pressures.
Even with the fiscal and enrolment pressures facing education, per-student funding will rise again next year by more than $85 per student. The student-teacher ratio currently at 12.9:1 we anticipate will stay at historic lows. Our investment in students guided by the parameters we've set out for boards will allow them to find a significant percentage of their savings through retirements and attrition.
We have made it very clear that special needs education must be protected and we ourselves have committed to allotting $138 million - up from the $125 million last year. All students, whatever their ability, whatever their individual circumstance, whatever their need deserves the best possible education to reach their full potential.
As I have indicated during last year's estimates debate, we have revised the funding formula for boards. The boards requested that we revisit the formula and through much consultation, 24 meetings to be exact, we adopted a model built on consensus. The revised formula much better reflects where school boards spend their money and at the same time drives them to be as efficient as possible. I think everyone will agree that we needed a funding formula that better reflected the actual costs of the educational programs and services valued by students and their families. As with any change, we are allowing time for transition. The revised formula will be transitioned over a period years, such that no school board will have greater reductions in any one year than they can accommodate through attrition.
Madam Chairman, I understand that change is difficult and some school boards are having a harder time than others in bringing their spending in line with the number of students they serve. At the same time, all school boards are elected to make decisions that are in the best interests of students and, as I have stated, per-student funding continues to increase. This presents an opportunity for school boards to overturn every stone to find savings in ways that protect programs and services most important for our children.
My department is also doing its part to reduce administration so that as many dollars as possible make it to the classroom. This year we are reducing administration by $1.7 million, that is a 6.3 per cent cut of net administration. Our target at the end of three years is to reduce our administration by 23 positions, or 10 per cent.
Madam Chairman, I directed boards to protect the classroom and look to their administrations first, for the savings and, like boards, the Department of Education is looking at all options to reduce its costs and to streamline our management structure to better serve students and to better support school boards. We have taken action over the past year to aggressively reduce the number of face-to-face meetings to only the most essential. Last Spring we identified and eliminated 57 curriculum committees that we felt were not absolutely essential or whose work could be absorbed by other committees. We also mandated a number of meetings could be done with the on-line technology that we have now at our disposal. The department was able to reduce meeting costs by 17 per cent.
Our priority is putting Kids and Learning First, Madam Chairman, and that means making sure more dollars to support learning in the classroom. We will continue, as a department, to find alternative, less expensive ways to do business. As a department, we are always looking carefully at our expenditures to make sure that we carry out the business of the department as effectively and as economically as possible.
Strong management is essential in our public school system, to ensure we have a lean and effective administration structure, so we have undertaken a comprehensive review of our organization and we are now taking steps to adapt to our current reality. With higher education and skills and learning now under Labour and Advanced Education, my department's mandate is now focused entirely on Primary to Grade 12.
Our new structure, which will be in place over the coming months, will be designed to support implementation of the Kids and Learning First plan and will result in a much leaner management structure. This House passed legislation in the Fall that gives the minister authority to review the performance of school boards. As we have laid it out in Kids and Learning First, this action is intended as a proactive measure to support boards in identifying ways to improve efficiencies and ensure effective governance. The objective is to ensure resources are directed at the students first.
Madam Chairman, I would like to take this opportunity to further highlight some of the programs that illustrate our commitment to excellence in student learning and student health and safety. As outlined in Kids and Learning First, we will be expanding SchoolsPlus, bringing more services to children and their families. Currently SchoolsPlus serves families or groups of schools within every region. Next year SchoolsPlus will expand to even more groups of schools and eventually to schools in every county. This is very good news for Nova Scotian families.
I hear people say they want more services available in communities and school facilities are an excellent place to deliver them. Schools supported by this integrated service delivery model will have access to important services for students and families. This expansion means that students right across this province will have school-based access to a wide range of valuable social services, such as mental health, addiction and justice. For those of you who might not be familiar with SchoolsPlus, this is a program that supports the recommendations of the Nunn Commission. A SchoolsPlus facilitator and community outreach worker will consult with students, families, teachers and others on their needs. Then they take a team approach, bringing together the right people, professionals, and programs tailored to meet the needs of children and their families.
In a recent survey, 70 per cent of these partners say that they believe SchoolsPlus helps them serve children and youth better. While every school will be different, schools currently participating coordinate and deliver about 100 services and activities such as breakfast programs, anger management, parenting, adult literacy, employment support, youth health centres, homework clubs, mentoring, and much, much more. The help and intervention young people receive through this model of service delivery also improves their attendance, academics, discipline, and social life, and sets them up for success later in life.
Having good literacy skills is the foundation of success through life, Madam Chairman. The Department of Education recognizes the critical importance of early reading intervention for young readers who need additional support building their literacy skills. We know that some students require additional support to address their specific needs and the best time to support students who are having trouble reading is in the early grades. Last year we introduced Succeeding in Reading; that is benefiting more students who may be struggling to master their reading and writing skills. By all accounts, the framework we developed with the help of boards and literacy specialists is being well received by the boards. Our Nova Scotia literacy teachers are very well trained in early literacy interventions, Madam Chairman. Their ideas and knowledge is resulting in a flexible and effective framework to support students who need additional help with reading development. We have invested $5 million in the ongoing support of this framework.
Madam Chairman, I am pleased to highlight another area of improvement in our schools. The government and school boards continue to make major strides in modernizing our public school system for the benefit of all students. Our schools are being challenged to look for ways to do things better. The information we are able to gather will provide government, teachers, school administration, and parents with an understanding of how and where resources are being used and, in turn, will help make smart decisions to use future resources wisely.
Our new provincial student information system, iNSchool, is now up and running in all high schools across the system and the feedback is positive. The remaining schools are coming on-line now and into the coming year. As a former teacher and as Minister of Education, I know iNSchool will have a significant impact on public education. Families are able to help their children achieve their best in school by having access to more information about their school lives.
The system is enabling parents to be more engaged in their children's education, attendance - even though I hear that some students aren't happy with their parents being able to check that - grades, homework assignments, teachers' comments and school bulletins are now available through the student-parent portal in real time. Parents are accessing the portal at home, work, school or the public library, wherever there is an Internet access. Parents like the fact that they can be more involved in their children's education and it helps teachers more closely track student progress and follow up more quickly when help is needed.
iNSchool is about leveraging technology to better support student achievement. Teachers are now able to record and communicate marks quickly and have the flexibility to perform certain tasks from home. Teachers also have access to better student data that will enable them to deliver tailored learning strategies and programs, thus having a positive impact on student achievement.
In the classroom, teachers will be in a better position to identify at-risk students more quickly because teachers now will be able to have all of their information available, so teachers will be able to intervene and act more quickly so we don't have children falling through the cracks.
At a provincial level educators will have access to a wider range of student and program information, which will help them and us make informed decisions on student learning. Students will benefit from stronger programs and policies, parents from increased access to information about their children, and teachers and school administrators will have better information about their students and schools. School boards and the Department of Education will benefit by having access to a wider range of student and program data for program and policy decisions.
A modern, province-wide information management system has been a priority of government because it will provide school boards to meet and demonstrate education programs, service and performance standards in relation to student achievement and overall school performance. Educators at all levels of our provincial education system need to make smart decisions. They need to make effective and efficient use of our resources while continuing to prepare our students for the 21st Century. We are well on our way to achieving that goal. This is a $14 million project and this year represents an investment of $4 million in the coming year.
I'm extremely excited about our expansion of the Virtual School in Nova Scotia. Distance education has continued to grow and evolve in Nova Scotia. This year we will be investing $1.8 million in the expansion of Virtual School. This expansion will help meet the needs of more students, including adult learners. There will also be an increase in the number of on-line high school courses in English and in French. The Virtual School is just one of the ways we are trying to find creative solutions to ensure equity of access and opportunity for all of our students. It will help ensure that all students, regardless of where they live, are provided with the same access to courses they need to graduate.
The Nova Scotia Virtual School is a co-operative project between the province's school boards and the Department of Education. It provides for the delivery of public school and correspondence courses, on-line extensions of school-based classes to students and adult learners, and also supports professional development and on-line meetings for teachers and other board and department staff. Currently just over 400 public school students are served annually through the on-line high school courses offered by the Nova Scotia Virtual School.
At the end of three years, we will have 44 high school courses offered by boards through virtual school. These currently include advanced mathematics 12, chemistry, accounting, calculus, visual arts, political science, African science studies and law. Funding is increased for the development of new courses, the conversion of correspondence courses to on-line, and the updating and review of current on-line courses to meet the Nova Scotia Virtual School standards. Investing in on-line learning opens the doors to new opportunities for Nova Scotia students, especially in small rural schools where there may not be the numbers to provide a wide variety of courses available in urban schools.
Speaking of small rural schools, we are very sensitive to pressures facing rural and small towns in Nova Scotia. Government supports community schools. We recognize the values these buildings are as the centres of their communities. Government announced $660,000 to provide targeted support to community use of schools. This investment is there to support the enhanced use of school facilities by students, families and the community. These targeted investments reflect this government's commitment to after-school programs to give youth positive alternatives and to promote healthy, active living to both students and community groups.
Government wants to continue to promote our schools as centres of their communities. Our SchoolsPlus expansion, which I talked about earlier, will also play a part in broadening the use of underutilized schools. We also recognize the need to support schools in small, isolated communities around the province.
Madam Chairman, school boards asked us to review the small schools supplement and replace it with a model that supports more of our small rural schools in isolated areas of the province. The revised Small Isolated Schools Supplement will provide full program and instructional space funding to schools in rural Nova Scotia. Elementary schools that are determined to have enrolments of less than 20 students per grade and located 30 minutes from the nearest school with the same grade levels, will receive additional teaching staff and full space funding to deliver a quality education experience for students.
Junior high schools that have 40 students per grade and also 30 minutes away from the nearest junior high will receive additional teaching full-time equivalents and funding for their full building space. There will also be additional teaching full-time equivalents for small high schools, to enable schools to deliver the Public School Program.
What we are acknowledging with this support, Madam Chairman, is that schools are at the heart of the community, they are the heart of the community. While declining enrolment is most severe in rural Nova Scotia, it is not possible in every case to consolidate students at another school in another community, because it might be just too far away. That is why the province is allocating $22 million through the funding formula, to support our smallest schools in rural Nova Scotia and help our boards maintain them as the vibrant anchors to their communities.
Madam Chairman, we all agree that what really makes a school are the people and programs offered. Great teachers engage students, the curriculum and Public School Program, as well as the communities that volunteer and support their schools in so many ways. We also know that the quality of our school buildings and the learning environment is also crucial to student success. It is important that we invest in building and renovating schools to provide the students with effective, safe, efficient and healthy learning environments. This year we have a total of 26 school capital projects currently underway throughout the province, including six new schools.
