QUÉBEC CITY, Feb. 20, 2014 /CNW Telbec/ - The Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) reacted with a mixture of skepticism and modest hope to a pre-election budget deposited by the government in the National Assembly this afternoon. QESBA's reaction is conditional: this budget fails to provide the usual spending estimates by department or any detail on how each level of education -- youth, college and university, private or public - will be funded out of the three-per-cent system-cost increase announced by Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau.
"When I look at this budget from the perspective of our students' welfare and success, I'm left feeling very ambivalent," conceded QESBA President David D'Aoust. "By our calculations, we needed to see closer to four per cent in the growth of public school system funding to simply maintain our level of classroom services and operations across the province. In the current economic context, I suspect three per cent is a reasonable start, if we actually receive it. We trust that the plan is to at least maintain that three per cent when calculating the classroom needs of our sector but we have no such guarantee. Furthermore, this budget dies on the Order Paper when an expected election call comes."
QESBA is also concerned that the virtual totality of this increase would be gone once already-announced programs, labor-cost increases and inflation are calculated. In other words, where are the resources to address and support school-boards' partnership agreements with the Ministère de l'Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport -- for new technologies, complementary services, innovative student-centred programs and increased student success?
D'Aoust took clear issue with the promise in Finance Minister Marceau's budget speech to recoup $125 million by moving "…quickly to examine the possibility of restructuring certain school boards". The accompanying budget documents then elaborate by suggesting, arbitrarily, that Boards of more than 35,000 students are the most efficient. All nine of Quebec's English school boards are below that amount. They have nevertheless produced the highest student graduation rates in the province and more impressively-low administrative costs than any other level of government services.
"There is an important and legitimate debate to be had on how to optimize our services to students so that they are progressive, effective and equitable no matter where you live in Quebec," D'Aoust continued. "QESBA and its nine-member boards have always maintained that we are ready to initiate and implement positive change. Grabbing a scalpel to carve out structures without preparing or testing the procedure is not the way to proceed. I find it deplorable that this government would grab some mathematical formula, untested and dismissive of local school needs and conditions, to guess at arbitrary savings that might come on the backs of the students we strive to serve. QESBA and its nine-member Boards have always said they will be partners in constructive change. We remain so. This budget measure, sadly, is hardly constructive."
D'Aoust identified three principles by which QESBA would assess this budget. He concluded that the results are mitigated:
a) Does the budget protect system-cost needs for our English public schools?
- To a certain extent.
b) Does it remove this government's ill-advised plan to order school boards outside of Montreal to return the equivalent of $100 million in school taxes over the next two years as proposed in Bill 63?
- Apparently not.
c) Does this budget finally begin to address the over-funding of private schools by government? This would provide Quebec's public schools with long-needed additional support.
- Minister Marceau, in a conversation today with the QESBA President David D'Aoust, confirmed to our disappointment that the answer is "no".
QESBA is the voice of English public education in Quebec.
SOURCE: Quebec English School Boards Association
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