02/13/2012 02:48 EST | Updated 04/14/2012 05:12 EDT

Nova Scotia school boards say funding cuts will bite into programs, services

HALIFAX - The latest round of provincial funding cuts for schools will likely affect programs and services, the heads of two Nova Scotia school boards said Monday.

Mary Jess MacDonald, chairwoman of the Strait Regional School Board, said a 2.1 per cent funding cut for her board would result in a loss of teaching jobs.

"It will cut into teachers," said MacDonald. "It's not where we want to go, but it's going to mean lots of jobs."

She said a 2.5 per cent cut last year saw the board lose 14 full-time teaching positions through attrition, shed its three consultants and adjust multiple bus routes, among a host of other measures.

Trudy Thompson, chairwoman of the Chignecto Central Regional School Board, said the 1.7 per cent funding cut it faces comes while boards are being asked to expand some programs under a new education plan.

The $6.7-million plan will concentrate the bulk of its funding in the first three years for 39 initiatives aimed at strengthening classroom instruction in areas such as mathematics and skilled trades training.

"Can we expand on programs and on the other hand start drawing back on programs?" said Thompson. "I don't know."

Last week, Education Minister Ramona Jennex announced that the province's eight school boards will see an overall funding cut of 1.3 per cent in the next fiscal year. The planned $13.4 million cut follows a $17.6 million reduction in funding last year.

Jennex said the cut was necessary because of a continuing decline in enrolment — the student population is expected to drop this year by more than 2,200, or 1.7 per cent.

But she said she was confident the reduction would not affect services for students in the classroom, adding that most job cuts would be done through attrition.

Vic Fleury, president of the Nova Scotia School Boards Association, said the cuts don't take into account other costs school boards face, such as salary increases and inflation.

"The boards are strapped," he said. "They are going to be hard-pressed to absorb this reduction."