PEI

P.E.I. education minister faces barrage of questions over teacher cuts

For the third straight day, P.E.I.'s education minister faced a barrage of questions over cuts to teaching positions in the P.E.I. Legislature Thursday.

For the 3rd straight day, cuts to teaching positions was the main topic of debate in the P.E.I. Legislature

Education Minister Hal Perry responds to questions in the P.E.I. Legislature Thursday. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)

For the third straight day, P.E.I.'s education minister faced a barrage of questions over cuts to teaching positions in the P.E.I. Legislature Thursday.

On several occasions though, it was the minister of finance who responded to questions directed toward Education Minister Hal Perry, particularly as they pertained to the decision by the P.E.I. Teachers' Federation to end contract negotiations with the provincial government.

On Wednesday, the federation said it was walking away from the bargaining table with the province over a new collective agreement, accusing government of bargaining in bad faith because it cut 28 teaching positions while negotiations were underway.

P.E.I. Opposition leader Steven Myers asked why Education Minister Hal Perry and the government weren't up front during negotiations about plans to cut teachers. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)
"It's his double talk that's driven the teachers' federation away from the table," said Opposition leader Steven Myers, referring to Perry. "Why wasn't this minister and his government up front with teachers about the government's plans during negotiations?"

But it was Finance Minister Allen Roach who responded on this and several other occasions. 

"That has yet to be determined whether there's any bargaining in bad faith," he said at one point. "We look forward to continuing the negotiations and certainly hope that everyone comes back to the table."

'Committed to supporting teachers'

When Perry responded, he foundered at times, other times providing much the same rationale for the cuts that government put forward earlier in the week.

"We are committed to supporting our frontline in the school system," he said. "We are committed to supporting teachers. We have 40 teachers retiring this fall. We are taking 12 positions that are non-teaching positions, putting them into the frontline to help our students learn and to achieve."

By government's own reckoning, it cut 106 teaching positions from 2012 to 2015. The further cuts for the coming school year would add up to 134 positions over four years, although the opposition says the number is more than 140, including other cuts this year to school board staff.

Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker in the P.E.I. Legislative Assembly on Thursday. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)
Green Party Leader Peter-Bevan Baker voiced concerns that government's plan to move responsibility for curriculum delivery from school boards over to government would undermine the English Language School Board's long-term plan to bolster student achievement.

"By removing this curriculum delivery team and progress monitoring from the school board, the government has effectively scrapped this board's long-term plan," said Bevan-Baker. "I'm assuming that this decision was done in collaboration with the school board."

After question period had ended, the Official Opposition tabled a motion calling on MLAs to "encourage the government to reverse these cuts and engage in a broader public engagement to identify less disruptive measures to support Island teachers and improve student achievement." 

That motion has not yet come up for a vote. As a motion, even if it were passed, it would not be binding on government.

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