Anglophone South passes budget, chair vows to 'maintain the pressure'

The Anglophone South District Education Council has "begrudgingly" passed its budget after rejecting it twice in protest.

The vote came after Minister of Education Dominic Cardy sent a letter saying he will accept the proposed budget no matter what the DEC votes, and that he has the power to ask for the council to be dissolved if he believes members are failing to follow the Education Act.

The 5-4 vote came after members took 30 minutes to outline the reason for each of their votes. Some voiced concern over "systemic" underfunding of educational assistants, and what it will mean for inclusive education in their districts.

"There is no educational assistant in the district who is unneeded or under-utilized, and yet we continue to hear about children being underserved or families being forced to move elsewhere," said DEC member Justin Tinker.

A revised budget shows a $2.8-million shortfall in funding for educational assistants. Students in the district need 800 EAs but there's only enough funding for a little more than 600. Because the DEC is legally required to have a balanced budget, they've taken funding used for maintaining school infrastructure and paying for teacher sick days to cover the shortfall.

Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC

DEC member Kristen Murphy, also said she "begrudgingly" voted in this budget to end the stalemate.

"I don't see any good coming out a public battle between the minister and this council," she said.   DEC member Heather Gillis said she voted no because she's been with the DEC for three years and has seen the underfunding problem get worse.

"I have three years now of experience to see that nothing's changed. And I felt that this was a good way to say, hey, something's got to change," she said.

She said she was offended by the minister's "tone" in his letter to the DEC.

"We asked for meetings and he wasn't willing to give us one. And now we'll see if he will because it passed tonight," she said.

EAs and inclusive education

Tinker said EA funding is directly linked to making sure classrooms remain inclusive.

He said if Cardy doesn't increase EA funding, "you place our district and our superintendent in serious danger of operating in violation of Policy 322.

"At this point, we are uncomfortably close to being forced to choose between satisfying the mandate of inclusive education and providing the safe buildings and needed supports in which to share that inclusive education."

But he said he voted yes to hopefully begin repairing the relationship and doing something about the underfunding.

"We need to get to the heart of these systemic shortages and if the only way that the minister was willing to sit down with us was after being forced to pass a budget with a gun to our head, then that's our olive branch to the minister," he said.

DEC chair Rob Fowler said this is not the end of the matter, and the council will "maintain the pressure."

Anglophone East DEC has also twice rejected its budget, but finally passed it in October because chair Harry Doyle said members wanted to meet with Cardy. They have a meeting scheduled for late November.