David C. D'Aoust
MONTREAL, May 7, 2012 /CNW Telbec/ - While university tuition fees continue to dominate the front pages of newspapers as well as the agenda of the government, few people have taken notice of the unprecedented budget cuts being imposed on school boards for pre-school, elementary and high school education. While there has been no human outcry at this time, there will be as the 2012-2013 school year starts, and parents begin to see the impact on their children in our classrooms. Quebec's nine English school boards, elected by the communities they serve, are absolutely determined to shelter students from the impact of more than $15 million in cutbacks coming to the English public school sector over the next school year. When Education Minister Line Beauchamp insists that we can do so, she is simply wrong.
The over-all budget allocation to English public schooling in Quebec is in the order of $725 million. About 85 per cent of that amount is locked in for salaries and other fixed costs. That means our school boards must make these massive cuts from the remaining 15 per cent of expenditures. And, what do those expenditures cover? Largely, student-centred priorities like teachers' aides, intensified French second-language programs, extra-curricular activities, curriculum development training and materials, enhanced information technologies, innovative early learning and intervention strategies. Here is just one example: an English public school board can offer French immersion or bilingual programs by devoting supplementary classroom resources. However, these resources are not necessarily funded in the base grants received by the boards from the Education Ministry. Our parents are rightly demanding intensified French second-language programs, up-to-date technology in the classroom and a continued support for the inclusive classroom that so distinguishes English public education in Quebec. They want the best services possible and their children deserve them. The challenge in meeting that standard under present budget conditions will be enormous.
Let's be clear: school boards have no remaining fat to cut. Our nine English boards spend about six cents per dollar on administering the system; the rest goes directly to the classroom. That is a better administration-direct service ratio than any other government or para-public institution. For the government to suggest that this new rounds of cuts (which, it has already announced, will recur next year) can be absorbed by more efficient management, it is simply misleading the taxpayer.
Our school boards are now completing plans for staffing, materials purchase and building operations for their elementary, high schools and adult centres next year. The allocation sheet for these services looks far from rosy, in fact, the Ministry of Education, Recreation and Sports and the rest of the current government are essentially removing the small remaining level of financial flexibility that our school boards have so judiciously managed to deliver the additional and adapted services necessary to deliver English education in Quebec. We've used that margin of flexibility to offer services beyond the requirements of the course of studies -- extra library technicians, special education technicians and attendants, extra resource teachers, school trip subsidies, and the like. Board office personnel have been reduced to the lowest possible levels. The focus of their work, irrespective of their specific mandates, is to support the Board's schools and the educational mission of the Board - not to push paper or serve the bureaucracy, despite what certain political leaders and newspaper headlines might falsely suggest.
The nine locally elected English school boards in Quebec, each with its distinctive populations, geography and educational missions, will be working with parents and the communities they serve to best protect student services in this difficult financial and political environment. One has to wonder who would take on that vital job if the fading notion of abolishing elected school boards ever actually took hold. Our parents and the communities we serve won't likely count on this government - or any future one - to replace their elected voice on education.
So, while CEGEP and university students have captured the attention of the media and the public for close to four months, English public school board members and their francophone colleagues will keep striving to engage the public and the government in the battle to maintain both the dollars and the flexibility to deliver quality education to the post-secondary students of tomorrow.
If education has been identified as the motor to economic development by the current government, wouldn't it stand to reason that it prioritize public education funding to keep this economy of ours flourishing and ensure that high school and adult centre students are ready to move on to professional education schools, CEGEPs, universities and lucrative employment right here in Quebec? Are they really doing this? Does this government see education as a high priority? You be the judge!
David C. D'Aoust is President of the Quebec English School Boards Association
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