Madam Chairman, we will be investing $48.8 million in the construction of new schools this year; they include a new high school for Bedford-Hammonds Plains and a new middle school to replace South Queens in Liverpool, which is an exciting project, which I hope I have the opportunity to speak of later. Projects that are very close to getting underway include a new West Highland School in Amherst and a new P to 8 school in New Glasgow.
In this budget we are also finishing the construction of two new schools: Yarmouth High and Bluenose Academy, which is already open. In total, our plan involves an investment of $110 million for school construction and renovations, IT and new school buses, about $16.5 million more than was provided last year. Keeping our existing schools updated and modern, to meet the needs of students, is very crucial, Madam Chairman. This year we will be investing $46.3 million in additions and alterations at 19 schools, as well as $5.8 million for school buses and $4 million for the further expansion of our school information system.
I am also looking forward to receiving from boards in the next few weeks, their school capital priorities for 2013-2014. As members of this House know, we are taking steps to improve the school capital process. We are moving to a model that will examine capital needs on a year-to-year basis, and this will result in better planning and better management. Many will recall that the Auditor General had concerns about the old process, which had past governments announcing projects many years ahead of schedule, with completion dates up to eight years out. This was extremely ineffective and inefficient. This new model will ensure that construction decisions are made on the basis of current information about school population and need. It will also mean the capital budget approvals will be based on accurate cost estimates and construction plans. The province will now release school capital projects every Fall for better planning.
Madam Chairman, along with improving the learning success of our students, we are also focusing on keeping them safe. Just a few weeks ago I was pleased to receive the Nova Scotia Task Force on Bullying and Cyberbullying report on this troubling phenomenon. I want to publicly thank Wayne MacKay, and members of the task force and working group for their dedication. I also want to thank the thousands of Nova Scotians who shared their stories and offered their input on the report. More than 5,000 people, many of them students, responded to the on-line survey. About 1,000 students from across the province participated in focus groups and public meetings. Many leading experts on bullying and cyberbullying also visited our province to share their knowledge with the task force and working group. Acting on the recommendations is an important part of Kids and Learning First, our plan for education.
Department staff are analyzing each of the recommendations and working on an action plan. Our approach will be collaborative. Everyone needs to understand that bullying and cyberbullying are societal problems and we will need a community response. We will meet with partners in and outside of government and we will identify first priorities, Madam Chairman.
We can get to work right away on rolling out school-based services to youth through the expansion of SchoolsPlus. Government will engage students directly to create their own exciting public-awareness campaigns and we can move forward with the task force recommendations that will expand mental health services to students, through government's mental health strategy and Kids and Learning First. We will also begin delivering on the recommendation to collect and act on the vital data the task force said we need, using our new student information system iNSchool.
Madam Chairman, I look forward in the weeks and months ahead to work with parents, students, school boards, educators and other departments to deliver on our mandate of keeping our young people safe.
Madam Chairman, let me conclude by saying that I am indeed honoured to be a minister to a department overseeing such a crucial service to children and their families. Whatever challenges we face now and into the future, I believe we are well-equipped because of the riches of our educational offerings and their accessibility to all Nova Scotians. I appreciate this opportunity to share the highlights of the Department of Education's financial plan for the rest of the fiscal year and look forward to answering questions from my colleagues. Thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Colchester North.
HON. KAREN CASEY: Thank you, Madam Chairman, and thank you to the minister for the opening comments. I would like to acknowledge the two support staff you have with you, Dr. Lowe and Mr. Dunn. I do expect that you will be relying on them for responses to some of the questions.
Having said that, I would like to begin my questions with the question that was asked in Question Period today and for which we did not get an answer, so perhaps the staff will be able to provide that. The question was with respect to funding to the school boards and, in particular, with the revisions that have been made to the funding formula - the Hogg formula if we want to refer to it as that, that's the model - the first question was, do the changes in the formula take into account declining enrolment?
MS. JENNEX: Thank you very much. As I stated this afternoon, the funding formula is the tool by which the amount goes though, it is a tool. The budget line was based on enrolment and the needs of the school boards.
MS. CASEY: Thank you. I guess I'm still not getting an answer to the question. I know that the previous funding formula did have - one of the categories that it did consider was the declining enrolment - so if we have a school board that has a declining enrolment, how is that accommodated now in the formula?
MS. JENNEX: Madam Chairman, I'm going to try to maybe rephrase what I've said. The formula is the way the money is allocated and the formula is that, and within that formula though, we take into consideration small schools, small rural schools, as I said in my speech, but the target, the budget itself, that is the declining enrolment, has been taken into consideration in the budget.
MS. CASEY: The model I understand is a distribution model rather than a funding model. Would that be correct?
MS. JENNEX: You are correct.
MS. CASEY: Madam Chairman, having said that, if we have a board that has a declining enrolment, I expect that most boards, perhaps all but maybe one, have declining enrolment, how is that accommodated in the distribution of dollars to boards?
MS. JENNEX: The department has all of the data on all of the schools and all of their forecasts for enrolment. That information is given to the department. Then we look at each of those areas and the budget is designed to make sure that we're meeting the needs of each of the areas. We know that some of the areas in Nova Scotia have a more rapid decline in enrolment than others and so in this formula we are phasing it in so that no one area is going to face undue hardship. For example, in Cape Breton we know that their enrolment is going to be declining by 7 per cent next year but they were capped at 2.1 with their allocation of funding. I hope that explains that the budget is designed within the department and that the formula then is an allocation formula.
MS. CASEY: If I could be specific, in the previous distribution model there was supplementary funding for those boards that were experiencing significant declines. Has that been maintained?
MS. JENNEX: Well, that is still in place, that hasn't changed any. We make sure that school boards are receiving the appropriate funding to meet their needs based on the students who are in their system.
MS. CASEY: Has the percentage of decline changed then with the calculation that you're now using?
MS. JENNEX: In building the budget there has been no change. The average enrolment decline is taken into consideration over a five-year period and if a board has greater than 2 per cent, then there is extra money built into the budget for that. So there has been no change in that.
MS. CASEY: That's the supplementary funding that I was referring to so my next question would be, how many boards are eligible for supplementary funding this year?
MS. JENNEX: Well, thank you. I had thought that the chairman's voice had a little frog there for a minute. You startled me.
Mr. Chairman, I just want to make sure that you're asking which boards receive enrolment supplements. So we would have the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board, the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board, South Shore, the Strait, and Tri-County. Those are the boards that received the enrolment supplement.
MS. CASEY: I appreciate that information. There would be five boards then that had more than 2 per cent decline in enrolment and were therefore eligible for the supplement, am I correct on that?
MS. JENNEX: Yes, you are correct.
MS. CASEY: Thank you. The boards that were not having that significant a decline would be Chignecto and Halifax and CSAP? Okay.
Are you able to tell me the percentage of decline in each of those three boards that did not reach the 2 per cent?
MS. JENNEX: Unfortunately, I know I saw those figures but we don't have them at our fingertips right now. I will have them provided as soon as we possibly can get them to you. I apologize we don't have those figures. Sorry.
MS. CASEY: At some point perhaps we can get that information? Okay, thank you.
Since we're talking about the model for distributing the funds to the school boards, would you be able to identify all of the categories that are considered when that model is being used?
MS. JENNEX: We have, of course, program funding, special education, the enrolment supplement as we've already mentioned for some of the boards, school support - that would be administration - small schools and specialty, student transportation is in this formula, property services, class size supplement, governance, school management and support, and regional management and support.
MS. CASEY: Within those categories, are there any targeted dollars within any of those categories?
MS. JENNEX: Advanced courses, healthy active living, student support workers and the RCH initiative, those would be the restricted and targeted ones, along with special education money is restricted for just that use.
MS. CASEY: Within the special education allocation is the funding for autism support included in that special education allotment?
MS. JENNEX: Yes, it is and there's additional money that can be applied for through the department, it's a special fund that you can apply for but autism is included in the targeted funding, so it is yes.
MS. CASEY: Within that targeted money, or money that must be spent on the designated program, in the funding allocation to boards once you take out their benefits and wages, which I think, is about 85 per cent of the budget that boards gets, then you take out the percentage that is targeted and must be spent on a particular program it leaves not a lot of room for boards to manipulate and to provide the supports. What percentage of the funding that goes to boards would be targeted?
MS. JENNEX: We figure the percentage would be about 8 per cent.
MS. CASEY: Thank you. Another category within that funding model, or distribution model I guess is perhaps the right language to use, another category in that is the small schools and I know you spoke in your initial comments about small schools, rural schools and isolated schools. Can you give me your definition again of an isolated school?
MS. JENNEX: An isolated school is when a school is within a 30-minute drive to another elementary school, if the drive is 30 minutes by bus that's what we consider an isolated school.
MS. CASEY: Just so I'm clear, if there is more than a 30-minute drive from one school, for example one elementary school to another, if the drive is more than 30 minutes then one of those schools would be considered as isolated. If a school is more than 30 minutes away from another school is would be considered an isolated school, is that correct?
MS. JENNEX: Yes and there's also consideration made too in looking at schools because, as you know, formulae sometimes can work really well but there are other factors. We're also looking at where the students are that feed into a school. Because the school might be 30 minutes, which we would look at, but a student getting to a school if they are, for example, I think of the member for Kings North, Scots Bay, by the time they get to Glooscap Elementary that's a significant drive to school. So we would take that into consideration in looking at if a school is isolated too. So catchment area but the definition of the small isolated schools is different for elementary and also for senior high.
MS. CASEY: I'm pleased to hear that the travel time to get to that particular school is being considered because for many students it's much more than 30 minutes, even to get to that elementary school. With the work that you have done and looking at the definition of isolated schools, when you've applied that, how many schools in our province would be considered isolated?
MS. JENNEX: There are 78 small, isolated schools.
MS. CASEY: How does that compare to the number of schools that would be described as small schools in a previous distribution model?
MS. JENNEX: There were 44 under the old model. Under this model, we now have included for the categories, 98 in total. We moved from 44 small schools to - this formula actually has increased it to 98. I would also like to add that we've looked at small and isolated schools, but as you recognize too, in our smaller high schools, we had to look at them. They might not be isolated, it's not the drive, it's the amount of students to have the courses that a high school student would need. We're providing extra funding for a number of high schools in the province to make sure they have the appropriate amount of teachers to be able to provide program for the students.
MS. CASEY: Okay, the next question then, of the 44 that were small schools and would have received some additional funding because of that designation, of the 44 in the previous distribution model, are all of them included in the isolated, or how many?
MS. JENNEX: Thank you for the question on that. There were 44 as I said. We've grandparented them into this new model but only 37 are grandparented into the new model because the rest have closed.
MS. CASEY: With respect to the high schools - and I know the ability to offer curriculum and course selection is a consideration - of those that were deemed to be isolated, I think it was 98, okay, of those 98 small and isolated schools, how many of them would be offering a Grade 10, 11 and 12 program, strictly a high school program?
