Funding cuts driving Major School Change process
The chairman of the Lester B. Pearson School Board says the board will not take lightly any attempts to do away with school boards in Quebec and replace them with regional governing bodies comprised of non-elected members.
“That’s taxation without representation,” Suanne Stein Day said Wednesday.
Stein Day vowed that her board, and other English school boards across Quebec “would take it all the way to the Supreme Court” if necessary.
“If they create regional governing bodies every decision will be made behind closed doors and that doesn’t benefit anyone,” she said.
Stein Day’s comments were in response to a radio interview Education Minister Francois Blais gave this week to radio station 98.5 FM. According to media reports, the minister’s decision about whether or not to abolish school board elections is ‘over.’
Blais noted that school boards across Quebec currently manage just under 25-percent of the education ministry’s budget.
The funds are administered by representatives chosen in what he says is a weak democratic process.
Last November less than 20-percent of people voted for anglophone school board representatives, while fewer than five-percent of francophone voters turned out for school board elections.
But Stein Day says the problem is not voter apathy, but how and when school board elections are held. She, like many, are calling on the government to hold board elections at the same time that municipal elections are held.
And she says the elected commissioners more than earn their salary.
“The average commissioner earns under $4,000 a year and works 20-25 a week on school board business,” she said, adding that while she earns $30,000 a year as chairman, she puts in 70 hours a week or more at the board.
“And that’s in addition to my ‘day job’… thank goodness I love this because no one is in it for the money.”
Major School Change
The board has also embarked on a Major School Change process in an effort to figure out how to operate with an expected $8.5 million in government funding cuts. Any changes made as a result of the process would take effect on July 1, 2016, for the 2016-2017 school year.
Stein Day says the cuts that represent $350-million to boards across Quebec, will take a $35-million bite out of funding for English boards.
“We don’t have it. If I shut down the entire head office, the whole building, we still don’t save enough,” she explained.
The Major School Change seeks input from the community about the best ways for the board to maximize underutilized schools and programs. “We don’t want to heat and maintain empty buildings… we want to try to repurpose them,” she said, adding that the board’s vocational sector is growing, as is its international program, which generates profits.
“No one wants to close schools, we want (people’s) ideas and input. Right now it’s business as usual,” Stein Day said.
Parents, students, staff, unions, municipalities or organizations have until Oct. 31 to submit briefs to the board.
A series of public consultation meetings will take place on Nov. 17, 18 and 19.
A final decision will be reached no later than Jan. 15, 2016.
The school board’s website includes a dedicated Major School Change page on the process.