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New schools policy "insincere" and "political", says McNeil

Baillie joins in policy criticism
The province has terminated the often contentious process of school closure reviews, according to a news release Wednesday, saying a news system will ensure a fairer and better process "which reflects the interests of students and communities."

Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Ramona Jennex wrote school boards to request the school-review process for 2013-14 be suspended while a new review process is being developed. She also asked the boards to delay any school closings decided in 2012-13 until the new process is in place.
Jennex apparently ordered the Tri-County School Board to remove at the last minute an agenda item from Tuesday's board meeting which would have had the board discussing a recent school review.
In a news release Wednesday, Liberal leader Stephen McNeil says the NDP government's last minute decision to shelve the school review process in an election year is political and is "an insincere attempt to clean up the mess this government created through its deep cuts to public education."
 
“This premier took more than $65 million dollars out of classrooms and left students, teachers, school boards and communities to pick up the pieces,” says McNeil. “These cuts have taken resources out of our classrooms and threatened to take classrooms out of our communities.”
 
“Until today, this government has shamefully stood by its decision to gut public education,” McNeil states. “This change of heart today came about not because of genuine concern for our children or our communities – it’s about a government concerned only about its own re-election, plain and simple.”
 
The Liberal leader has pledged his government will re-invest $65 million dollars back into the public education system.
 
“The NDP government forced school boards into a position where closing schools was the only way to deal with these short-sighted cuts,” McNeil states. “Today’s decision doesn’t change the fiscal reality school boards are facing. Unless the NDP is also increasing education funding, we’ll be talking about program cuts and teacher layoffs instead of school closures. This is lip service – nothing more.”
 
McNeil says adopting a ‘community hub’ approach with smaller schools may be one way to keep those facilities viable. Saving communities, he says, starts by saving their schools.
 
“For much of Nova Scotia, the local school is really the focal point for the area – let’s take that to the next level,” explains McNeil. “Integrating more services into that existing infrastructure is the way forward; be it pre-school or daycare, continuing education programs, municipal or RCMP offices, as a few examples.”
 
“By turning our small schools into community hubs, we can breathe new life into both.”

Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie said in a news release Wednesday that months of parents’ frustration could have been avoided if NDP took action sooner to address rural schools closures. 

Baillie says he has been adamant for months that the NDP government not close schools until the Nova Scotia Commission on Building Our New Economy completed its report.

“The NDP put parents and students in turmoil for months, along with the school boards,” said Baillie. “Schools and the economy of rural communities are tightly intertwined. It’s only right to wait to close schools until the Commission’s report is released and the flaws in the review process are addressed.”

The release from Jennex said that the interim report from the Commission on Building Our New Economy, expected this fall, will also be used in developing the new approach.

"Schools are the heart of a community and community schools have been an important focus for this government," said Ms. Jennex. "We are hearing from parents and families that recent changes to the school-review process didn't go far enough, so we need to develop a more collaborative process on how we deal with community schools and school-reviews.

The Kids and Learning First plan places an emphasis on community schools. The Schools Plus initiative puts government services for youth, families and seniors in schools and community use of grants allow people to use the schools for free or at a low cost. The province also supports small, isolated schools with additional funding to help keep them open.

"This wasn't an easy decision to make, but it is the right decision," said Ms. Jennex. "As the minister, I had to reach out to boards to ensure the process is stopped until further changes take place. We've listened to parents, school boards, communities and municipalities who have told us this process needs a major overhaul."

The Commission on Building Our New Economy, headed by Ray Ivany, is looking at how provincial priorities of innovation, skills training and competitiveness work in a local context, in tourism, manufacturing and primary production sectors, for young people, workers and families that seek a better life in their home communities.

"We will invite school boards, communities and other stakeholders to help in developing a new school-review process," Ms. Jennex said.

The review will also include the current process of turning schools over to municipalities after they are closed.

The release said a discussion paper for public input will be ready this fall and the new process is expected to be in place by spring 2014.

 

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