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Charles criticises ‘lame’ schools plan

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Teachers union leader Mike Charles has condemned the Minister of Education's “lame” plan to address serious failings in the public school system.

“Once again, we have a minister planning to have a plan,” said Mr Charles yesterday of Wayne Scott's review of the school reorganisation report.

“After taking the country through all this anxiety, to come up with something as lame as that is really disappointing — it demonstrates that the minister and Government either don't have a clue or don't really care.”

Mr Charles further argued that the possibility of closures, which he said the Bermuda Union of Teachers did not object to, had simply been deferred without specifics.

On Wednesday, Mr Scott had ruled out school closures and mergers as he shared his consideration of the Score report, which had exposed widespread failings, including serious infrastructure problems, in primary schools.

Expanding in the House of Assembly yesterday, Mr Scott pledged that a “clear visionary direction for public school education” was being drawn up for implementation in the 2017/18 school year.

The minister said that school closures, long a subject of worry for parents, would not be considered until “an education strategy is developed that will form a blueprint for the direction of the Bermuda public school system”.

He conceded the Bermuda Government had a long and unproductive history of devising plans for the school system, and told MPs there had been “a plethora of reports”.

Responding to an observation from Walton Brown of the Progressive Labour Party that “we seem to be re-examining and re-examining”, Mr Scott said: “I have a report from 1989 — I could cross out the date and put 2016 on and it would be accurate.”

Noting that the independent Hopkins Report of 2007 had found “too much overhead”, Mr Scott said he was committed to cutting the bureaucracy in the Department of Education.

While the Score report released in February highlighted a lack of data in assessing the financial viability of schools that might be closed, Mr Scott told the House: “I do not believe we should be making changes to schools just because of financial implications.

“The financial review that the Score committee wanted to do on a school by school basis — that's not something I support.

“That granular type of information will not be used in any decision that I make.”

Mr Charles, the secretary-general of the BUT, lamented that the minister's statements on school reorganisation amounted to “non-statements”.

The only item to get high marks was the suggestion that a school could be repurposed as an alternative learning centre, with the Ministry of Education in-house.

Mr Charles said he supported moving the ministry from its East End location to somewhere more central, but said such a move would require a relatively large premises.

Calling schools “dilapidated”, tainted with mould and in need of better supplies, particularly in technology, Mr Charles criticised the Government for moving swiftly to upgrade the Cabinet building while schools had to wait.

MPs heard yesterday that maintenance plans in tandem with the Ministry of Public Works aimed to complete “as much work as possible during the summer break”.

“The Government tells us we have a third-world airport but the majority of our schools are older than the present airport,” Mr Charles said.

He said that teachers were having to dip into their own pockets for basic supplies, adding that he was aware of one teacher who had resorted to paying for wi-fi in a school.

“I wrote to the premier, quoting from the OBA manifesto and what we see as the reality for schools, asking him to give us even half the care that goes to the America's Cup,” Mr Charles said.

“I said the America's Cup is an event; it's not the future. His reply was totally about the America's Cup, and he went on to tell me that it is about our future. I think it just proved my point.”

Teachers, he added, had grown “numb to it”.

“There are people that will tell you they're starting to lose their voices by the time they go home, that their noses are burning,” he said.

“There are rooms in schools that are just shut down because nobody can go in there.”

Asked in the House about meetings and consultation with the BUT, Mr Scott said Mr Charles had been present at every public meeting.

“Mr Charles knows my cell phone number. I have him on my WhatsApp. I have an open-door policy and I'm available to meet and discuss at any time.”

For Wayne Scott's full ministerial statement, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”

Not impressed: Mike Charles, of the Bermuda Union of Teachers (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
On the back foot: Wayne Scott, the Minister of Education (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published June 18, 2016 at 10:53 am (Updated June 18, 2016 at 11:09 pm)

Charles criticises ‘lame’ schools plan

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