Teachers’ union calls out province, Halifax education centre on staff changes at local schools

By Chris Stoodley

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union is calling out the province's Department of Education and the Halifax Regional Centre for Education about the lack of transparency regarding upcoming staff changes at Halifax-area high schools.

“I want to be clear that cutting 10 to 12-and-a-half per cent of high school teachers in Metro (Halifax) is not normal in any sense of the word,” Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU), said.

In September, dozens of teachers will lose their positions in Halifax-area high schools.

The Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE) said a decline in enrolment and a change in policy surrounding unassigned instructional time will lead to around 60 teaching positions being eliminated from high schools in the area.

However, Wozney told NEWS 95.7's The Rick Howe Show at least 70 teachers have reported receiving a notice informing them that there isn’t a position for them at their high school next year and “good luck” to finding a new position.

“There are some schools where we have reps that have been threatened that if they give the union any information about the cuts that there will be discipline,” he said.

“Those 70 positions lost to high schools are based on about two-thirds of our schools reporting in. So, the number stands to be significantly larger than 70, but that’s what we’ve documented through direct contact with our members.”

Moreover, Wozney said both the HRCE and the Department of Education won’t provide the union with any data or numbers about how many teachers will be affected by the changes, despite “asking for months.”

He said the Department of Education and HRCE’s projections for next year don’t indicate a 10 to 12.5 per cent drop in student populations in Halifax high schools between this year and next.

“That’s not what’s happening and yet that’s the reduction in staffing that we’re seeing,” he said. “So, that’s a falsehood; that’s a lie that they’re perpetuating.”

'Every teacher will have a position'

However, Nova Scotia's Education Minister Derek Mombourquette said every teacher in the province will have a position and that there are are “absolutely no cuts” to the education budget.

“This narrative that there are cuts? There are no cuts,” he told NEWS 95.7's fill-in host Todd Veinotte. “We’re investing $112 million again overall in the budget this year.”

The teachers who are losing their positions will be moved to other roles, such as addressing needs in junior high schools.

Mombourquette also said 70 new teachers will be hired.

“I want to thank all of the teachers across the province who worked tirelessly in a year of great uncertainty when it came to COVID, and what they’ve done is absolutely amazing,” he said. “It’s one of the success stories of Nova Scotia during a pandemic. [It] is the experience that students had and teachers’ ability to adapt.

“I have all the confidence in the world that we will continue to provide, and teachers will continue to provide, that support to students.”

But when asked about Mombourquette saying “every teacher will have a position,” Wozney said that's the minister putting a spin on the issue.

“That’s a fun way for the minister to duck the question of, ‘Will there be less high school teachers in Metro next year,’” he said. “The fact is, there are going to be significantly less staff — teaching staff — in high schools in Metro next year.

“This is the other piece that’s lost on a lot of people: there’s no plan.”

He said there’s no plan for how the teachers — who are switching schools — will be optimally implemented into a new school and system.

“Most of the people impacted by these cuts are teachers on the early end of the seniority scale and they are not going to land in places that are the best possible fit for their qualifications and experience,” Wozney said. “They’re going to end up in positions that they have to take or they lose their job.”

Ryan Lutes, president of the Halifax City Local NSTU, said Mombourquette “puts a particular spin on things” and that he’s speaking in more of a broader sense that doesn’t reflect the impacts high schools and students will face.

“When kids show up to their high school in September, are their schools going to be positively impacted? In my view, they’re absolutely not going to be,” he told NEWS 95.7's The Rick Howe Show. “They’re going to be hugely negatively impacted by the staffing cuts that are very clear and apparent in those local high schools.”

He said every high school in the Halifax area is seeing a loss of somewhere between five and 10 staff members.

“You cannot tell me that that is not a cut,” he said. “That may not be a cut to the global education budget or the Nova Scotia education budget. But in those buildings to those kids and to those teachers, it’s a cut, plain and simple.”

Reduced unassigned instructional time

But it's not just the loss of positions Lutes said will impact high schools and students.

In the upcoming school year, Halifax-area high school teachers will see reduced unassigned instructional time (UIT) to match the amount of time teachers have in other parts of the province.

Across Nova Scotia, high school teachers work with eight blocks of time. In Halifax, teachers spend six of those blocks teaching and one block preparing for classes and marking. The final block was used for UIT for tasks such as hall duty, classroom support or organizing extracurricular activities.

“That time has been taken away,” Lutes said. “It’s not so much that the prep time has been dropped. It’s that they’ve seen a way to kind of save some money and carve that time out and bring all high school teachers to the lowest common denominator.

“I don’t think that’s how we should be operating our system; I think we should be looking at, ‘What are the good things that are happening in Halifax?’”

He said that includes Halifax schools having one of the highest graduation rates in Nova Scotia and high attendance in classes. They’re positive aspects he said he believes come from teachers supporting their students.

In a news release containing an op-ed from Mombourquette, he said HRCE high schools will see fewer enrolments in the upcoming school year.

“The situation is the result of a change that was made back in 2008,” he wrote. “That year, the minimum age for children starting primary dropped by three months. This change led to a one-year blip with larger class sizes.

“With the so-called 'double cohort' graduating, this means more staff will be moving between schools or having their assignment change for the next school year.”

But Lutes said using language such as “double-cohort” is problematic.

He said the graduating class will only be slightly larger than other graduating classes and subsequent years will lose only a few number of enrolments.

At Lutes’ school Halifax West High School, he said the HRCE projects 20 fewer students will be enrolled next year. However, that school will lose somewhere between five and eight staff.

“So, the numbers just aren’t adding up, and for the minister to be putting that spin on it, I think he’s going to what he’s trying to sell,” he said. “The message I’m just trying to get out there is, ‘How are schools going to be different for parents and kids next year?’”

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