By John DeCoste
Education is always a hot-button issue at election time.
The Progressive Conservatives’ platform promises to reduce the number of boards in the province from eight to four, with the Valley part of one, rural mainland board.
“As a board, we haven’t discussed it or taken a stand one way or another,” Annapolis Valley Regional School Board chairwoman Lavinia Parrish Zwicker said last week. “We’re not partisan. We’ll continue to work for the betterment of public education with whatever government is in place.
“Having gone through amalgamation once already, we found it required a great deal of time, effort and discussion,” Parrish Zwicker said, time that ends up taken from schools and classrooms and can’t ever be replaced.
“School boards should be focused on educational issues, not organizational issues,” she said. “Our concern is that in focusing too much on logistics, we would be taking time away from educational issues and things we should be doing.”
“Whatever happens, our major focus has to remain on students in classrooms.
There are a lot of differences, and there is a tremendous amount of diversity, between various regions of the province.”
When boards amalgamated the last time, all board members got to retain their seats until the next election, Parrish Zwicker recalled. “We ended up with 26 members – and there were other boards that were much larger than that.”
Schools today are offering a lot of services to students that we didn’t used to offer. And it all takes money. Superintendent Margo Tait
The level of concern about funding for education is also heightened during an election campaign.
“In our view, we need to continue to reduce class sizes. That means more teachers,” Board superintendent Margo Tait said.
The Valley board “has had the highest average class sizes in the province for the past several years,” she added. “ In order to make inroads into that, we’ll need additional funding.”
Other board priorities linked to funding levels include program expansion.
“We have a really effective early literacy program that we’ve been able to expand to Grade 3 this year. We would have liked to expand it to Grade 5, but the resources just weren’t there,” Tait said.
“We’re also always in need of funding to support students with special needs, and to support the individual needs of all students,” she added.
“We’re hoping our funding will increase. We haven’t had as many reductions this year as in the past. We’re cautiously optimistic things will improve.”
Tait said education funding needs to be higher in order to balance declining enrolment.
“Regardless of the number of students we have, we still have the same bus routes, and the same buildings to maintain. It’s not a straight equation,” she said.
“Schools today are offering a lot of services to students that we didn’t used to offer. And it all takes money.”