Bigger classes, fewer teachers as budget trims school system
More multi-grade classrooms, even in St. John's
Children in Newfoundland and Labrador will see bigger or combined classrooms next year, thanks to cost-cutting moves announced in the provincial budget on Thursday.
Maximum class sizes across the province will increase for Grades 4-9, and children in 70 primary schools could find themselves in mixed-level classes come September.
The changes, estimated to save more than $14 million, are part of a wide range of cuts and tax hikes introduced in Thursday's budget as the government tries to wrangle with a huge revenue drop.
Education Minister Dale Kirby defended the changes on Thursday, saying multi-grade classrooms are used across Canada, and the increased class sizes will not negatively impact children.
"There's really no clear evidence that caps such as these [have] any detrimental effect at all on educational outcomes," he claimed.
"Will it be additional pressure when it comes to classroom management? Yes."
'Drastic impact', say teachers
Jim Dinn, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers Association, says the classroom changes are going to make it harder for teachers to work effectively.
"This budget is going to have a drastic impact, I think, on teachers' ability to deliver the curriculum," he said from the Confederation Building lobby.
"It's going to make it a lot more challenging."
Starting in September, Grades 4-6 classrooms will hold up to 28 students. Up to 31 will be allowed in Grades 7-9 classrooms.
The province said only children from consecutive years — for example, Grade 4 and 5 — will share a classroom, which would be led by one teacher.
Kirby said some of the new combined classrooms will be inside the St. John's area, but no definitive list has yet been created.
We have to live within our means- Dale Kirby
About 160 teaching positions will be eliminated as part of the changes.
Although that will be partially offset by the introduction of all-day Kindergarten, 61 teaching jobs will gone.
Dinn said that full-day Kindergarten was being brought in at the expense of the rest of the school system.
The Government also trimmed the education budget by reducing school supply budgets, eliminating lunch time bussing, and cutting back on professional development budgets for teachers.
"We have to live within our means," Kirby defended. "There were many other options we could have pursued."
"We didn't re-introduce school fees. We didn't put other sources of pressures like that on parents."
Dinn questioned the wisdom of the cuts, despite the massive revenue challenge the province is facing.
He said the NTLA wanted more investment into resources for inclusive education and children with special needs.
"Have we just simply taken a financial deficit and now turned it into an education deficit?" he asked.