Halifax schools face major budget cuts

By Courtney Zwicker

The Halifax Regional School Board is faced with the struggle of shrinking its spending for the second year in a row.

Chairman of the school board, Irvine Carvery, was not surprised to hear about the cut as last year the provincial Minister of Education indicated that there would most likely be cuts three years in a row.

Irvine Carvery at Joseph Howe School (photo Courtney Zwicker)

Even though the cut was anticipated, it will not be easily dealt with.

“I have a very grave concern about the challenge we have when it comes to our budget issue,” he said.

Ramona Jennex, the Minister of Education, announced the budget cut in a press conference  Friday. Jennex said the cuts throughout the province amount to $13.4 million from an overall budget estimate of just over $1 billion, about 1.3 per cent.

“It is my very firm belief it will all balance out,” Jennex said.

The direct budget cuts from this school year that the Halifax Regional School Board faces is just over $3 million. Expenses such as heating, electricity and the increase of teachers’ salary amount roughly to $5 million.

Carvery says that 85 per cent of the school board’s budget is made up of “fixed costs”, meaning this money is spent on things that are non-negotiable and cannot be cut. That leaves only 15 per cent of the school board’s budget, which Carvery says will be difficult to stretch to cover costs with the budget cut and the increasing expenses.

One of the primary reasons for the budget cut was decreased student enrolment across the province. The important thing to remember, Carvery says, is the money distributed to school boards is directly related to the student population in that region.

Related audio
Schoolboard 55
Irvine Carvery talks about budget cuts within his school board and what they can do to save money.

However, the school board chair is sceptical about the efficiency of this principle.

“It doesn’t matter if we have one child on a bus or 50 children on a bus. We still need a bus. A declined enrolment doesn’t necessarily mean a decline in our costs.”

Carvery says that last year the HRSB made “aggressive assumptions” of their costs to avoid having to lay off eight teachers. The board’s spending did not meet their assumptions, and now Carvery fears that it would be a mistake to make those estimates again.

No matter how the numbers of the board’s spending match up to the numbers of the budget, Carvery’s main objective is to keep the same standard of education.

“We will do everything possible to make sure we don’t have to touch the classroom.”