Lately I’ve been thinking an awful lot about numbers.
You see, the current trend in the battle for education dollars is to bandy numbers about in all manner of ways and sizes. Student teacher ratios, spending on education versus GDP, demographics. And as I got to thinking, I decided to have a look for myself at the province’s numbers to see exactly what sort of shape we are in.
According to novascotia.ca/finance, the government of this province consistently reported or predicted surpluses from 2002 to 2009 in excess of 500 million dollars. Not too shabby. Then in 2009, when the NDP took over, that number suddenly plummeted to a predicted deficit of 600 million. In one year. Yikes. This was their reason for cutting budgets, you see. This was their rally cry for fiscal responsibility.
Now, MLA spending scandals aside, a few things have caused me pause over the past few months around this government’s notion of “fiscal responsibility”. Paving machines, NSP, the Irvings, Muskrat Falls. The government seems to have money for those things. And yet, deficits were predicted. $222 million or so in 2010-2011. $261 million for 2012. Things needed to change. Education was a problem. The system had become bloated. “Fiscal Responsibility”.
But, here’s the thing, you see. My wife is a librarian technician in a school in Spryfield. She works in education. And as often as not lately, our conversations turn to how she is going to do her job next year when her position has been cut from 100% to 40%, another victim of “fiscal responsibility”. How is she going to service the needs of 300 kids when she will now only be working two days a week? And what about the number 300? The number of kids who rely on her to help with volunteer programs, to help them with their projects, to get excited over books with them, what about those kids? And what about the school itself? A school where the library has become a hub of activity, where kids are read to and get excited about reading? A school that has raised $1500.00 for books from the annual book fair that my wife organized? A school which narrowly missed being awarded $150,000.00 for library upgrades based on a grant that she wrote? (The school will be receiving books from the grant next year, but, at two days a week, my wife will not have time to put them on the shelves.) All this gone because of Minister Jennex’s cuts that are not supposed to impact kids or families. All in the name of “Fiscal Responsibility”.
In his budget address of 2011, Graham Steele said “When I delivered last year’s budget, I forecast a deficit for 2010–11 of $222.1 million… we are now forecasting a surplus of $447.2 million for 2010–11.” , and as I sit here with my own numbers, trying to figure out how to pay my bills with a 60% reduction in my own little economy, I hope that magically I will find I have a surplus of a few hundred million rather than a deficit.
We will be ok for the time being, we are not going to lose our house, at least not right away. But these cuts to education have impacted at least one Nova Scotia family. And approximately 300 kids from Spryfield. Perhaps, now that Mr Steele is leaving his position, he and education minister Ramona Jennex can come do my budget. We’ll start with paying my $600.00 power bill.