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New Education Authority to run at arm’s length from Government – minister

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A new education authority for Bermuda will be arms length from the Government. Above, schoolchildren sing along with Voces8 at City Hall in 2020

The proposed Education Authority will not adopt the Bermuda Tourism Authority model, the Minister of Education said yesterday.

Diallo Rabain said the Government was committed to an arms-length authority to take charge of performance and accountability in the education system – but that it would follow a different path from the BTA, a quango partly funded with public cash.

Speaking during a Budget debate on his ministry, Mr Rabain said: “When you are thinking of the EA, forget everything you know about BTA – that is comparing apples and oranges.

“It is not a repeat of the BTA – this is why it is taking us much longer than people would like.

“This is an EA that will operate at arm’s length from government, but will have to be funded by the Government based on how much needs to be spent on education moving forward.”

Susan Jackson, the One Bermuda Alliance education spokeswoman (File photograph)

But Susan Jackson, the Opposition spokeswoman on education, questioned the cost of the new authority.

She said: “I would imagine it would be a substantial amount.”

Ms Jackson also asked if members of the authority would be recruited from inside the education system or outside.

Mr Rabain said: “Nothing is off the table.”

The House of Assembly heard that the Ministry of Education budget in the new financial year would be $135.2m, an increase of $7.2m on last year's budget.

A total of $4.4 million of the sum was attributed to the end of the 10 per cent austerity measures agreed by unions.

The remaining $2.8m was allocated to fund the shake-up of the education system, which will see the end of middle schools, as well as some operational costs.

Mr Rabain said that work was under way on a “conceptual road map” for the renovation of primary schools and that a project management office would soon be set up.

He added: “We issued a request for proposal last August for a project management firm to help us set that up.

“Within the next couple of weeks that will be finalised and we will have people out there inspecting our school buildings to give us an update on what is currently there, what can be done with them, whether we are taking about renovations or rebuilds and that report.”

The budget allocation for substitute teachers was increased by $1.69 million to $2.77 million.

Ms Jackson asked: “Does this increase give some comfort to the concerns that teachers had in being able to have a healthy number of substitutes to call upon?”

Mr Rabain said about $1.3m of the cash would be used for salary increases and the remaining $393,000 would be used for additional substitutes.

He added that another full-time psychologist would be hired to help catch up on a backlog.

The Bermuda College grant will be cut by $728,000 to $14.6m.

Mr Rabain said the college had decided to put off new hires and not fund vacant positions.

He added the college would “look at reclassifying positions to better suit the needs of the institution”.

Mr Rabain said CedarBridge Academy would get a $34,000 grant reduction.

Ms Jackson asked when Covid-19 restrictions in schools would be eased.

She said: “It is important for our children to get back to a normal way of life.”

Mr Rabain said that the ministry would announce changes to Covid-19 regulations for schools “in the very short-term future”.

But he added: “A lot of these freedoms will be tied to the schools’ adherence to the Covid-19 screening programme.

Once you start doing things differently such as not wearing masks, it is a foregone conclusion that there will be people who become positive with Covid.

“If you are positive with Covid, you must quarantine. If there are too many teachers quarantining, the school cannot operate.

“The basis of doing everything we do is finding a balance between the health and safety of the schools and having children in the school learning.”

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Published March 23, 2022 at 7:31 am (Updated March 23, 2022 at 7:31 am)

New Education Authority to run at arm’s length from Government – minister

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