The Halifax Regional School Board is cutting 152 classroom teachers to handle its 0.9 per cent budget reduction for 2012-13.

The board held a special meeting Wednesday evening to approve the changes. It will have $3.2 million less in funding from the province when the next school year starts.

The board said it must also cover all inflationary cost pressures such as utilities, fuel and salaries for a net reduction of $10.2 million.

Chairman Irvine Carvery said just 25 of the teaching positions reflect declining enrolment for the 2012-13 school year. The Dexter government has cited declining enrolment as the motivation for the cut in funding to the province's school boards.

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HRSB chairman Irvine Carvery said the board had to make cuts. ((CBC))

"If declining student population determined the amount of cuts boards should have received, then our board should have only received a cut that relates to 25 teaching positions," Carvery said. "But, in fact, these cuts are resulting in 152 classroom teachers being affected."

In total, the board will cut:

  • 152 classroom teachers positions
  • 21 school-based support positions (resource, coaches and junior high support teachers).  
  • 11 central office positions  
  • 8.5 custodial positions  
  • Six library support specialist positions 

"These decisions were very challenging for the board because we know the impact will be felt by students and their parents," Carvery said.

"Board members and staff tried to minimize the direct impact on schools, but it is unavoidable when you take almost $20 million out of system over two years. I believe we have taken a balanced approach and while you may see a reduction in a number of areas, we were able to avoid the elimination of entire programs and services."

Bigger classes, fewer course options

Carvery said the cuts will save $7.6 million for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

"It's going to result in probably larger class sizes, you're going to see more combined classrooms, and you're probably going to see fewer course offerings at the high school level," he said.

Most of the cuts will be absorbed by not replacing teachers who are already planning to retire.

That means no teachers will be laid off.

The board still has to cut areas like professional development to balance the budget.

It also approved the school-based staffing portion of the supplementary funding budget. Supplementary funding is provided to the HRSB by the Halifax Regional Municipality through a supplemental education tax rate.

For 2012-13, the amount the HRSB will receive in supplementary funding is estimated to be $17.6 million. This is a reduction of approximately $450,000 from the previous year and was agreed upon by both parties as part of a four-year funding agreement.

"The board is appreciative of the partnership we have with HRM to provide enhanced programs and services to the students in our region," said Carvery. "Such enhancements include fine arts programs like all-city music and additional staffing to lower class sizes and further address student needs."

To handle that reduction, HRSB will cut:

  • Six NSTU specialist support positions
  • 2.5 classroom teachers
  • Two library support specialists 
  • 1.7 teacher specialists due to declining enrollment

Carvery said staff would do the best they could to keep standards high.

"The quality of the teaching will not change. We have a very dedicated staff who will do their utmost to ensure that the quality of education provided will still be in place," he said.

The majority of the staff reductions will take effect at the end of the current school year on July 31.

The board will meet again May 31 to officially vote on the budget. Carvery said he does not see anyway to avoid accepting the cuts.

 "I really don't see any rays of hope out there," he said.

Education minister defends cuts

The province's education minister, Ramona Jennex, said the cuts are a matter of the system rebalancing itself. She said it was a recognition that the ratio of teachers to students was lopsided.

Jennex said schools in the city have seen a 4.2 per cent decline in enrolment over the last three years, adding that all of the cuts are being done through attrition.

She said she believes school boards have done a good job of ensuring that cuts are not affecting the quality of classroom instruction.

But Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil disagreed, saying the school board has said that only 25 of the eliminated positions were as a result of declining enrolment for the upcoming school year.

 Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said class sizes will ultimately go up as a result of the cuts. 

with files from the Canadian Press