MS. JENNEX: We have 20 schools.
MS. CASEY: Would it be possible to get a list of those schools that you've identified - 98 and then the 20 and so on? Would it be possible to get that information sometime?
MS. JENNEX: We can provide that information, but the notes I have are not configured the way that you would like them so if you wouldn't mind, I'm sure in another day or two the department put that together on a sheet for you. It won't be a problem.
MS. CASEY: My reason for asking was, if it's public information then I would be looking for a copy, so it is public information? Okay.
When we look at the other categories that are considered during the distribution model, we talked about transportation. I guess my question would be, are boards provided with the actual dollars that they spend for transportation or is there a formula for distribution?
MS. JENNEX: The model is based on density and the actual geography that school boards have to deal with, as you can understand, I know from your past experience that some of our school boards have a great deal more areas to travel for fewer students. It's based on density and geography. It's part of the model which actually is part of the conversations that we had with the school boards that hadn't been in the other model and so this has been added in, the actual costs for transportation of students.
MS. CASEY: If we could just go back to that, it's my understanding that boards were paid for the actual kilometres travelled, but is there now the density in that that was not there before, the density of the area?
MS. JENNEX: The old model was based on the cost for the year 2000 and then incremented it up by CPI. This model actually looks at density and how buses are travelling. So the model has changed and we're looking at the true costs of transportation where the other one was based well over 12 years ago.
MS. CASEY: Will the application of that new distribution model provide an opportunity - I guess if we want to put it that way - for boards to revisit their bus runs and their transportation plan?
MS. JENNEX: This gives the opportunity for school boards to look at their routes and I think all school boards look for efficiencies, under the old model and the new model, but this is providing them the opportunity to be most efficient as possible with their bus routes.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, I want to just leave this funding distribution model for a minute and go to something completely different. There was a report - I know that the minister has talked about teachers teaching outside of their field and was making a link, I believe, to poor math scores, I think is where that actually may have been mentioned - there was a report and recommendations with respect to that and there was an advisory committee recommended to look at that. Could you tell me the status of that advisory committee on teacher training?
MS. JENNEX: I did include that in part - it's part of our Kids and Learning First. When we were looking at data, we saw that based on the information that we had, 30 per cent of the teachers who were teaching math actually had a background in math. I would just like to expand upon this. What we're doing is actually we're going to be having conversations and dialogue with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. We want to do this collaboratively because this is an issue that I'm hearing from teachers, and I'm sure that the member across has heard that many times teachers are given a job to do, because of configurations of schools, and they don't have the background.
For example, I just want to make a comment that a friend of mine, due to a declining enrolment, a whole grade level exited, didn't come into the school I guess, for the want of a better word, and so she had to move from an elementary position to stay in the school where she wanted to stay, to teach a subject in a junior high. Her background had never been in any subject in junior high and so she was learning along with the children, we'll say. So we want to have the discussion with the Teachers Union on how can we best make sure that teachers are teaching the classes that they have background for, what can we do to provide teachers the skills and the information and the resources that they need if they do have to move from one job to another.
At this point there are no standards in place for a teacher moving. A teacher is a teacher is what I've always been told but, as you know, not all teachers can teach certain subjects so we want to make sure and ensure that teachers feel comfortable teaching what they are assigned to teach and have the background. I think everyone will agree with me that if you have a teacher with an expertise and a passion, the students are going to benefit from that. But if you have a teacher that is in a class that they are feeling unsure of their own skills, that's going to reflect on the outcomes in the class. So we haven't a committee on the go, that's something that's in development with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and with the Department of Education. Thank you.
MS. CASEY: That same question was asked in estimates in 2010 to the previous minister. Her response at that time was that that advisory committee was being set up, so I'm wondering what has happened with that in the last two years.
MS. JENNEX: Well I will have to apologize to the former minister, I was not sitting in the Chamber at the time that that dialogue took place so I can't comment on what was said at that time. I do know that, as part of the Kids and Learning First, we are going to develop provincial teaching standards to define expectations for instructional quality in every classroom.
This work is beginning in 2013 and we expect to have the framework ready by 2014, so I apologize, I'm not sure of what was discussed earlier but this is definitely something that is part of Kids and Learning First, so thank you.
MS. CASEY: Well it was in response to a question during estimates on April 26, 2010 and it was specific. The minister of the time said, we are currently in the process of setting up the advisory board for teacher training.
MS. JENNEX: I think there just may be a little bit of a misunderstanding. We're talking about teacher standards and I think that the former minister was talking about teacher training. That would be another committee working on that and that doesn't sit within the information that I have right now. I do know that Shannon Delbridge, within the department, and I have had conversation on this so I will find out about the work in teacher training.
I'm talking about the standards for teachers, what standards need to be in place when a teacher takes a job, what background, what expertise, how much in-servicing they've had, what resources do they need? We're talking about making sure that we have expectations defined and in place. I think this is a different issue that the former minister was talking about than the one that I am talking about.
MS. CASEY: I think I have my answer but I don't think you can separate teacher training and teacher standards because whatever you are expecting your teachers to have for standards has to be included in the teacher training component. So I guess the question that I have I think has been answered but I'll ask it one more time, has the advisory board been set up to look at teacher qualifications?
MS. JENNEX: The work is going to begin in the next year and we are expecting new provincial teaching standards will be in place in the year 2014. We are going to be working with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and with the school boards and with teachers themselves, to develop those standards. We're not doing this in isolation. We want to make sure that there's consistency of instruction across our system, that teachers have what they need, that teachers have the expertise so that the outcomes for our students are going to be there.
I want to just go back to what the member opposite made a comment about, you can't separate teacher training. Absolutely, we need to make sure that students are graduating with what we need to have. We don't have anything in the province, we don't have teacher standards at this time and that is what we're talking about, Kids and Learning First, that we would like to have those standards in place by the year 2014 but we're not going to get there on our own and we're not doing that in the department. We are doing that in the department with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, with the teachers and with the school boards, so that we can have that framework in place, thank you.
MS. CASEY: Perhaps we can go to the Estimates Book and if I give you the page perhaps that would help staff get ready for an explanation. I would like to go first to Page 7.2.
MS. JENNEX: I had it open.
MS. CASEY: Anticipating the question.
MS. JENNEX: I know what you're going to ask me.
MS. CASEY: Should I ask it or should you ask it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Colchester North has the floor.
MS. CASEY: Thank you Mr. Chairman. I'm looking at Programs and Services and there are 10 categories there under Programs and Services. I'm looking at estimate to estimate and then I'll also ask some questions with respect to forecast or actual to estimate. When I look at those 10 categories I find that there is an increase in estimate over estimate in - either stable or an increase - in seven out of the 10. Can you explain to me how it is that Public Education Funding is one of the ones that is showing a significant reduction? To be specific, estimate over estimate $946.4 million to $920 million.
MS. JENNEX: I was surprised. That's not what I thought the member was going to ask so if you have your Estimates Book and if you could open up to Page 7.7, Programs and Services is broken down on that page, all the Programs and Services at the bottom of the page would outline everything that's in that budget line, thank you.
MS. CASEY: Perhaps my question was not clear. It's not the breakdown that I'm looking at, I'm looking at the line in particular on Page 7.2 under the Programs and Services, which is Public Education Funding, which is showing estimate over estimate a significant reduction and I'm looking for an explanation.
MS. JENNEX: The Formula Grants to School Boards is where the reduction is.
MS. CASEY: If we could continue on with the Page 7.2, when you're looking at the department expenses and you're looking at Grants and Contributions, can you explain to me what Grants and Contributions includes?
MS. JENNEX: Those are the grants to the school boards.
MS. CASEY: If we follow on with Grants and Contributions, we're looking at an estimate in 2011-12 as compared to an estimate in 2012-13, a difference from $999.4 million to $972 million, yet the actual are above both of those estimates. Can you explain why the actuals would be greater than the estimates?
MS. JENNEX: That is a question that I can't answer at this time and if the honourable member doesn't mind, as soon as we have it I will supply that answer.
MS. CASEY: Okay, thank you. It does stand out, usually the actuals are not greater than the estimates, so it stands out there and that's why I was questioning that, so I will wait for the answer.
If we go to the bottom of Page 7.2, Departmentally Funded Staff - perhaps that's the question you were waiting for - perhaps the minister could give an explanation about, first of all the staff that are funded by external agencies, perhaps you could give us an explanation of what those 14 actuals would have been?
MS. JENNEX: I might have missed the second part of your question, but I did hear the first. Staff funded by external agencies would be secondments. If you had a second part to your question, I'm sorry, I missed it. Those are secondments.
MS. CASEY: No, no, that was my question. So the 14 that are there as part of the forecast, or the actual, for 2011-12, would have been 14 FTEs seconded to the department?
MS. JENNEX: Yes.
MS. CASEY: Okay, then if we can move down to the Total Funded Staff - I recognize the secondment definition there, so in 2011-12 we are looking at an estimate of 201 staff. For the estimate for next year, for this year of 2012-13, we're looking at 194. Can you explain the difference there?
MS. JENNEX: We've had a reduction of seven full-time equivalents at the department.
MS. CASEY: If that is a reduction, then why would the actual show 177?
MS. JENNEX: Well, in every department and every business there's an ebb and flow of employees. Sometimes employees leave and that is open for a while. It's the normal ebb and flow of employees moving in and out of positions within the department. For example, the registrar we had left our employ for another country and travelled with his family. That would be one of those positions that was open for a while and it took us a while to advertise. So it's just the normal ebb and flow over the course of the year of people moving in and out of positions due to retirement, leaving, illness, or whatever. So we have reduced our full-time equivalents in the department by seven.
MS. CASEY: So perhaps you could help me understand - does that mean that for most of 2011-12 there were 17 positions at the department that were not filled?
MS. JENNEX: It actually could have been more than that number. I would just direct the member opposite to Page vi: "Funded Staff is measured in Full Time Equivalents (FTEs), which is a 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 a given provincial department or Public Service appropriation are included in the FTE count." I won't continue to read, but that's where that number is. So it could have actually been more than is showing.
MS. CASEY: Well, perhaps I could have a little more explanation about this. My understanding of what is here - and I certainly have read what the minister is reading - is that the number of FTEs - departmentally-funded staff - in 2011-12 was estimated to be 201, but the actuals for 2011-12 were 177. I really don't understand if that means that there were that many positions that were unfilled?
MS. JENNEX: No, it doesn't mean that. This is an annualized number that's there.
MS. CASEY: Does that mean that during 2011-12 - I guess I'll ask the question, during 2011-12, how many FTEs were there at the Department of Education?
MS. JENNEX: Well the forecast, as printed, is 177.
MS. CASEY: So, my understanding of that is that would be 177 FTEs at the department during the year 2011-12.
