By Kevin Woodhouse
The Lester B. Pearson School Board has projected almost nine million dollars in cuts in next year’s budget due to provincial funding shortfalls. At the most recent commissioners’ meeting, some kindergarten teachers were surprised to find that 18 minutes of daily instruction would be cut because of the provincial Liberal austerity cuts.
This past Friday, Jacques-Cartier MNA and Minister of Native Affairs Geoffrey Kelley’s West Island offices were visited by more than 100 teachers from QPAT (Quebec Provincial Teachers Association) voicing their concerns over expected cuts.
And while Kelley, a former educator, understands the teachers’ worries, “the provincial government has had some difficult choices to make,” he told The Suburban. “We can raise taxes or continue to live off the province’s credit cards but that will cause burdening our children and grandchildren with debt.”
The West Island MNA believes that borrowing money to “cover a new mortgage for a new hospital is one thing, as you can amortise the debt over some years, but to simply borrow money to pay for daily operations like health and education is not good governance. This is one of the reason why we waned to issue a balanced budget, only the sixth in roughly 40 years.”
School boards “object of ridicule”
With the Quebec government currently spending $11 billion on “service charges every year to the province’s debt which is almost as much as the yearly education budget, raising taxes is not the answer,” Kelley said.
Besides hearing about concerns over cuts to the budget, Kelley’s office has also received calls from constituents about the future of school boards and whether the province will end their reign, making taxpayers fund a system that they have no say in.
“Under no circumstances will school boards be abolished,” Kelley said. “But the Education Minister has simply called in the question of the election process.”
The latest school board elections across the province saw a voter turnout rate of well under 20 per cent for English school boards and less than five per cent for French boards.
“Low voter rates, particularly in the French boards, can be a concern as the system can become an object of ridicule with positions being chosen over a handful of votes,” Kelley said.
The Native Affairs Minister noted that the province wants to look at other ways of “selecting commissioners that might not cost $20 million per election with such low voter participation.”
So before school boards threaten to go to court about their future, Kelly cautions restraint “so that we can see all the other possibilities.”
ga(‘create’, ‘UA-45892555-1’, ‘auto’);