Government concedes on 28 teachers
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.