MS. JENNEX: This is the number that's annualized and throughout the year, as I said, different positions open and some positions are not a full-time position, they can be 0.5 or whatever. This is an annualized number that we have on the list, but as you know, throughout the year there's an ebb and flow within every department and every business. This is our forecast number, it's an annualized number.
MS. CASEY: I guess my question then would be, if the department operated with that number of FTEs in 2011-12, why are we estimating that we need 17 more in 2012-13?
MS. JENNEX: To fulfill the mandate that we have to the people of Nova Scotia, and as I said, there is an ebb and flow and some of our positions did remain open while we were advertising. It takes awhile, for some of our specialized positions it does take awhile for a person to be hired in that position. As I will go back to the registrar, I think that one stayed open for many, many months before we were able to fill that position.
The question is, what I think you're actually asking is, if we were able to operate with that annualized number, why can't we do it again this year? The department would have had many people working and trying to fulfill mandates and we're a little bit behind on some things because of that. The people of Nova Scotia expect to have delivery of service at a certain level and we have many people within the department who are working very hard. We are reducing our full-time equivalents by seven, but the number - our estimate next year - does look different than the annualized number, but as the member opposite knows, that would be in any forecast report. You would see a number like that because that's just the nature of a department that has a number of people working in it.
MS. CASEY: I can understand and appreciate that the department has a mandate but I don't think that's very comforting to school boards and to teachers and to administrators in the school who have a mandate, yet they're being asked to do more with less. I think that's unfortunate that perception has become a reality and those numbers certainly indicate that.
I'd like to go to Page 7.4, please, and look at Senior Management. If we look at the total FTEs there, again we see five in 2011-12 as an estimate, the actual is five, and the estimate for this year is six. Could you explain that please?
MS. JENNEX: I'm pleased to take the opportunity to explain the numbers that are here. This is actually a transfer that you'll see a number taken out of Page 7.6. It's a transfer over of school board labour relations person. Actually you're looking at the transferred people and the people who are a reflection on these numbers. Dr. Lowe has moved into another position and Frank Dunn has moved into another. So what you see added in one is actually taken out of another list. So there is no addition of people, it was just, as I spoke earlier, it's reorganization within the department, to make sure that we're working the most effectively for the people of Nova Scotia.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Chairman, it's my understanding that a new position was created at the department. Perhaps Mr. Dunn is filling that position. Perhaps you could explain that?
MS. JENNEX: I want to be very clear that there are no new FTEs in the department, there has been a reduction. There has been a new - the people who are in the department, there has been a change in management so therefore, there has been a change in a name but there's been no new FTE created, it has been a name change, a title change.
As I said, yes, Frank Dunn had a change in job description and also Dr. Lowe. There has been no addition of any FTE in the department. There has been a reduction of seven FTEs in the Department of Education.
MS. CASEY: I guess you can do anything with numbers. We did see a press release announcing a new position, I think it was called an associate or an assistant deputy minister, something that was a new position. I guess my question is, is that a new name? Is that a new position? Is it a new set of responsibilities?
MS. JENNEX: It is a new title to reflect the reality of the job that Frank Dunn does within the Department of Education. It is not an addition to an FTE in the department, it is a restructuring of our organization to be most effective and efficient for the people of Nova Scotia.
I will repeat, it is not a new FTE, it is a title to reflect the responsibilities that people have taken on within the Department of Education. So when you read the press release, it's not a new position, it is - sorry, it is a new position in terms of its name. It's to reflect the work that Frank Dunn was already doing within the Department of Education.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Colchester North, you have approximately nine minutes left in this time slot.
MS. CASEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. When you look at the document that has identified, by name, the employees at the Department of Education, the salaried employees, you get a total of 249, which is not reflected, not consistent with the information in the supplements. Can you explain that, please?
MS. JENNEX: I would love the opportunity to explain that, if I could see the document to which the member is speaking because I don't have that information.
MS. CASEY: Well, I can share that with you but it is a list of all of the salaried employees and it also goes on to talk about their travel and it talks about grants and contributions and it talks about - I guess there's a category called "Other". Information there is - well, when you count them up, there are 249 names on that list so I guess my question would be, where and how - and I don't want to start talking about people - but 249 names are identified as salaried employees with the Department of Education.
MS. JENNEX: Well, I haven't seen the document and I'm sure that is available somewhere if the honourable member has it.
I want to be very clear, and I've been very clear with the language that I'm using today about full-time equivalent, FTE. An FTE could actually have up to three people in that position. We can't compare FTEs to people head counts because an FTE means the position. It's not the people that fill that position. I hope I'm clear enough that counting heads in the department is going to give you a different number than the positions because some people, as you know, work on a 0.4, 0.5, 0.6, adding up to 1 FTE.
MS. CASEY: First of all, I have pretty good idea what FTEs are. Secondly, this is a document from the Department of Education so I'm surprised you don't have it. You do have it? Okay. My question would be then, as a follow-up to that, there are names of salaried employees and there are names of people who have received reimbursement for travel, but there are names on the travel reimbursement that are not staff employees. Can you explain that? What is the difference between getting travel reimbursement and being an employee?
MS. JENNEX: The list of names that received travel reimbursement would have salaries. I'm speculating on what information - because I haven't had a chance to look at it - but there's a threshold. Anybody in the department making under $25,000 is not reflected in this document so you therefore could be doing a job in the Department of Education that would require you to do some travel and reimbursement for that. That would be not shown on your name and the salary that you receive.
MS. CASEY: If you have that document, if you go to Page 109 of that document, it's under Other. The first three identifications under Other are numbered companies.
MS. JENNEX: Those are lease payments.
MS. CASEY: If we could be specific, 3032514, lease payments in excess of $1 million, could you explain that please?
MS. JENNEX: That is a lease payment for a P3 school.
MS. CASEY: So are you suggesting that numbered company is a company that owns a P3 school?
MS. JENNEX: No, we're not saying that's the company, that's where the lease payment goes to.
MS. CASEY: If we could move onto Page 110 of that same document, under Other, it may not be a huge amount of money, but it certainly sets off an alarm, so the question is, payment to Charm Diamond Centre?
MS. JENNEX: Those are for educational awards and I wouldn't be able to say what they were but Charm Diamond probably supplied the plaques that were passed out at the educational awards.
MS. CASEY: Okay, on Page 112, a payment to the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society?
MS. JENNEX: That would be for one of the employees who works with Labour Relations at the Department of Education.
MS. CASEY: Would that be the barrister fees for that individual?
MS. JENNEX: Yes.
MS. CASEY: Some staff who were there with the department when Labour was there, are they still there with the department?
MS. JENNEX: No. People who are at Labour and Advanced Education are now with the Department of Labour and Advanced Education. They're no longer with Education. There has been a restructuring around that.
MS. CASEY: So the barrister fees that were paid were for someone who's currently employed at the department?
MS. JENNEX: Yes, that is for someone who is currently employed at the Department of Education.
MS. CASEY: How many minutes do I have left?
MR. CHAIRMAN: About 52 seconds.
MS. CASEY: Okay, I'm not going to ask a question. I will thank the minister and the staff for responding to those questions. I know there were some things that you have agreed that you would be able to provide and I would appreciate that. I will now turn it over to my colleague and we'll be back later. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Does the minister require a moment?
MS. JENNEX: No, but thank you very much for asking, I appreciate that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You're welcome.
The honourable member for Cape Breton North.
MR. EDDIE ORRELL: Mr. Chairman, senior management has increased in this budget by 21.3 per cent in the last year. With this increase in senior management expenses, can you explain to me why such a decrease is being made for the front-line workers or to the school boards when the big increase in senior management is there?
MS. JENNEX: In the Department of Education we've gone through some changes on how the department works to best meet the needs of Nova Scotians and what we've done is we've moved people from one position to another. You are actually looking at the people who are beside me who are reflected in that number, so in senior management where there is an increase, you'll actually notice that that was taken out of School Board Labour Relations, that was moved out. So it's a restructuring of the office - no new people. No one has been added. No more full-time equivalents have been added to the department. It was a movement to restructure the department to be more effective and more efficient. So Dr. Lowe has a new job, a new title, and Frank Dunn, his title now reflects the work that he was doing because the work has been changing and evolving. The work that he does, the title of this job has changed, but there have been no new people and the same people here last year are here with me today but they're doing different jobs within the department.
MR. ORRELL: Would that mean because of the new positions they would have an increase in salary?
MS. JENNEX: There was some salary adjustment to the increased responsibilities for the associate deputy minister and that was an increase of $10,000 for Frank Dunn. There has been no change in the salary for Dr. Lowe.
MR. ORRELL: The forecasts that are here reflect just the $10,000 increase in his salary and the rest of the money comes from?
MS. JENNEX: In the senior administration, the line to which Dr. Lowe is showing - he shows in the Office of the Deputy Minister and Frank is showing under Corporate Services and he's in Administration, but if you look over on Page 7.6, there's a decrease there. You see the line item here under School Board Labour Relations - that was removed and put into anther line. It's just a restructuring, there have been no additions of people and, as noted, just an increase in Frank Dunn to reflect the increased responsibilities that he has.
MR. ORRELL: The Office of the Deputy Minister is showing the same increase of about 46 per cent over last year's estimate, and about 62 per cent over the 2011-12 forecast. Is that an increase in that budget or is that more money that's been moved around from that line you were talking about earlier?
MS. JENNEX: There has been no increase other than what I just made mention of around the increased responsibilities for Frank Dunn. In the restructuring of the department, this is one line item moved up into another line item. It's not an increase in the overall administration costs at the Department of Education, actually there has been a decrease in administration costs for the department - $1.7 million we have been able to decrease.
The Department of Education has undergone an overview of how we deliver services and to get the most effective use of our resources. So we have asked school boards to find reductions and savings and how to do things more effectively and more efficiently, and the Department of Education did exactly the same thing. There has been a lot of work going on within the department to make sure that we're not duplicating or missing out on things that we need to do and to better serve the needs of Nova Scotians. There was a restructuring of jobs and titles, but we didn't add anybody. We made sure that through retirements and attrition, we've reduced seven full-time equivalents at the department and made a reduction, $1.7 million in reductions in administration.
MR. ORRELL: Under Operating Costs, 2013's estimate is $163.56 million and 2012's estimate was $156 million. That looks like an operating cost of an increase of over 5 per cent over last year and 3 per cent over the forecast. Is this an actual increase in that department's budget in the operating costs when you're asking school boards to cut by 2.1 per cent? It's on Page 7.4, I believe, under Operating Costs.
MS. JENNEX: I apologize, I'm unsure of where you're looking. You're saying under Operating Costs. I'm on Page 7.4, we have Senior Management and we have Corporate Policy. I don't know what I need to look at to answer your question because you're talking about operating costs. On Page 7.4 we have Senior Management outlined and we have Corporate Policy but I'm unsure of what we're talking about. As soon as I have that clarified, I'd be more than happy to answer.
