Education cuts raise human resources concerns from OBA
The vast majority of the $9 million budget reduction for the Ministry of Education was achieved through the defunding of posts and government austerity measures, the House of Assembly was told yesterday.
The overall budget for the Ministry of Education was $128.1 million, Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education said.
A total of $105.6 million was allocated for the Department of Education, $8.2 million less than last year’s allocation.
Mr Rabain said 67 vacant but funded posts were defunded, saving $5 million. He said critical posts would continue to be filled.
Susan Jackson, who speaks on education on behalf of the One Bermuda Alliance, asked for assurances that there would be enough resources to support students through the transitions set to take place as part of government’s education reform plans.
She said: “This might be the time we need the most support especially for most vulnerable children as we prepare the for transition.”
Mr Rabain said: “The timelines we are looking at [for education reform] are four to five years down the road … We are confident that we have enough to work with now as we look towards the opening of the signature schools at CedarBridge Academy and The Berkeley Institute.
“That’s not to say we may not need more in the future.”
Ms Jackson asked whether the centralisation of human resource services, which saw a decrease in funding of $608,000 to $491,000 across government, would dilute its “education-centric” services.
“It is easy for HR to become generic,” she said.
Mr Rabain said: “Ministries as large as us will have dedicated HR professionals to work on what we need to ensure we have the right personnel in place.”
He said that Kalmar Richards, the Commissioner of Education, is holding meetings to discuss the unique HR needs of the Department of Education.
Ms Jackson asked whether there would be non-teaching deputy principals to assist principals with their leadership duties - a long-running issue raised by the Bermuda Union of Teachers.
Mr Rabain said: “There is a formula to determine if a school qualifies for having a non-teaching deputy in place. Deputy principals are BUT members – they are teachers and do typically teach within the schools. Principals are BPSU [Bermuda Public Service Union] members and are in a different category.”
He added: “As we consider education reform we will have a fair and transparent process to determine the various roles within our schools. Think of schools in a different light than what we traditionally think of. Imagine a classroom where there may be two teachers within the room and there are different types of lessons going on simultaneously. There will be different roles within the system … but we are still in the process of making decisions.”
Ms Jackson referred to $2.4 million allocated for IT support. She asked whether school computer labs were still necessary given that students and teachers were being allocated their own personal devices for learning. She asked the cost of maintaining the labs which have been sitting unused including during shelter in place and whether there were any plans to phase them out.
Mr Rabain said: “I don’t think we will see their demise any time soon, in fact we are waiting for the Department of Health to provide us with protocols to allow us to use them. We should be able to have our coding camps which use the computer labs taking place in our schools again soon. There is some use in them yet.”
Asked why annual school health and safety inspections have been discontinued, Mr Rabain said: “We now do them weekly and monthly to ensure that we are compliant, especially with Covid-19 lingering about. When the Progressive Labour Party became the government they pledged to have a comprehensive health and safety report done on every single school.”
UPDATE: this article has been amended to clarify that $105.6 million was allocated for the Department of Education, not the ministry