Education Minister Alan McIsaac
Fewer students equals fewer teachers, resulting in fewer programs, lower tests
Small P.E.I. schools are caught in a vicious circle of declining enrolments and fewer teachers. The latest example is a program to help children improve their reading skills won’t be offered in Grade 1 in nine schools this coming year. The news first broke in the legislature last week after a letter containing the decision was sent home to parents notifying them the Reading Recovery program was being dropped in Cardigan Consolidated School for 2014-2015. Further questioning indicated eight more smaller schools are in the same predicament.
The decision on Cardigan was made by the English Language School Board, which cited the loss of 2.5 teachers because of declining student numbers. There is supposed to be a minimum class size to offer the program, so smaller schools with declining enrolments are in a no-win situation. The letter also warned parents that Cardigan faces combining some classes as well next year.
With some 35 fewer teachers employed this fall across the board, program cuts are virtually inevitable. But Reading Recovery is an early intervention program proven effective in helping students with literacy issues. Test results are a hot button item these days with P.E.I.’s recent poor international scores in reading, science and math still very much concerning parents, board and department.
After being blamed for personally pulling the plug on the program by the Opposition, Education Minister Alan McIsaac said he hadn’t been informed Reading Recovery was being cut. Peter Rukavina, president of the P.E.I. Home and School Federation, also hadn’t heard about those cuts.
Why didn’t the board inform both individuals, at least as a matter of courtesy? It might have been a board decision but the minister is accountable. It was an obvious issue for question period and the minister seemed caught unawares. But Mr. McIsaac can’t just pass off any controversial decisions on the board since his department sets budgets under which the board operates.
As the squeeze tightens on smaller schools, one has to wonder if these cuts are just the start of a strategy to convince parents to accept more imminent closures to get student numbers to a point sufficient for such programs as Reading Recovery to be available and with enough teachers to deliver them. There is already pressure on smaller schools to consolidate, such as Cardigan with Georgetown, and Morell with Mount Stewart.
The writing seems to be on the wall.
Council makes right decision
It was a combination of public pressure and common sense but in the end the right decision was made by Charlottetown City Council to allow two fast food trailers to operate this summer. Less than five days after the issue hit the headlines during council’s monthly meeting, a special meeting last Friday saw an unanimous vote to rescind the decision. Temporary permits have now been issued to both the Chip Shack on Prince and Water streets and the Big Orange Lunchbox on University Avenue. A truce has been called, at least until this time next year.
Mayor Clifford Lee explains that confusion reigned because there are three different sets of rules being applied to these vending shacks. He agreed that council received a lot of feedback, but rejected claims it caved in, preferring to suggest that councillors heard what people had to say. It is refreshing that a level of government can change its mind after listening to the public.
Council also passed a resolution Friday to review and develop policies for food trailers and vendors on private property. Regulations will likely be much tougher for small vendors come next summer.