MR. ORRELL: It's on Page 7.2 under Departmental Expenses, under Operating Costs. The forecast is $163 million, the estimate for 2013, and the estimate for 2012 is $156 million, which is a 5 per cent increase in that operating cost.
MS. JENNEX: I hope Frank does not mind me sharing this but he needs a lesson in penmanship because I'm having trouble reading his writing - sorry, Frank.
Thank you, I'm very pleased to answer the change there. In Operating Costs we have $1 million added for the workforce strategy; we have $1 million added for the skills and trades; and there's $1.3 million added for the work that we're doing in business integration. This is a project that we are doing with the school boards and this is a very important project in that the school boards around the province have developed their own systems and ways of reporting on things, so we at the department are working with the school boards to make sure that all school boards are using the same system.
As you know, technology is quite expensive and it's time-consuming to bring everybody into the same system. This is one area where the department is showing leadership in helping the school boards all have the same system so that we all can talk to each other appropriately and will actually create efficiencies when that whole system is in place.
MR. ORRELL: Overall, we're seeing a decrease within the Department of Education of 1.52 per cent. Under Programs and Services, we see only two line items with decreases: Public Education Funding and Teachers' Pension. These are key areas, the lines directly impact students; $8.76 million has been added to the estimates outside these key areas. What is the rationale behind increasing upper-management funding while cutting the front-line services?
MS. JENNEX: I just would like to repeat that the Department of Education has reduced their expenditures and I know administration has gone down $1.7 million.
One of the realities we are dealing with in our school system is declining enrolment. We are making sure that we are funding our students appropriately and the decline is based on the fact that we have far fewer children in our system, year by year. I mean this is our reality, and it's a heartbreaking reality, that over the last 10 years we've lost almost 30,000 students. We lost 2,500 last year; they graduated out of our system.
I just want to say that I'm a grandmother of a five-year-old and most people know that because, I don't know, you'll find this out, member opposite, grandparents like to talk about their grandchildren. One of the things I was looking forward to is when he went to school. As a Primary/Grade 1 teacher for many years and having lots of Primary/Grade 1 students to deal with, I was quite surprised when I visited his school. There's only one Primary classroom in their school; that school used to have three, I remember four at one point, with Primary students. There are 17 children in his class, that's all of the children in that whole area, 17 kids are in his Primary class. A lovely Primary class, a lovely teacher, too, a colleague of mine, and I'm very glad that he's in that class.
The reality is that we're losing full classrooms of children. I was talking with a principal from the Hants area and I asked him how many children were in school and in enrolment and how his school was faring. When I said how many children do you have coming into Primary next year, he stopped and he just stared at me - I think that you were with me, Dr. Lowe - and he just looked at me, and I couldn't figure out what was going on and it was a startle to him and I think to everyone that heard this. We have a school that has no Primary coming in next year - none. Now, maybe one or two might show up and that causes another concern, too, but we're going to have a school, year after year, where there is going to be a grade missing.
I've talked with a lot of educators, a lot of principals around the province, and we're seeing actually the emptying out of our school system, literally a classroom, not a number like someone in Grade 5 or someone in Grade 6, or someone in Grade 9, whole grade levels are being affected and it's our youngest people because as we age, we don't have as many young people having families. So I'm really looking forward to the Ships Start Here and more people start working because, you know, when people start working, we're going to have more children.
So to go back to your original question, this is reflecting, this is our reality. We don't have as many children in our system and we have increased our funding per child but it is reflected in our estimates. It's a sad reality.
Just last week I was also talking with a principal at a high school and they're actually finding that the numbers are getting lower coming into high school in our rural areas, too, because we had sort of a bump in through our system a number of years ago. I remember that in the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board, dealing with four Primaries and then back to three, and then four Grade 1s and back to three. In the school where I taught, it caused a bump right through the system. That, in my reality of teaching, those children are now graduating from one of our local high schools - 100 children are leaving and they're not being replaced by the Grades 9 and 10 students coming in. So anyway, that's my comment on this heartbreaking reality that we have and our numbers reflect our reality of declining enrolment.
MR. ORRELL: So if our numbers decline in say a Grade 9 class where people move away and they go below a certain number, are those children going to be moved to another school because there are not enough students in that class to fund what we call a full-time equivalent teacher, or will they maintain that classroom and give more funding to that school?
MS. JENNEX: Mr. Chairman, you know, that's a really good question. We're in challenging times, and the Kids and Learning First plan is taking into consideration that very question that you've asked. So we're answering that question, I can answer it in a number of different ways on how we're responding to that.
One of the questions you asked, are we going to move children to another school? Well, that would be up to the school board to look at the regional area. We're asking school boards to look at their schools in terms of region, not to look at schools and put them on a review list when enrolments get to a certain point, but to look ahead of time at a whole region and look at what's happening in the region, how many people are in the school, and come up with some options, but working with the community before ever looking at a school for a review. The last thing that we want to be doing is closing schools but in the reality, in some cases some schools do need to close just because they've gone past the ability to serve the needs of the students.
We have, as I had mentioned earlier, schools within the province in communities where it is just not practical, it's not real for them to be moved to another school. We don't want children on buses for longer than they absolutely have to be. Now, I did teach in an area where children did take a fair bit of time, sometimes over an hour, to get to school. They lived in a very rural area and the school that I taught in, it took them a long time to get to that school if they lived further out towards the county line. The reality was that they were on buses longer before the school was built where I was and the roads have - even though we have problems with many of our roads in Nova Scotia and we're working on that - the roads are even better now. So I can just imagine kids being on school buses for longer than they have to be.
We're looking at keeping schools in communities open so we have within our funding formula, we're providing school boards - not the schools per se, but the schools are designated that have challenges around enrolment, especially our high schools when you need to teach them certain courses, that in the funding formula school boards are going to be allocated extra money to help defray the cost of providing an FTE teacher.
If we have a small Grade 9 class, there are many ways that we can reach them. If they're in an isolated school, then the department is going to be, through the funding formula, making sure that school board has the ability to get as many teachers in that school to keep the subjects for the children.
The other thing that we're doing - I've seen this, this is just absolutely fabulous. If you'd like, I offer you the opportunity to watch virtual school in action. I was in a rural school a couple of months ago when I was watching as three students were taking a chemistry class, I think it was. It was operating in an area of the school that the kids were doing science and I think it was chemistry. They were hooked into a live-time teacher - I don't know where that teacher was sitting, I know some teachers who are doing virtual school are sitting at the department; they're sitting at Central Kings Rural High School in Kings County. I know some of them are in Chignecto.
The teacher that has the expertise to teach that course is doing live time with those three young men and with other children across the province so that they were able to get that high school credit that they needed in their school without travelling anywhere, live time with a teacher. That is the work that we're doing around virtual school. All the work that they're doing on the virtual school, too, is all on-line and it's interactive. That's why I say you have to see it.
I actually took part in a session in the department and saw how it worked. You are talking to a screen with the teacher and if the children want to see it each other they can do that. If you want to talk to just the teacher, you just change your setting and you can text your teacher a question without the rest of the class seeing it. Or you have it so all can see, and it's also that interactive back and forth. It's on many levels - you can text, you can talk, you do your work on-line, you can do your homework and lessons not with the teacher there but the lesson is being taught live time.
We have that Grade 9 class that you mentioned, if it's in a small, isolated high school, the school board is going to get the funding necessary to put the teacher in place. But if it's only one, two or three children that want to take, say, the accounting course, they're not going to miss that credit in that school because we will provide them the opportunity to have a live-time virtual high school class provided. There are 22 courses right now that are active and children are involved in, but we're going to increase that to 44 courses.
We're going to have it so that all courses that a student needs to graduate high school can get them through virtual school. I want to say the best way that we can educate our students is to have a teacher with them to mentor them, to facilitate their learning, to be with them. We never want virtual high school or the virtual school ever to replace a teacher. But in many cases, this is going to provide the opportunity for students to get those courses.
There are a couple of ways that we have in our plan to meet the needs of children that are in classes that have been affected by the declining enrolment.
MR. ORRELL: While we're on the topic of virtual schools, that teacher that's providing the real-time education, it could be to how many students - three, five, whatever - throughout the province? Is that class size or is that number of students with that teacher, is that reflected in the number of teacher-student ratio in the province or is that over and above the ratio we're talking about. We're saying you have one teacher to 27 students in the classroom; if you have three students with one virtual teacher, does that take our numbers down? Or is that separate altogether from what we're doing?
If that's the case, the reality is that probably the teacher in the classroom has a higher ratio than one in 27. Can you explain that to me?
MS. JENNEX: I really appreciate the opportunity to clarify this, that when I said the class I was in with those three young men, they were also linked in to a number of other students across the province. I don't know how many were in that class. It could have been 15, 12 - I'm not sure exactly. It's not going to be a teacher for one student; it is other students who are engaged in that. There are other ways that we can meet the needs of students too. There's also other technology available through Skype, which is different than virtual school in that a student can be connected to their classroom. It's a different way of delivering that model.
But you were asking me about the FTE. Our teachers that teach virtual school are real, live teachers, Nova Scotia Teachers Union teachers, who will teach a course that they have expertise in. The next session, they're in their classroom in front of real people, not on virtual - I mean, of course the children are real, they're a virtual high school or virtual school, but the real live-time class will be in front there. Their class is at 9:15 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., they're in their office, could be in their classroom, with a virtual course, and the next session after the break they might be teaching the same course to the school that they're housed in. The FTEs are included with our complement of teachers in the province because they are multi-tasking. They are doing virtual and real.
MR. ORRELL: Is this the same technology that they are using at Dalhousie University in the med school program now, the virtual? How much does this virtual school cost the education system?
MS. JENNEX: I'm going to answer the second question first. In our budget we've increased the working on virtual school and adding courses an extra $1.8 million, which is in this year's budget.
You asked the question about Dalhousie. It would probably be the same technology, but the courses that we're using in the department in Nova Scotia are designed by Nova Scotia teachers. There have been a number of teachers who have taken a leadership role over a number of years around this type of technology. The teachers who like doing this have a passion for it, but the department has actually contracted out real teachers in Nova Scotia - and I know some of them personally - who have an expertise in a certain subject area and they are designing new courses for us.
When I did my lesson - it was a math lesson, and the teacher said to the students that they needed to do something with one of the angles. When you and I would have been in school we would have had our pencil and our paper and drawn it out. On the virtual high school the teachers that designed curriculum, they actually were able to do it in the virtual reality so you could actually see it moving in a 2-D form. It's that technology that made it even more exciting than working with pen and paper. It's really interesting to see.
I would imagine, based on the technology that we're using within the department and the school boards around the province, it's probably the same technology, but of course the courses would be designed for the med students, or they might be using Skype. We've got so much opportunity now because of technology. At one point we used to wait until we got home at the end of the day, until after six, to call somebody somewhere in the world, and now we can text them instantly with minimum costs. Our ways of communication are changing, and as things are changing in the world, education is changing too.
