Education Minister Jody Carr is facing new questions about how he is spending his department’s $1-billion budget after confirming he has hired more educational assistants than he had budgeted for this year.
Last week, the province’s education minister said he was holding back 25 per cent to 30 per cent of the operating budgets for schools due to what he calls "budget pressures."
But Carr confirmed on Tuesday on his Twitter account that he has gone over budget to hire 200 new educational assistants.
"NB Schools have hired 200 more educational assistants this year than budgeted. Helps support diverse classrooms and students with ed needs," Carr said on his Twitter account.
Heather Smith, the president of the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association, said she was not aware that the education minister was exceeding his budget to hire more educational assistants.
"We don't know where this money is coming from, and it's not new money — we see that from the budget last spring," Smith said.
"So where's it coming from? And we see some of it's coming from school budgets, which local schools operate on."
Education Minister Jody Carr confirmed the 200 educational assistants on Twitter. (CBC)
Smith said she wonders if the education department’s decision to overspend in hiring educational assistants is the reason why Carr is holding back some funding from the province's schools.
When asked on social media by a reporter to explain his decision to spend the additional money on educational assistants, Carr said on Twitter: "I am not surprised you'd find fault. When a mother needs support for their child w autism, do you say no?"
The teachers’ association president was also critical of how the education department handled the communication of the operating budget freeze.
She said principals found out they would only be getting 70 per cent or 75 per cent of their operating budgets after six weeks of school.
She said until that point principals thought it was "business as usual."
Smith said the education minister’s comments about hiring 200 educational assistants above what had been budgeted for came as another surprise.
"So it's a reshuffling of money. And it's the non-communication about how this money is being reshuffled, and the lack of detail. The lack of knowledge," she said.
Carr didn't respond to a request from CBC News for an explanation on how he can withhold funding from schools due to budget pressures while going over budget to hire people to support his inclusion initiative.
Educational assistants help students with disabilities.
'It's very encouraging'
Haley Flaro, the executive director for Ability New Brunswick, said the education minister’s emphasis on inclusive education and on where to spend the department’s money is already having an effect in the classroom where educational assistants are more available.
"We have seen more flexibility, to find the right support, the right hours for those students," she said.
At the time, he said roughly $12.5 million would be spent to create about 140 to 150 new teaching positions for "resource and methods, guidance counselling, behaviour interventionists and other teaching supports." Those 140 to 150 new positions would still be under the New Brunswick Teachers Association. They are not included in the 200 positions that Carr referenced on Tuesday.
As well, $1.2 million would be spent to increase the hours for education assistants and $750,000 to create a new director of educational support services in each of the province’s seven school districts.