Back on the hot seat
Education Minister Hal Perry faces tough questions from Opposition and Liberal MLAs in legislature
Education Minister Hal Perry was getting it from both sides of the P.E.I. legislature on Wednesday.
The Opposition took aim at him right off the bat during question period.
On the other side of the legislature, Liberal MLA Robert Henderson later said he wasn’t happy with how decisions are made about opening, closing or delaying school on storm days.
Opposition Leader Steven Myers asked Perry how he can say his education budget is up by $3.76 million when the school board grant is nearly $300,000 less than the already-contracted salary increase for teachers.
Perry acknowledged a 1.6 per cent budget increase and would be happy to talk about the other part of the question later when his department presented its budget estimates.
Myers then asked about a $300,000 decrease in the school maintenance, transportation and administration budget, asking what impact it would have.
Perry said the province has more than $500 million in infrastructure and that the “safety of our children is a priority’’.
Myers then asked Perry to confirm that there will be a reduction in the number of casual school bus drivers hired this fall. Myers said it means routes will be doubled up and students will spend more time on buses.
“Do you feel that the student spending over two hours a day on a school bus is positive or negative for their learning?’’ Myers asked.
Perry responded that the casual positions are filled by the school board and that it’s an ongoing process.
“Again, this is a topic, it’s a challenge right now at the moment, and I’m glad that the school board is now developing policy on transportation, also including composition and zoning,’’ Perry said.
Later, it was Henderson’s turn.
“My concern is the inconsistencies of weather across the Island and road conditions,’’ Henderson told The Guardian after question period. “In areas such as the Westisle family of schools you’re getting inconsistent answers so buses are going out picking up kids and getting called back or they’re getting out onto roads that aren’t safe and buses are getting stuck.’’
Henderson said he’s getting calls from bus drivers and parents unhappy with the way decisions are made on storm days.
Perry said there are spotters across the province who monitor weather conditions from 3:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. and then consult on conference call with officials in Charlottetown. Henderson suggests going back to the old system where a supervisor with each family of schools assessed the situation for that specific area.
“There needs to be more accurate information so kids are feeling safe . . . and bus drivers aren’t put under pressure of making decisions to go down a certain road and that is what is happening,’’ Henderson said. “All I’m saying to the minister is (the current system) doesn’t seem to be working very well in the rural areas of the province.’’