MR. ORRELL: That $1.8 million includes the technology, the people to repair it if it breaks down, the people who are switching back and forth - is that all included in the $1.8 million?
MS. JENNEX: The $1.8 million is the on-line course delivery. It's what we are continuing to deliver the existing courses, coordinate them fully through the Nova Scotia Virtual School, and we're converting some courses too.
I have to say that the CSAP, our Acadian school board, utilizes this technology based on - because their board is actually province-wide as opposed to regional. We have the evaluation and updating of the current courses and a conversion of the correspondence study to on-line. We're adding additional on-line course development. This is a one-time cost of about $150,000, that's to develop the courses. That's the one I just mentioned to you, that I know some of the teachers - we're developing additional courses so for Grades 10, 11, 12, there's a cost to the design. They are going to be paid for the work that they are doing, that's about $150,000.
We're expanding our enrolment. We're adding staff and we're adding student seats to that. We're having training included in that cost; technical support services are included in that cost too. We have the course development project management, which is being contracted, so all of those costs are included in the $1.8 million.
MR. ORRELL: Well, switching back to the expense summary, on Page 7.6 it says the Regional Education Services, under Public Schools, had a change of funding, from $2.086 million to $1.825 million. Can you tell me what services this line item represents?
MS. JENNEX: I'll get the information on that but that is a transfer of services. We do have it. I can get that written out in a little bit better form for you, if needed. I'm looking at the information I have and these are internal transfers, the transfer of services from one line to another, so it's not an addition, it's just transfers.
MR. ORRELL: What services are transferred in there, can you tell me that, please?
MS. JENNEX: Mr. Chairman, I'm going to have to do this one at a time because it's embedded in here. In one of the regional services, the transfer moved up to public schools administration and it was a secretary, so she just went from one service into another. The other one is a - we've moved one line into tuition support, which is in under students services administration.
We had an education officer who is now the Mi'kmaq liaison in Mi'kmaq liaison administration. They've moved from the regional education service into Mi'kmaq liaison. None of these positions are new positions. As I said earlier, we restructured to make sure that we were meeting the needs of our students appropriately. So under the restructuring in the department you will see line items, as I said, that look like they've gotten bigger but if you check through, you'll see other line items that have gotten smaller. Overall, we have reduced our budget by $1.7 million.
MR. ORRELL: The Annapolis Valley Regional School Board received about $1.28 million to run their entire school board as represented in the Public Accounts of 2011-12. That number will be less in the next Public Accounts. The line under Programs and Services on Page 7.5, Education Funding and Accountability, saw an increase of $1.26 million. That's an increase almost equal to what the entire school board in the Annapolis Valley has received. Is that in there for a reason or could that have been left for the school board to approve their educational people in the classroom?
MS. JENNEX: Mr. Chairman, as I mentioned earlier, we were talking about that business integration project that the department is working on, that is actually where that shows up and the line item is $1.3 million, which is for the business integration. That is the project that is costly, but in the end, when it's completely implemented, it will create savings in all of our school boards.
MR. ORRELL: Corporate Services' Administration increased by over $100,000. Why would the administration of Corporate Services increase by over 43 per cent and you're asking the school boards to take money out of their budget?
MS. JENNEX: That is reflective of two FTEs that we provide service to Labour and Advanced Education on that line.
MR. ORRELL: I know we're talking balanced budgets and when the NDP took over power, they were handed a $19 million surplus. They raised taxes enough to raise $1 billion over four years and they borrowed more than $1 billion. If we add the departmental bloating, the picture becomes very clear. The current government is taking money out of our education system but increasing money everywhere else. Our education is being cut but the administration seems to be seeing increases. Can you explain to the parents and the children how this is happening at the feet of our children's education?
MS. JENNEX: Mr. Chairman, I would very gladly explain what is happening within the department and what we're doing to provide services and education, a solid and good-quality, high-quality education for our students. The Department of Education has taken very seriously their role, as every other department in government, in making sure that they are running efficiently and effectively.
There has been a restructuring and with a restructuring there has been a decrease in the costs. We've actually looked at line items to make sure that we're as efficient and as effective as possible around every meeting. We made sure that every meeting needs to be a meeting that we do face to face. We've been using technology, especially a lot of teleconferencing. In past governments people would have come to Halifax, stayed overnight. So there has been a reduction of $1.7 million from the department's bottom line. Also through attrition and retirement we have lowered our FTEs by seven, and we're continuing and we will continue to find efficiencies throughout the department. We are going to be meeting the 10 per cent reduction over our three-year period. We're going to make sure that we are doing exactly in the department what we've asked school boards to do.
Now, with the Kids and Learning First plan, what we have done is we're making sure that we are providing quality education to our students. We are also making sure that we are providing courses and opportunities for students to take advantage of.
As a teacher over a 30-year career, and in many conversations I've had with many people within the community and with students themselves, a lot of our young people by the time they get to Grade 9 are kind of feeling like oh, you know, high school, what's in it for me? I don't plan to go to university; I'd like to be out working. Sometimes we're losing those kids right out of Grade 9; they're not even entering into high school.
We know that the biggest cost we have to any system is for people not to be successful, so one thing with Kids and Learning First is we are looking at our Grade 9 curriculum so that when those children get to Grade 9, the ones who we feel are at risk of leaving, we're going to make sure our curriculum matches the needs that kids have and need to get ready to go to high school. We've added another course, I think it's called Discovering Opportunities, it's similar to the O2 program, the Options and Opportunities, but it's at the Grade 9 level, so we make sure that those children who are at risk of leaving feel motivated.
One of the other things we're doing within the plan is that sometimes in the education system, we don't give credit where credit is due for the wonderful work that kids are doing outside of our school system. I want to tell you a little story about a student who I used to have when I taught Primary/Grade 1. I had him for two years - I used to do a Primary/Grade 1 loop - Primary and Grade 1 and then they would get another teacher, so I would keep the children for two years.
I had this one young man who was a great kid but school was never for him. He liked recess and he liked physical education but when it came to the things that you need to do to be successful, he didn't have as much of an interest in, but he was a good kid and a good student and he is still in the school system, not too crazy about school. I have watched this young man do something a year ago that gave me a great deal of motivation to push and shove and to create and do what I needed to do to see if we could provide an opportunity for children who are doing something outside of school to get a credit.
If children know that they have an opportunity outside the school to get a credit for high school, it's going to motivate them to stay in school; they know that things they are doing in a leadership way or even in a volunteer way within the community are part of their high school curriculum. This young man who I mentioned has taken apart an engine - it's a Volkswagen engine, I will add - that was completely burnt out. Someone within the community is taking the time to help this young man rebuild, so he has seen the connection of what he is learning in school to continue the work that he is doing. He is quite motivated to do so.
This summer I had the opportunity to be in Debert while the Air Cadets were graduating from their course. They spent six weeks studying to fly a glider plane. These are 15-year-olds and I don't know if the member opposite is familiar with this course but it's a great course, it's just fantastic. These 15-year-olds are in class, learning the theory, learning safety, all summer, that's what they're doing. They're working hard and they're out in the field and they're running back and forth and they are eating well; they're learning teamwork; they're doing all of that on their summer break. They need to be recognized that that is important time that they've spent. So with our new personal credit course - we couldn't really come up with any name - it's a credit that you're going to get in high school; you're going to get a high school credit for the work that you do and you show in your community.
As you know, with Air Cadets or Cadets, those young people are leaving at the end of the summer. The graduation that I went to - unfortunately the weather was really awful this summer for learning to fly; they are spending an extra week getting their flying time in but they are graduating at age 15 with a licence to fly a plane. That needs to be recognized. I knew it needed to be recognized and I look at this young man in my community working every spare minute he has doing something. We need to recognize that. What I'm saying to people in Nova Scotia is we're making sure our education plan is matching the needs of our students and recognizing what kids are doing in our community. So that's one thing. We have our personal credit.
We're also looking at our Grade 9 year - what can we do to keep our children motivated? What courses are they doing to keep them motivated to be in school, especially our children at risk?
We're also now looking at the 150 course offerings that we have within the province. Do we need all of those courses? Are there some courses there that don't serve the purpose anymore? Do we need to change some of the courses to meet the needs - especially, as you know, with technology the way it is?
Many of the jobs that people are doing now we didn't even know existed - I wouldn't even want to say when I was in school; I would say even 10 years ago and sometimes five years ago. Who would know that Google would be a multi-million dollar business and that kind of technology? And just when I get used to Google and e-mail, they're on to something else. Then we learn Twitter and then there's going to be something else. It just keeps changing.
We want to provide opportunities for students to take courses so that they can learn to be flexible, nimble, and creative, to recognize that they create their own jobs. But those 150 courses are a cost to the system. Maybe some of those courses need to be removed. Maybe new courses need to be added. So we're going to do a review of our high school curriculum, and we're doing that in conjunction with the school boards, with community members, with parents, with students, and with the NSTU, to make sure that the courses that we're offering meet the needs of our students. Those are some of the things that we're doing to meet the needs of our students. I've already talked about virtual high school. We're investing in that area so that children have the opportunity to do that.
One of the other things that we're doing - I've been talking about the end years of our students, high school, but we are looking at our beginning years too, especially around literacy and numeracy with our youngest. So when children are coming into school and learning to read and write, we are providing them the opportunity through Succeeding in Reading. If any of the children are showing that they need some extra support, some extra help, the Succeeding in Reading teacher, the literacy teacher, is there to support the teacher in the classroom, to support the child. It might be individually or it might be in a small group, but also to work with the family members, to help mom or dad or the caregiver - some helpful hints on how to enhance their child's literacy.
Once the child in Primary seems to be doing fine, then that support would be moved to another group, but it's flexible. I have talked with an awful lot of teachers across the province who are actually the early literacy teachers who like this model, and they like it a lot better. Each school board might do it just a little bit differently, but that's the nice thing about Succeeding in Reading: it's meeting the needs of the students in the area that they're teaching.
We are providing our system the ability to pick kids up when they're having some difficulty. We want children to be successful. We're looking at all of our programs. We're looking at Grade 9 - revamping the Grade 9 curriculum.
The other one is that the math program in our school system is a victim, probably, of our exuberance to do the very best we can for kids. We want our children to be the very best and we want them to know absolutely everything, but in trying to do too much we have overwhelmed not only the students but also the teachers. I've talked with an awful lot of teachers around our math curriculum. We have so many outcomes and so much that needs to be taught that teachers are always feeling like they're pushing children along.
Our research is very, very clear that children need a little bit longer to master a concept, and a concept needs to be taught at a developmentally-appropriate time. If you're trying to teach a concept too early, it's not going to be learned appropriately. That's wasted time for the teacher and wasted time for the student. We've already started work on Primary, Grade 1, and Grade 2, and also on Grade 10 - looking at revamping our math curriculum so that we are going to be providing outcomes at the appropriate developmental time. We're going to teach them in a way that the child is going to master each of the outcomes before moving on to the others. We're going to use what we call the "western protocol" which is used in our western provinces and to a great deal of success. We want our children to be successful.
