QESBA reacts to budget: Provincial budget disappointing

QUEBEC CITY, March 30 /CNW Telbec/ - The Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) reacted with concern and disappointment to the provincial budget deposited today by Minister of Finance Raymond Bachand. Education system costs will be increased by 2.2 per cent; meanwhile overall government expenditures will increase by 2.5 per cent

"This government, as recently as last month, identified education as Quebec's top priority," noted Carolyn Curiale, QESBA Vice-President. "Today's numbers hardly match that commitment."

QESBA expressed its serious concern over an apparently sudden decision to require school boards to replace only half the number of school principals and school board administrative personnel who retire or leave in a given year. The government wants to reduce 10 per cent of administrative costs by 2014. "Our school boards continue to control administrative costs in a manner that is more efficient than any other government or institutional sector," noted Curiale. "We understand our part in addressing today's difficult economic realities, but how can we do our job in helping students succeed if we can't hire and retain the senior staff we need to do the job? We were given some indication that this measure might not include school personnel. QESBA will be seeking clarifications from the Minister on this key matter."

QESBA also reacted with disappointment to the suggestion in the budget speech that another major summit on public education will be held in the Fall. Over the past three years, the English public school system has been an active and willing participant in detailed discussions with the Education Minister on improving governance of school boards, involving our communities in delivering quality services to our children and reporting clearly on education expenditures. "Those discussions have brought us major change, with Bill 88. We'd prefer the government's concrete support in working towards student success," said Curiale, "rather than expending more time and energy on another round of unfocused dialogue on our place in Quebec's future. We have a job to do, and we answer to the public on how well we do it. More dialogue on the future of school boards is hardly going to serve our essential objective." The Finance Minister, in his budget speech, further announced a review of governance and performance of the education sector. QESBA, again, would have hoped to focus on positive action than more introspection.

QESBA is encouraged to learn that the government will continue to support its major infrastructure plan. The budget confirms continued investment in the plan, essential to the maintenance and upgrade of schools and adult centres, through to 2014. In the current and difficult economic circumstances, the Association acknowledged this positive development. The Minister of Finance announced a modest investment of $75 million in technical and vocational programs and infrastructure. This could be of some benefit to our boards in the regions. The Association will be looking for further details.

The projected increases in sales tax (two percentage points by 2012) announced in the budget will also impose new financial burdens on school boards. Will the government finance those costs? No answer was forthcoming today.

Finally, the budget bars any new program spending, in education as in every other sector, between now and 2014, unless corresponding cuts are made elsewhere. "That is a real concern for public education," Curiale noted. "We are now developing new partnership agreements with the Minister, and we are forging new responses to current challenges in education. Will this budget matter allow us to pursue those new strategies?"

SOURCE Quebec English School Boards Association

For further information: For further information: Kim Hamilton, Director of Communications and Special Projects, (514) 919-3894, Cellular

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