Student attendance data under scrutiny at Nunavut’s legislative assembly
“It is no secret that several communities have seen reductions in the number of teacher positions allocated to their schools in recent years”
Nunavut Education Minister David Joanasie has been in the hot seat in the legislature over allegations that his department has under-counted students, resulting in less money being doled out for teachers and school programming.
On Monday, Nov. 5, Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Lightstone brought up the fact that the student-educator ratio in Iqaluit currently exceeds the maximum 13.8:1 required by law. One English class has more than 40 students.
And last Thursday, Nov. 1, Hudson Bay MLA Allan Rumboldt asked Joanasie how his department monitors enrolment data on the Maplewood Student Information System. The Department of Education is supposed to retrieve that information at the same time each year.
Things like school lunch programs and the size of classes depend on its accuracy.
“It is no secret that several communities have seen reductions in the number of teacher positions allocated to their schools in recent years. This often seems to come as a surprise to school administrators as they see that their school populations are increasing in size,” Rumboldt said last Thursday.
He asked Joanasie to clearly explain how his department addresses concerns when school administrators’ records show different numbers than what’s found in the department’s database.
Joanasie replied that data for all Nunavut schools needs to be retrieved all at once. His department aims for Sept. 30 as a deadline, Joanasie said, but delays are sometimes caused by principals taking longer to put in their information.
When the Iqaluit District Education Authority noticed a discrepancy of 44 students last year, his department scheduled structured dialogues and an internal audit, Joanasie said.
When Nunatsiaq News first asked Joanasie, he said he did not know about an audit.
He later told the legislative assembly that the audit determined there was only one kindergarten student miscounted.
However, according to the internal audit documents, it was more complex than that.
The Iqaluit DEA had found Inuksuk High School had 18 students left out, Aqsarniit Middle School had 16 and Nakasuk had nine.
In the conclusion of the audit report, the Department of Education writes that some of the miscounted students had withdrawn after Sept. 30 but before Nov. 15, so the department stood by not counting them.
This is not supposed to happen, Iqaluit DEA chair Doug Workman says.
Of the 16 students at Aqsarniit who were not counted, the Department of Education admitted in the audit report that it was only able to identify 12 students who withdrew later. Four others went unexplained.
For three of the schools, the audit report said that the department had requested principals provide documents “to support the department in investigating further” any uncounted students they could not explain.
The audit then concludes that because the principals did not respond, the Department of Education stands by its numbers.
However, Workman calls this “a complete and total lie.”
“There was never a follow-up request for these documents, for any of the schools,” Workman said.
In fact, he said the principals had brought those documents to the meetings last spring but the Department of Education had said it didn’t need them.
He also said that the DEA did not receive the audit report, so it had to resort to an access-to-information request to obtain it.
Workman said that the Department of Education had at one point admitted to taking the data at the wrong time.
“They told me they were wrong and that our numbers were right back then….They just promised it would not happen again,” Workman said.
Workman said he’s lost all trust in the department and regrets believing the audit “would be done in good faith.”
Workman said he’s spoken with Iqaluit school principals who feel the same as he does about the matter, but who aren’t able to speak publicly. He said a lack of transparency is part of the department’s problem.
“Pinocchio’s nose is getting very long. The hole is getting deeper so they can’t get out,” Workman said.
The Department of Education has maintained, in a letter to the editor, that student attendance data can be retrieved any time between 30 to 60 days after Sept. 30. But a Department of Education email from the DEA’s access-to-information request states that this snapshot is done yearly within 10 days of Sept. 30.
Last year, it was done more than a month late.
Workman also said he knows all the city’s principals had their data in before Oct.18—a month before the data was retrieved.
“It is not true that they did their calculations dated as of Sept. 30,” Workman said.
“I don’t believe anything the minister and the Department of Education say at this point… They think that if they say it enough times you have to believe it.”