McNeil attacks school boards in Nova Scotia election campaign
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil arrives for an infrastructure announcement as he campaigns in Halifax on Monday, May 1, 2017. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)
Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, May 14, 2017 3:53PM ADT
Last Updated Sunday, May 14, 2017 6:51PM ADT
HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said he'll put the province's school boards under the microscope if re-elected because trustees' decision to vote themselves pay increases while cutting while cutting classroom resources has put them out of step with Nova Scotians' priorities.
McNeil told The Canadian Press Sunday that a proposed 24 per cent stipend increase approved by all but one board sends the wrong signal.
"We ask our school board partners to act like every other public servant. You need to make sure that your salary increases are in line with what the province can afford," McNeil said Sunday. "It is sending a very wrong signal to parents, teachers that school boards would vote themselves a 24 per cent pay raise and then try to justify taking funding out of classrooms that we specifically have increased so that it would be there."
McNeil said if his government is re-elected on May 30 he'll launch a review of school board administration to look for savings.
The Liberals say they'll freeze school closures while reviewing whether board decisions are in line with the province's commitments to classroom conditions.
McNeil says he wants to make sure schools have the space to put a tighter rein on class sizes in junior and senior high schools, provide universal pre-primary care and add 100 new teachers.
"The decision will still be made at the local level, but I think any reasonable person would expect that they should have all the information before they make the decision," said McNeil. "This is not a top-down approach. This is making sure that they (school boards) know that the broader public policy has changed."
The new policies come at the recommendation of a council looking at classroom conditions, which was established after the province imposed a contract on its 9,300 unionized teachers in February following a messy contract dispute.
McNeil said some teachers still have hard feelings about how the negotiations played out, but the Liberals have tried to strike a "balance" by giving them more input into classroom changes.
Schools that are slated to be closed would still proceed, said McNeil, and the review would wrap up by the end of the 2017 to take effect the next school year.
Tory leader Jamie Baillie accused McNeil of playing politics with education while several of the province's schools were shuttered on his watch.
"His government has caused chaos in our classrooms," Baillie said in an interview Sunday. "Teachers don't trust him. Parents wonder why he's suddenly taking an interest in school boards when he had three years to take action."
The Progressive Conservative Party has long endorsed a review of the province's school boards, Baillie said, calling them "overly bureaucratic."
Baillie said rural schools have suffered under a Liberal government, and if elected, he would work to ensure taxpayer dollars are used to benefit students.
The Nova Scotia School Board could not be reached for comment.