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Education council rejects Anglophone East School District budget proposal

Click to play video: 'Anglophone School District contemplating how to proceed with budget' Anglophone School District contemplating how to proceed with budget
WATCH: The Anglophone East School District has an important decision ahead — how to proceed with its annual budget – Sep 17, 2019

Members of the Anglophone East School District education council have rejected this year’s global budget for a second time.

Council members voted 6-3 against the newly proposed budget at a monthly meeting on Tuesday night.

In June, a projected shortfall of $1.9 million led the council to reject the budget the first time, and members decided it would be revisited at a later date.

When the first vote took place, the council did not have funding to cover the roughly 60 educational assistants (EAs) proposed in the budget, according to Anglophone East School District Supt. Gregg Ingersoll. EAs work with classroom teachers to provide learning support to individuals or groups of students.

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Angela Lawson, one of the Anglophone East School District councillors, said she fully supports the inclusive education model proposed in the budget. This model, which would require the school district to hire more EAs, places all students, regardless of ability, with their peers in a “common learning environment,” and instruction is primarily provided by a classroom teacher.

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However, Lawson noted that “there wasn’t funding attached to that [education model]” in the budget.

“We don’t get funded for as many EAs as we need,” she told reporters. “Our district, every year, seems to manage to find the money. We scrape by, we get things done. But nobody is changing the model, and the model needs to change.”

Angela Lawson, a councillor, said lack of funding for educational assistants has been an ongoing issue in the district. Callum Smith / Global News

“It’s really been something we’ve been talking about for a long time,” she said.

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“As a district, we’re only just scraping by, supplying priority 1 educational assistants.”

School districts in New Brunswick are funded by the provincial government/

Danielle Elliott, a spokesperson for the department of education says school districts are provided with a global budget that “takes into account many factors including, but not limited to, the number and distribution of students, infrastructure, transportation, and Education Plan initiatives as well as classroom supports.”

Ingersoll said he wasn’t “completely surprised” by the decision to vote down the second proposed budget.

“I think that you heard them, their comments and the frustration they feel with perhaps a few years of having to try to come up with a balance and make sacrifices within the funding allocations,” he said.

According to Aubrey Kirkpatrick, Anglophone East School District’s director of finance and administration, the district managed to find ways to balance the budget proposal that was voted down in June, including taking a “couple of calculated risks” with staffing levels, realizing its original budget proposal was off by about $300,000 and axing $100,000 in building maintenance.

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The teachers’ salary budget line was the biggest change, as there were some financial gains from teachers taking leave without pay and being replaced by supply teachers, Kirkpatrick said. The school district came up with a new number for teacher salary spending mainly using data from previous years.

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“If that happens enough, then with a large staff… We’re forecasting about $1.2 million [in savings] with that,” Kirkpatrick said.

Kirkpatrick added that an additional 503 students in the school district compared to last fall will mean funding for 18.7 more full-time teachers should be provided, but those numbers will only be finalized at the end of September.

In June, a statement from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development said funding for school districts has increased in the past two years.

“Over the past two years, we have consistently provided increases to address class composition need and we continue to work closely with the districts on this file,” the statement said.

“School districts are provided with a global budget, which takes into account many factors including, but not limited to, the number and distribution of students, infrastructure, transportation and education plan initiatives as well as classroom supports.”

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But a budget shortfall isn’t unique to the Anglophone East School District. Last week, the Anglophone South School District education council voted to reject a proposed budget with similar numbers to the Anglophone East proposal — roughly $1.9 million and about 60 educational assistants short.

A balanced budget was supposed to be presented to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in July but was then extended to August. Members of the council did not provide a clear date on when the balanced budget must now be submitted.

In the end, the council decided to send a letter to Dominic Cardy, the province’s education minister. As of Wednesday morning, Cardy has yet to respond to the letter.

“It might be an opportunity for him to come and talk to us about where go from here,” Harry Doyle, Anglophone East School District education council chair, told Global News.

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