Gov­ern­ment con­cedes on 28 teach­ers

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

Is­lan­ders spoke loudly and an­grily. Gov­ern­ment lis­tened – even­tu­ally. The scope of the con­ces­sion can only be termed a sur­prise. Hal Perry, the ed­u­ca­tion, early learn­ing and cul­ture min­is­ter, an­nounced Wed­nes­day that 28 ‘ad­di­tional’ teach­ing po­si­tions are be­ing added to the al­lo­ca­tion for the English Lan­guage School Board this fall.

It’s cer­tainly no co­in­ci­dence the 28 equals the num­ber of teacher re­duc­tions an­nounced last month. Forty teach­ers re­tired this school year and 12 teach­ing staff was hired, leav­ing the in­fa­mous short­fall of 28 through at­tri­tion.

It’s true that school boards re­ceived an ad­di­tional $3.5 mil­lion in the bud­get - or an in­crease of one per cent. But it’s also true the depart­ment came back to the English board seek­ing an ad­di­tional $500,000 in sav­ings just prior to the bud­get be­ing tabled.

It was then that the 28 fewer po­si­tions were fi­nal­ized. It was an ob­vi­ous po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion made for fi­nan­cial rea­sons.

The re­duc­tion in teach­ing staff gal­va­nized var­i­ous groups into ac­tion. Op­po­si­tion par­ties ham­mered Mr. Perry re­lent­lessly in the leg­is­la­ture – re­view­ing the im­pact of the cuts school by school. A dis­mayed P.E.I. Teach­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion walked out of con­tract talks, ac­cus­ing gov­ern­ment of bar­gain­ing in bad faith.

It was bad tim­ing for all con­cerned. The elec­tion forced staffing de­ci­sions to be pushed into June in­stead of be­ing com­pleted in late April. Teach­ers were up­set at hav­ing to work through their sum­mer hol­i­days to ad­just to new staffing lev­els for the start of classes in early Septem­ber.

A march was planned on the leg­is­la­ture to voice op­po­si­tion to the cuts which would push the num­ber of teach­ing po­si­tion lost over the past four years to 140. There were ap­peals for calm and a re­turn to the bar­gain­ing ta­ble from Mr. Perry and the P.E.I. Home and School As­so­ci­a­tion. The premier then stepped in to an­nounce a re­view to as­sess those cuts.

The fed­er­a­tion tried to call off the march although more than 100 up­set par­ents and ed­u­ca­tors still at­tended, while teach­ers re­turned to the bar­gain­ing ta­ble. PEITF pres­i­dent Gilles Arse­nault took a lot of crit­i­cism for can­celling the demon­stra­tion but he was op­ti­mistic the cuts would be rolled back and he was right.

There was wide­spread skep­ti­cism that the re­view would ac­com­plish lit­tle, per­haps re­in­stat­ing a small num­ber of po­si­tions as a sort of com­pro­mise to pla­cate the board, schools and par­ents. But the com­plete re­ver­sal by the province was a sur­prise – all 28 po­si­tions will be filled.

Gov­ern­ment had ar­gued that an early pro­jected to­tal of 300 fewer stu­dents this fall meant fewer teach­ers were needed. But there was con­fu­sion on the ac­tual fall en­rol­ment and some pro­jec­tions now ac­tu­ally see stu­dent num­bers in­creas­ing slightly.

The re­view had to be done quickly with a re­turn to classes some seven weeks away and it was – within a fort­night. Gov­ern­ment said the re­view was a col­lab­o­ra­tive process be­tween the English board and school prin­ci­pals as both par­ties worked over the past two weeks to de­ter­mine the al­lo­ca­tion of teach­ers for in­di­vid­ual schools. That’s a bit of a stretch.

It surely wasn’t the board or school prin­ci­pals who de­cided to cut 28 po­si­tions. And it surely was not they who de­cided to re­in­state those po­si­tions. But maybe gov­ern­ment will now let those groups do their jobs and stay out of staffing de­ci­sions.

Mr. Perry noted that dis­cus­sions will con­tinue on how to best in­vest re­sources in the front­lines and talks will con­tinue with all part­ners to get the best re­sults for stu­dent ex­cel­lence. With is­sues such as zon­ing and class­room com­po­si­tion en­ter­ing the equa­tion, it was best for all con­cerned to take a step back, catch one’s breath and go with the sta­tus quo for the com­ing school year.

Gov­ern­ment blinked and con­ceded it made a rash and wrong de­ci­sion on this is­sue.

Re­in­stat­ing the 28 po­si­tions was the right thing to do. Valu­able lessons were learned in the halls of gov­ern­ment about the class­rooms of the province over the past sev­eral weeks.

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