Progress on new schools criticized

Student population growth queried

Opposition MLA Cline Glidden Jr. criticized the government’s lack of progress in the building of three new high schools during his contribution to the Budget debate on Monday.

Mr. Glidden said the People’s Progressive Movement government had identified education as a priority during the election campaign and approved $14.9 million for new schools in the 2005/06 budget just after it took office.

In the 2006/07 budget, the PPM approved another $37.6 million for schools, he said.

‘Again, they said it was a priority of the administration.’

This year, the government will be asking for another $35.5 million for schools.

‘If approved, that will mean the Minister [of Education] will have been given more than $85 million in three years for school capital development,’ he said.

Leader of Government Business rose at the point to clarify a point. He said that just because money is allocated in the budget for a particular purpose, doesn’t mean it was all used.

‘There has not been $85 million spent,’ he said.

Accepting that statement, Mr. Glidden wondered why the allocated money had not been spent.

‘I would have thought if [education] was such a priority, the money would have been spent.’

Regardless of how much was spent, the Legislative Assembly had committed more than $50 million to schools over the past two years and there were no schools.

Mr. Glidden asked if government had received good value for money for what was spent so far.

‘[The Education Minister) has spent the last two years and plenty of money on consultants who were going to find out what’s wrong with the education system and fix it,’ he said.

Looking in the future, Mr. Glidden said the schools were now all scheduled for completion in May 2009, the same month the next general election is due.

‘Is that a big coincidence?’ he asked.

Mr. Glidden questioned the need to have all three new high schools – capable of holding 3,000 students – come on line at the same time.

‘Is there going to be a big population growth?’ he asked.

‘Where are the children for these schools coming from? More importantly, where are the teachers coming from? We are hearing about a global shortage of teachers.’

The United Democratic Party, when it was in power, also had a plan for building new schools, Mr. Glidden said.

‘But we were going to build them as the population demanded so there would not have been an unbearable strain on the country,’ he said.

‘How is it good and practical financial management to have all of these schools coming on line at the same time? Why not phase them in?’

Mr. Glidden did not think the money used on schools over the past two years had been well spent.

‘When you dig down and look at what has been received… we did not get $50 million worth of improvements to the educational system,’ he said.