QUÉBEC CITY, Nov. 20, 2012 /CNW Telbec/ - The Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) is deeply concerned about the likely impact of today's provincial budget on English public school classrooms across Quebec. While the budget projects a rise in education system cost expenditures of 1.8 per cent (the rough equivalent of $18 million for Quebec's nine English school boards) QESBA estimates that the final calculation could prove to be very detrimental to the English school system. It calculates that the list of measures in the budget will actually result in some $11.7 million in operational funding cuts to the English public school network.
"We have a single priority as we assess this budget: will it protect the quality services our communities have come to expect from their English public schools across this province," noted QESBA Vice-President Frank Verrillo. (Mr. Verrillo represented QESBA President David D'Aoust, temporarily indisposed by injuries incurred in a fall last week, at today's budget presentation in Québec City.)
"Today, we have no satisfactory answers to that fundamental question. Furthermore, there had been suggestions that this budget might set forth a path for new support for pre-Kindergarten programs as well as stay-in-school initiatives. We see little evidence of either. QESBA understands that public education must do its part in difficult economic times. Still, we can be a force for future development and prosperity, if the government gives our schools the necessary tools. We are not sure they have done so today."
QESBA also voiced its concern regarding a complex and, at first read, inequitable new imposition of $150 million in cuts to equalization payments to 62 of Quebec's 69 school boards across the province. Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau in his budget speech calls on school boards to find this shortfall by paring down their administrative operations, and instructs them to avoid any direct cuts to student services. "We are particularly unhappy to see the new government borrow this tired and discredited argument from the last one," Verrillo noted, with anger. "Our school board administrative costs have been shown to be lower and better controlled than those of any other level of government. We are always looking for efficiencies but there is sorely little left to cut."
The Minister does announce that a future draft law will allow those school boards with school tax rates not yet at the maximum to raise additional revenues to cover this collective $150 million shortfall. "It is not at all clear to us at this point that there is equitable relief here." Verrillo said, "Are we going to see this fiscal burden distributed fairly? Are taxpayers within certain boards going to be asked to cover more than their fair share? And, since when does a government impose on school boards the job of correcting alleged tax inequities? Again, we have way more questions than answers."
Among the key worries expressed by QESBA regarding the system cost allocations are the following:
- Within the modest 1.8 per-cent rise, school boards must find funds for a series of initiatives that are of almost no value to English public schools, namely English-intensive second language instruction at Grade 6 and a modest planned reduction of class sizes at Secondary I and II. The first measure, originally introduced by the Charest government, is for French schools only. The second would only affect schools with larger populations than the vast majority of English high schools.
- The same 1.8-per-cent must also cover and, again, only modest improvements to funding for culture and sports and resources for special needs education. These measures, while laudable, were already announced by the previous government. Also to be covered are planned expenditures for the "École 2.0 : la classe branchée" program.
- An over-all cut of $1.5 billion in infrastructure funding across Quebec will presumably mean cuts to the 15-year plan that had been put at the disposal of school boards across Quebec to affect much-needed maintenance and safety improvements to aging schools. QESBA will be looking for answers on this important budget line - not forthcoming in today's budget.
"Our nine member school boards must count on this government - particularly in tough economic times -- to work in partnership with us to properly prepare our 105,000 students for Quebec's future," Verrillo concluded. "That partnership, the very future of our students' success, is at some risk today. We will be watching with intense interest the coming budget debate, the promised omnibus bill accompanying it as well as the release of the specific budget rules. Only then will our school boards know the full impact of today's budget."
QESBA is the voice of English public education in Quebec.
SOURCE: QUEBEC ENGLISH SCHOOL BOARDS ASSOCIATION
For further information:
Kim Hamilton, Director of Communications
and Special Projects
(514) 849-5900, ext. 225/© (514) 919-3894