HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's eight school boards will see an overall funding cut of 1.3 per cent in the 2012-13 fiscal year because of a continuing decline in enrolment, Education Minister Ramona Jennex said Friday.
The $13.4 million cut follows a $17.6 million reduction in funding last year and officials with the Education Department said the latest decrease could result in larger class sizes and will mean fewer teaching positions.
Jennex said the cuts were unavoidable because enrolment is expected to drop this year by more than 2,200 students or 1.7 per cent.
"There's no need to have a teacher where there is no class and that's the unfortunate reality and challenge we have here in Nova Scotia," Jennex said.
She said most job cuts would be done through attrition. The Education Department said no permanent teachers were laid off as a result of last year's cut, although 350 teaching positions were lost across the province, mainly through attrition.
Alexis Allen, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, said the cut announced Friday means another 300 to 350 positions are in jeopardy.
Increasing the cap on class sizes for children in Primary to Grade 3 to 29 students from 27 will translate into lost teachers, said Allen, adding that last year's cap increase to 27 from 25 resulted in the loss of 40 teaching positions at elementary schools in Halifax alone.
"It's hard to say how many teachers will retire but that doesn't really matter," Allen said. "The fact is we are losing teaching positions in the province."
The department said while the funding reductions would vary for different boards, no board would face a cut that exceeds 2.1 per cent.
The cuts range from a low of 0.9 per cent for the Annapolis and Halifax school boards to a high of 2.1 per cent for the South Shore, the Strait and Cape Breton boards. The lone exception is the province's French language board, which will see a 1.6 per cent funding increase because of a rise in enrolment.
Boards will once again shoulder responsibility for inflationary and salary costs.
Liberal critic Andrew Younger said that means more pain than the province is willing to admit. He said the 1.7 per cent drop in enrolment would not reduce the costs for such things as buses and heating oil.
"The (system) costs stay the same and in fact they increase," said Younger.
Meanwhile, Jennex said the province will increase the funding allocation for special education by $12.2 million and boards will ensure that students are matched with the appropriate support staff.
John McCracken of the Canadian Union of Public Employees said last year's funding cut resulted in the loss of 45 positions at the Cape Breton Victoria School Board, the bulk of which were special education assistants.
He said the new funding numbers were a further cause for concern.
"We take the minister at her word that she's going to protect special needs, but do the math," said McCracken.