BY NANCY KELLY
Kings County Register
Like parents in Aylesford and Somerset, members of the AVRSB and its superintendent, Norman Dray, are frustrated with the government’s recent decision to delay promised renovations at two elementary schools in Western Kings County.
In his report to the AVRSB April 2, Dray explained the province’s recent financial blueprint will “make it a more challenging year to budget for the AVRSB,” adding an overall 2.39 per cent increase in education funding will allow the board to continue with some incentives - but not all. “There was no funding for Grade 3 and 4 class caps as we had hoped, and there was no increase for fuel costs or operational expenditures, other than salaries.”
In terms of facility upgrades, Dray said, after the budget was released, the board was informed by the Department of Education money would be available to complete work already in progress at West Kings and start gym construction at Gaspereau Elementary School. “We were also told that there is a small amount of money for which we have some flexibility, but it won’t build a gym,” said Dray in his responses to questions from board members and parents who came to the meeting. He said the board was supposed to be spending $9.4 million on facility-related projects in the year ahead, but the province’s budget numbers will mean the board will only see $3.2 million. “It doesn’t matter how you cut that up, ($3.2 million) cannot fund $9 million worth of work.”
The province has pointed to escalating construction costs as the main reason for the funding shortfall that will leave Somerset and St. Mary’s schools out of the construction loop again. Funding for a variety of building alterations and gym additions at five Kings County schools was announced in 2003. To date, only two of those schools has had work completed.
Board member Vic Fleury said he understands cost overruns and inflationary pressures are a reality with any construction project, but he questioned why the Department of Education is able to back out of promises it made to “several communities, several years ago. “The money was committed, then something bad happened to push the projects back. We hear they are not cancelled, but is this delay for one year or longer?”
Fleury’s question was addressed to provincial Regional Education Officer Dr. Stuart Lowe, who responded the projects at St. Mary’s and Somerset could be delayed for “possibly more” than one year.
Lowe explained the Department of Education chose to fund projects “where tenders had already been put out and where commitments had been made to contractors.”
His responses did not satisfy AVRSB member Peter Goucher, who understood renovation funds were to have been parceled out at the discretion of the school board, not the Education Department. “I have empathy for the government that circumstances have changed due to a lack of money, but not that the rules have changed about how the money is dispersed.”
Jackie Foster who represents St. Mary’s and Somerset schools on the school board, agreed with Goucher. “I don’t see any accountability by the province if (the board’s) established priorities are being changed without our input.”
Dray’s frustration was compounded when Lowe confirmed Education Minister Karen Casey reversed a budget decision by re-committing money for gym and music upgrades at Middleton Regional High School after an April 2 protest by the school community at Province House. Dray said he had no knowledge of Casey’s decision.
When questioned about comments coming from the Department of Education alluding to the AVRSB’s option to re-allocate construction funds, Dray seem perplexed. “First (the department) tells us how the money is going to be allotted, then the minister tries to throw it back in our laps by saying we could reverse the decision. Doing so after we have already made announcements would be not be appropriate.”
BY NANCY KELLY