Jody Carr defends schools' budget freeze

Education Minister Jody Carr will not confirm whether schools will receive their entire operating budgets as the provincial government continues to evaluate its "archaic" budget system.

Education minister says he understands the budget process may cause uncertainty

Schools in the Anglophone West school district have been given 70 per cent of their previous year's operating budget 1:27

Education Minister Jody Carr will not confirm whether schools will receive their entire operating budgets as the provincial government continues to evaluate its "archaic" budget system.

The Department of Education has informed school principals they will get 70 per cent of their operating budgets, but the rest is still under review.

Carr said in an interview on Thursday it is impossible to say whether the schools will receive the remaining 30 per cent of their operating budgets.

"We can’t guarantee that … because if we could guarantee that we would have given 100 per cent," he said.

The Department of Education is reviewing the operating budgets for New Brunswick schools. (CBC)

"So very clearly ... we are being honest and up front, we have budget pressures, to pretend that we don’t is a disservice to students, to children, to the public. We know that we have significant budget pressures."

The Department of Education has been tightening its budget for several years.

Carr ordered a spending freeze on out-of-province travel shortly after becoming education minister in 2010.

The education minister then found himself embroiled in a showdown with a district education council after he ordered a one per cent cut.

Carr also used the financial savings as a key selling point when he reduced the number of school districts to seven from 14.

The latest financial order is coming as the department is trying to improve its budget process, which the minister described as "archaic."

Carr said he’s asked principals to spend prudently during the budget process.

"We are trying to make sure we don’t have a negative impact. We are trying to make thoughtful, prudent decisions where we have the greatest impact for student learning. So we are looking at every budget item," Carr said on Thursday.

"I can certainly understand the uncertainly that this could create for some people and I know change again is very difficult for some people. And we know that continuing to do the things that we have done does not bring us better results."

While the process may be causing some uncertainty now, Carr said it will result in a better process for the entire education system.

Better communication needed 

The province's teachers' union is expressing its concerns with both the budget process and how it has been explained to teachers and principals.

Heather Smith, the president of the New Brunswick Teachers' Association, said the department has to do a better job of communication with the schools.

"Principals found out this week they were getting 70 per cent. Until this point the expectation and the information they had was that it would be business as usual in terms of budget. That is unfortunate," Smith said.

The department’s order is directly impacting classroom education, according to the union's president.

"It has to directly affect classrooms. We have had schools in for over six weeks now, principals have been told not to spend money so everything is basically on hold now for educational supplies, for science and art materials, for phys-ed equipment, for paper," she said.

Smith said she is worried that teachers will start purchasing classroom supplies out of their pockets because the funds have not been given by the provincial government. She said it’s caused uncertainty among school administrators, who are scrambling to find ways to cut costs.

"It’s the uncertainty. It’s all of a sudden you thought you were getting 100 per cent of what your money was and if your employer all of a sudden came in and said, 'You, by the way, are getting 70 per cent of your planning for the year,'" she said.

"All of a sudden you’re thinking, ‘Gracious, now what are we going to cut, where am I going to cut back.’ And things go back to bare bones."

Liberal MLA Hédard Albert is calling for the remaining 30 per cent of schools' operating budgets to be restored. (CBC)

Parents are also starting to plan for how the cuts are going to impact them.

Grant Gesner said he sees more fundraising in his future to help pay for supplies that would have been paid for by the school in the past.

"Schools shouldn't be one of the areas they cut back and this will put a more of a burden on parents," Gesner said.

"It's hard enough if you have three kids in school like we do. And you have to pay extra for supplies."

Liberal MLA Hédard Albert, the opposition's education critic, said the provincial government must immediately restore full funding to the schools.

"This is absolutely unacceptable," Albert said in a statement.

"When the minister announced his plans to reorganize school districts, he promised that any savings found would be reinvested in the classroom. He recommitted to this in September, saying parents and children would ‘experience a seamless transition to classes’ and that the money saved through the reorganization of school districts would be reinvested in the classroom."