Beyond the Headlines

The politics of education cuts

Posted: Apr 11, 2012 10:29 AM ET Last Updated: Apr 11, 2012 10:29 AM ET
UPDATE WEDNESDAY 2:30PM :

It didn't take long for the Dexter government to respond to the Chignecto-Central school board.
 
The day after accusing the board of "playing games" with its budget cuts, the province has ordered the board to abandon its plan.

The province has appointed an education department bureaucrat to oversee the budget process and "help" the board come up with another way to deal with a cut in funding.

Premier Darrel Dexter insists the province is not taking over the board, but only offering its assistance.

While stopping, at least for now, plans to cut library services in the Chignecto family of schools, the move sends a powerful message to all the other boards in Nova Scotia who are now trying to decide what services to cut to meet their reduced budgets.

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Is it political gamemanship, or the inevitable by-product of the provincial governments cuts to education funding?
 
Whatever it is, the move by the Chignecto-Central School board to cut all of its librarians has certainly caught everyone's attention.
 
The board is axing 41 library jobs as part of its plan to deal with a $6.5 million reduction in funding. It's also slashing 51 full-time equivalent teaching positions, and another 34 support staff.  And it's eliminating its adult high school program.
 
Premier Darrell Dexter is accusing the board of trying to frighten families and embarrass his government. Whatever its motives, the board has put the provincial government in an extremely uncomfortable position.
 
Dexter can hardly stand by and watch a school board decimate its library services. On the other hand, if it pulls out the cheque book, every other school board that is struggling to deal with its budget cuts, will line up at Province House with cap in hand.
 
In the end, the provincial government holds the ultimate hammer. If the Chignecto-Central school board refuses to back down, the province has the power to step in, disband the school board, and impose its own administrator.
 
It's been done before. But does the Dexter government really want to fire a bunch of duly elected local trustees who claim to be doing the best they can under budget restrictions imposed by the province?
 
Not likely.
 
It's going to be really interesting to see how this all plays out.
 
It's a story we'll be watching closely.
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About the Author

Brian DuBreuil is a veteran journalist with CBC News. He has won two Gemini awards for his work, and neither involved dancing or singing on a reality show.

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