To give credit where credit is due, over the years, wanting to do the very best for our students and trying to get them to have as much as we possibly can give them has had them adding on - the department has asked for things, school boards have asked for things and it has overwhelmed our teachers and our students. We need to make sure we're providing that program appropriately in a better format. So we're doing that.
That's what we're doing within the department to meet the needs of students. We are investing strategically. We're investing in the math, the Succeeding in Reading. We're also investing in skills trades. As you know, in the Kids and Learning First there are nine areas in the province that are offering skills trades; we're going to build on those and we're also going to double that. We've added a 10th site; we've announced a week ago that there will be a skills-trades site in Cole Harbour. We're going to make sure that every region in this province will have the opportunity for students to go to a school that offers skills trades. This gives them a hands-on way of learning. We're not saying that everyone that takes that will want to go into skills trades but they'll find out in high school if that's an area of interest to them.
One of the things this province should be very proud of, too - and we haven't talked about this - is that this province offers the International Baccalaureate program. We're the only province in Canada that offers that for students that want to take it, at no charge to the student. It's included in the formula, in the funding, that if a child wants to take an International Baccalaureate program, they have the opportunity if they want to take it. It's not offered in every school because the teachers need to be trained and the curriculum needs to be in place, but children can transfer into schools that have the IB. Those children who like a challenge, want a challenge and are up for the challenge, every child that enters into the International Baccalaureate program, who wants to be there, excels in it.
For the investment the province is putting into the IB program, the outcomes have been that those students are graduating with millions of dollars worth of scholarships. The investment is well worth it because those students are getting scholarships to move forward so we're making sure that we are providing services for children who need hands-on, where children are at risk, by looking at their needs, and also for children who like the challenge, who want the challenge with the IB.
One of the things we're doing in our school system to respond to the needs in our communities is that we do have SchoolsPlus sites. The former government tried that as a pilot, it was very successful, so we are implementing that as a policy and program. It is in every region in the province, but we need to have it in every county so we are going to be making sure that SchoolsPlus sites are going to be in every county. I sent a letter to the school board chairs and superintendents a couple of weeks ago asking them to provide me some information of where they feel the best site in their school board is, knowing that we're moving it so that every county in the province has the ability to have a SchoolsPlus site.
If you haven't had the opportunity to be at a SchoolsPlus site, each one is different. They're fabulous places, they're really good places for students and for families. They're very welcoming. I've been in one SchoolsPlus site where a lot of moms were there with their toddlers and it had a program of play for little people, getting them ready to come to school. They also told me that they were providing some cooking courses and some cooking classes and some budgeting and support for some of the young families. It's a place for kids to get some tutoring, some after-school help. That's one site I was in.
Another site that I was in, they used a really nice open space. It had a number of classrooms but one big open space for meetings; the community were welcomed in there to provide services along with agencies that provide services. One of the people I was talking to actually was working with some of the young people and teaching them yoga during some of the break times in these SchoolsPlus sites.
As I said, there are over 100 different services provided through a SchoolsPlus site but I'm sure that if we started counting, it could even be more than that.
Your original question was that you feel the department is bloated and that we're not meeting the needs of our students. Well, in actual fact, the department is slimming down, because it needs to, because we are taking this very seriously, to make sure that we are as effective and as efficient as possible and living within our means, so we have reduced and are doing things differently. That's the challenge.
We're also providing the services, the money for the services that schools need, that students need in our province to be successful in all realms. We are looking at students who need help because of challenges. We've also recognized that school boards spend more than the allocated amount for providing services for students with special needs, so we've increased our funding allocation for students with special needs.
As you know, we have guidelines that have been set by the province around teacher assistants. I know they are called by different names - TAs, EPAs, or EAs. There is a criterion and formula and the school boards are funded to a much-reduced ratio than set up. I think it is 1 to 73 province-wide and the guidelines were 1 to 104, so we're making sure that students who need support are going to have support.
We are meeting the needs of our students, we are being very efficient, effective and we're investing strategically, so thank you.
MR. ORRELL: As you know, minister, there's a composite high school in Sydney Mines that has a trades program already. They had an air exchange problem and their vacuum system was outdated, so they had to shut down their system and limit their amount of teaching in that trades program because they don't have the vacuum system. That was two years ago.
Are the new funding initiatives going to getting this vacuum system in place, as compared to - I know you're putting another school in Cole Harbour, it probably costs millions to do that over. I think the vacuum system for the school would be a lot less.
They are doing a good job with what they're doing, the teachers there are fabulous, but they are limited in how much they can do so the kids aren't getting the maximum out of that learning experience. Could we be assured that that vacuum system is going to be put in place in that school before the next school year?
MS. JENNEX: Thank you for that. Well, as you know, safety is our highest priority, especially around skilled trades. It is my understanding, around the dust collection, there was a problem that was recognized and parts were ordered and the dust collection units were ordered and they didn't arrive. So the prep work is beginning on this but I need to get a little bit more information from the department around that. I do know that I was briefed a number of months ago around the dust collection units, that it was something we've identified as being problematic. The work has started but I guess the procurement process, the units weren't available - I'm not 100 per cent sure but we do recognize that. I can't give you a timeline but as soon as we do get the information, I'll get it to you.
I do understand that even with the challenges around the dust collection - and I know it wasn't just your school that has that challenge - there have been modifications made so that the program can be delivered safely, even with the problems around the dust collection. I think it was identified by the fire marshal as a fire hazard and that's why this has been problematic, so it's not just your school. There are a lot of projects on the go in the province right now. I don't know the timeline for your school, in particular, but I am going to be asking our facilities manager if I can get some more information for your particular one and get you some timelines when I get back in the department.
MR. ORRELL: There was one school in South Colchester that had the system put in since then and it has been almost two years now. So I would hope that if the company is having that difficult a time to get that vacuum system, they could try to find another company somewhere and if we could get that made as a priority for that school.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Is there a question with that?
MR. ORRELL: I was wondering if we could make sure that that was a priority for that school and the other schools to have that dust collection system upgraded - or completed, I guess, is the biggest thing.
MS. JENNEX: I just want to say to the member opposite that definitely we do have it in our budget to remediate that problem - definitely. As soon as I am able to find out your timelines, we will definitely get it to you. We want this problem fixed. It has been identified and I think due to procurement or technical reasons there has been a delay but it's definitely something that we are working to remediate. It is in the budget, so as soon as I find exactly what's happening in terms of your school and your particular situation, I will get that information to you. We definitely want to have our students doing the skills trades in an appropriate manner with the appropriate equipment working.
MR. ORRELL: You're talking about the priorities of the school boards coming in within the next - I believe it's a week or two, April 20th. Those school board priorities are different than the ones that were set out, say, as a new school and so on and so forth. Will those priorities get consideration in your budget?
MS. JENNEX: I'm hoping I heard this right: the priorities that are coming in for capital on April 20th are for our next year out. So we already have in the budget, we've listed what we're working on this year. So on April 20th every school board in the province will be listing their priorities. Actually one school board has theirs in already and I guess maybe they thought if it's in first, maybe first will get all of the considerations. No, they've given us their consideration with the rationale behind them. So we will be working within the department and those determinations will be decided by the staff looking at that.
We have excellent staff - and I know that the former minister will agree with me - who have a great deal of expertise around facilities and engineers; we have engineers at TIR. So I will let the department look at the priorities set by the school boards and we are going to be trying to fulfill as many of those as we possibly can to meet the needs of our students.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton North has five seconds remaining in his time allotted.
MR. ORRELL: Thank you, minister.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Colchester North.
HON. KAREN CASEY: Madam Chairman, the first part of my questioning, I want to go back to the Estimates Book. So for your reference it would be Page 7.2, and the Departmental Expenses Summary would be the chart that I would be looking at now. We had some questions earlier on this but I want to get a little more detail and explanation on some of them.
When we look at Senior Management, estimate to estimate, we're looking at an increase of 17.6 per cent. Could you please explain what's bringing that up by 17.6 per cent?
MS. JENNEX: The explanation of that budget line is sitting to my left: that is Dr. Lowe moving into the deputy minister's office.
MS. CASEY: If we could follow along on that then, the forecast to estimate is up by 25 per cent. Would that be more Dr. Lowe?
MS. JENNEX: The forecast is down because operating costs were low. It is all Dr. Lowe in that line and he's worth every cent.
MS. CASEY: Madam Chairman, I would never argue that at all. If we could move on to the next line, we're looking at Corporate Policy. When we look at estimate over estimate with Corporate Policy we see a reduction of three, but when we look at forecast over estimate we see an increase, so perhaps you could explain that.
MS. JENNEX: The forecast is lower because they were slightly under spent under Corporate Policy this year.
MS. CASEY: Could you be more specific with that?
MS. JENNEX: It was in the professional services, travel; all of those things were under spent.
MS. CASEY: If we can look at Corporate Services, forecast to estimate is an increase of about 10 per cent, any explanation for that?
MS. JENNEX: That is an increase of two FTEs that are there for services for Labour and Advanced Education. That also includes the $1.3 million for the business integration project that the department is undergoing with the school boards so that all of the school boards will all be using the same technology, all the software. That's the business integration. All of the school boards in the province have evolved over time to use different services so this is creating efficiencies for school boards with all of them using the same business software in work.
MS. CASEY: I thank you. If we can go down to Public Schools and again, estimate to estimate and forecast to estimate, both lines are increased, can we have an explanation for that?
MS. JENNEX: From estimate to estimate for Administration there was an FTE transfer from the Regional Education Services. We have Education Quality Services, that's funding to Mi'kmaq Services, the position there; it's a movement from someone that was a regional officer to Mi'kmaq liaison. The English Program Services is skills and trade, the success in learning - that's the $1 million from the Workforce Strategy for skills and trade. Then we have Learning Resources and Technology, which was a recovery reduction. In African Canadian Services there was a reduction in operating. In Student Services we had some internal transfers and reduction in operating. Mi'kmaq Services, as I said there's a new FTE but it was taken from another position so it's not a new person, it's a change in title with the liaison office.
Then Evaluation Services, there was a $1,000 reduction in operations. In Regional Education Services there were internal transfers; French Second Language, there was a reduction in operating and some recovery adjustments; and School Board Labour Relations was a transfer to the office of the deputy. There was also an operating adjustment. That's the estimate to estimate for public schools.
MS. CASEY: On a light-hearted note, is the regional education transfer another part of Dr. Lowe?
MS. JENNEX: Yes, he is doing some of those services. As I said, he's worth every cent.
MS. CASEY: The next line I would want to speak to is Acadian and French Language Services, again, from estimate to estimate and from forecast to estimate, still increases.
MS. JENNEX: Acadian and French Language Services, the estimate to estimate change is very small. It's a recovery adjustment and the estimate to forecast was an increase in professional services offset by salary savings and a decrease in professional services and grants for that line.
MS. CASEY: One of the requests that the department had made of school boards last year was to reduce the number of consultants that they had at the regional board level. I'm wondering, with that reduction in consultants if there was a corresponding reduction at the department for the consultants who are employed at the department level.
MS. JENNEX: Last year we did make a reduction of six FTEs. I would need to get the details on those positions. I would just like to make a comment. The department has been working at making sure that they're working effectively and efficiently, living within their means. We're looking at every line item but the mandate of the Department of Education is to support student learning throughout the province. We are making sure that we have people within the department who can meet the needs of the school boards. I will get the details on the six that were reduced last year.
MS. CASEY: I would be interested to know - it's not a budget line, but it's a question about the services and supports from the consultants at the department level who, in the past, would have worked with their counterpart at the board level to support teachers. I'm curious as to how that's working. If there are consultants left at the department level but the positions that would have been their sort of counterpart at the board level have been eliminated, how does that flow of information and support now work?
MS. JENNEX: As the honourable member knows, the consultants who work within the Department of Education, I would very rarely ever see, because they are actually out within the school boards and working with schools and groups of schools.
The question from the honourable member is that the consultants are working in the way they have continued to work; they are actually out in schools and groups of schools and working with the school boards. We're also working with school boards on how we best provide service from the department with any of the consultants. But I very rarely ever see the consultants unless they are travelling out with boxes or their presentation materials or the resources that they need when they are working with groups of teachers, schools and school boards.
MS. CASEY: Just so I can get a clearer picture of this, let's take a math consultant, for example, at the department, who no longer has a math consultant to work with in each of the boards, so when she or he is providing service to the teachers, I'm not sure how that would work. The teachers would be in their classrooms all day and so what does the math consultant do when they don't have a math consultant in the board with whom they can work directly?
MS. JENNEX: Well, the school board identifies priority uses and the principals of schools, administrators of the school, would identify areas of need or priorities, and that is how a consultant would be working with teachers or groups of teachers or schools or groups of schools. The priorities would be set by the needs of the school administrator and the school board, so that would look different at different times for different consultants. It looks different for literacy; it looks different for language; it looks different for math.
The consultants are utilized by what is asked of them by the administrators and by the school boards, so the work they do can be in groups of teachers or individual teachers or in families of schools.
MS. CASEY: If we can continue on with the summary of expenses on Page 7.2, we've already gone through five lines, all of those lines have shown increases from actual to estimate and four of them from estimate to estimate. Then we get to the big one, Public Schools Education Funding, where we have a significant decrease from estimate to estimate and from actuals to estimate. Tell me what percentage that is in a decrease.
MS. JENNEX: Was the question what the percentage is in the decrease? We're going to have to use our advanced math skills on this side but it is well known that it is a 1.3 per cent reduction in the funding allocations to school boards.
MS. CASEY: One of the programs that had been identified as an expense, and it was showing a budget line, I think, of about $7 million or $8 million at the time the announcement was made, was Reading Recovery. So I guess my question to the minister is, what is the cost of the Succeeding in Reading framework that has been introduced?
MS. JENNEX: In our budget this year we are providing $5 million. The Succeeding in Reading is much more flexible and an approach that meets the needs of our youngest students in our school system. In Primary, and in Grade 1 now and moving into Grade 2, we are making sure that the reading consultant, the literacy teacher - every school board utilizes different names - but the Succeeding in Reading framework provides a teacher to work with either the teacher, and it could look different, it could be literacy teacher working in the classroom with the students, teaching the class with the classroom teacher, working with a small group or individuals. It can be working in small groups or individuals in the class and, if necessary, it can be one- on-one or small groups outside of the classroom setting.
In some school boards they have provided a space for the early literacy teacher with one of our tables that are set up for early literacy programming. Some teachers do it as a percentage of their other job based on the numbers that are in the school, but it's very flexible.
As a student is progressing appropriately with their literacy, then they would go back to the regular classroom situation and other children would be picked up. If they started to have difficulty again, they would be picked up again. With the model of Reading Recovery it was one-on-one pullout. The children who were designated to be in the program had to be the lowest in the Grade 1 class, so they had already spent a full year behind. So this is picking up kids in Primary, reaching them earlier. It is in the budget this year providing $5 million for the Succeeding in Reading framework.
MS. CASEY: How many of the literacy teachers who are now working with the program have been trained in Reading Recovery?
MS. JENNEX: I wouldn't be able to answer that one specifically on how many but I do know that there are over 600 teachers within the province who have been trained with Reading Recovery; there might be more, but I know it's over 600 teachers who are trained Reading Recovery teachers. Of all of the early intervention teachers who I have meet with in Succeeding in Reading, I haven't met one yet who hasn't been a trained Reading Recovery teacher.
MS. CASEY: How many FTEs would we have in the Succeeding in Reading initiative? I understand that they do different things during the day, but there must be some calculation of how many FTEs are required to deliver that program.
MS. JENNEX: That would be information that we don't have specifically in our data. I know that we are going to have to contact each of the school boards and each of the schools to find out the percentage of teaching. In some schools that have small Primaries it would be 0.2, so that's information that we don't have, we haven't collected in our data, so we would need to collect that. That one is going to take us a little bit longer to find out how many teachers are designated in terms of full-time equivalents for our Succeeding in Reading framework.
MS. CASEY: I'm curious, how can you identify the cost to deliver the program if you can't calculate the FTEs?
MS. JENNEX: We leave the designation of that up to the school boards and we looked at the costs that Reading Recovery was designed for and we've added that in our cost in our budget. As you know, school boards designate and hire teachers and decide where teachers are placed, so we don't have the exact number but we do have the numbers of how many students are in Primary, Grade 1 and Grade 2. Every Primary class and Grade 1 class in the province there is a person who is there to support the teacher and the students, so it will be based on those figures, but I'm sure the school boards would be able to identify the teachers.
I know many of the Succeeding in Reading teachers personally and some of them don't do it on a full-time basis. Unless you are in a school that has an awful lot of Primary and Grade 1, which isn't happening in many schools, most of the teachers who I have met are doing it as part of another job that they are doing within the schools. Some of them are resource teachers and along with their Succeeding in Reading framework, so 0.4, 0.6.
MS. CASEY: I guess if we can't determine how many FTEs we have, then it's hard to determine what the actual salaries and wages are to implement that particular program. So if we don't know how much it costs to deliver the program, what other costs are there that are related to Succeeding in Reading?
MS. JENNEX: Well, to start up Succeeding in Reading there were some costs that we had within the department and one of the members opposite so nicely pointed out that as part of the Succeeding in Reading we provided materials for our youngest. We are providing materials for our youngest students as they enter Primary. We also made sure that every Primary and Grade 1 class in the province had resources available to them that supported Succeeding in Reading - good-quality books for our youngest readers. To make sure it was equitable, we made sure every Primary and Grade 1 class received good-quality reading materials in their classroom for Succeeding in Reading.
MS. CASEY: I guess I would ask that question again, what is the cost of the materials that have been provided to support Succeeding in Reading.
MS. JENNEX: Last year we supported Succeeding in Reading - $1 million of resources went into our schools.
MS. CASEY: Madam Chairman, how much money is in the budget this year for materials to support Succeeding in Reading?
MS. JENNEX: We're looking at a similar amount because next year we're moving it into Grade 2; therefore, we want to have appropriate resources in Grade 2. I taught in the school system for a very long time and when I left my classroom, I had more than enough books to provide service for my children, maybe way too many books. Over a 30-year teaching career, I was fortunate to compile many, many books but some of our teachers in classrooms have only been teaching a couple of years and haven't accumulated the books.
We wanted to make sure that every classroom had the same materials so there was not an equity issue involved. We wanted to make sure that - and I would imagine and I actually know from 30 years of teaching, some of my books were no longer of interest to students - and we wanted to make sure we had Canadian authors' books that were provided, that children could learn to read books without any print in them, so that they could read books making up the story themselves. We wanted to make sure that we provided the appropriate books for our Primary and Grade 1 students and so this year we will be providing books for every class, the same, so that all classes will have the same materials, so that we don't have a class with any more or any less. They'll all be getting the same.
MS. CASEY: Madam Chairman, since we're looking for information, and I understand that the minister may not have all of the information, but I think it's pretty important for all of us, for the members, obviously, of the department and for the rest of us, to have some idea what it costs to implement a program that was introduced with some debate about its merits, that it was not research-based and was not evidence-based and all those kinds of things, but we were told it would reach more kids and it would save money. I find it pretty hard to accept the fact that we don't know what it costs to deliver that program. We know $1 million in materials. So I guess my question to the minister is, will the minister make a commitment to go to her department and find out the true costs for the delivery of Succeeding in Reading?
MS. JENNEX: As the member knows, we provide funding to school boards to provide the services that our students need and in the budget that we have for this year, we've provided $5 million. We're also providing resources from the department and we also provide the people resources, too, if the in-servicing and all of that had been done with the department.
The Succeeding in Reading is a different framework providing more service to more students, it's much more flexible. I guess maybe the unfortunate aspect of the debate around Reading Recovery and Succeeding in Reading was that it was looked at as a cost measure. We're not using this as savings; we are investing in Succeeding in Reading and we will continue to invest in Succeeding in Reading as we move it through our system. We are making sure that we're meeting the needs of our students in Primary and Grade 1 in a flexible and appropriate manner.
MS. CASEY: I did have a question there. I did ask if the minister would make a commitment to getting the true costs for the implementation of the Succeeding in Reading initiative.
MS. JENNEX: Well, I think the cost of Succeeding in Reading - we can absolutely get that number. It's going to take awhile, but the real cost to our system is having children not feel that they are successful when they start school and wait, as in the past government, until they got to Grade 1 and had to fail before they get support.
I was a Primary and Grade 1 teacher for 30 years and the worst thing I could see as a teacher was waiting for a child to have Reading Recovery and look at the other three in the class that qualified but couldn't get it. It was those children who were missing out. If a child was not successful in Reading Recovery - and there were many - the data does not show. I did meet with the Reading Recovery people that own the company for Reading Recovery and they had to agree with me.
This system that we have, this program we have in place, is to make sure that we are picking up children when they need support. The true cost of this is, it costs too much for our system to fail and that is why we put Succeeding in Reading in, to make sure we were reaching our children earlier and helping them be successful and be there when they needed support through Primary and Grade 1 and we're moving into Grade 2.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time allotted for today's business is nearly up.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. FRANK CORBETT: Madam Chairman, I move that the committee do now rise, report progress and beg leave to meet again.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
The motion is carried.
[The committee adjourned at 9:56 p.m.]