Jennifer Maccarone wants the Couillard government to enable Quebec school boards to function properly, rather than abolish them.
In particular, elected school boards are of paramount importance to the province’s minorities, the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board chair underscored.
“Year after year our rights have been stripped away to manage our school boards as we see fit,” she told The Suburban in an interview. “It’s a constitutional right, and I’m not ready yet to negotiate my constitutional rights.”
According to Article 435 of Quebec’s Education Act, for example, school boards are supposed to be able to set their own tax rates to suit their needs. In practice, the province’s Education Ministry dictates the amount that they may collect.
When The Suburban questioned this apparent contradiction two years ago, spokeswoman Esther Chouinard replied that “the Education Ministry doesn’t impose the school tax.”
The reality is more subtle, though, because Quebec City educrats simply withhold provincial subsidies if they deem that school boards are collecting too much tax money.
“We don’t have a choice,” Maccarone explained. “The school board votes on what the tax rate will be, but the government dictates how to set it.”
She welcomed an initiative to haramonize school tax rates throughout Quebec, though she acknowledged that it will hit Montreal taxpayers harder than those in the rest of the province.
It’s unfair, she said, for one neighbour to have to pay 30 per cent more to an sprawling, thinly populated English school board like SWLSB than the person next door pays to one of the eight, populous French school boards on more condensed territory contiguous to the area that SWLSB must cover.
“We have to work with 154 muncipalities spread over 35,000 sq.km.,” Maccarone said.
She urged Quebec to fall in line with all the other provinces and twin school board elections with municipal elections.
“That would work wonders in terms of ensuring that people go out and vote in school board elections,” Maccarone asserted.
“Not just for school boards,” she added. “It would increase the number of people voting in muncipal elections, as well.”
Although abysmal turnout at the polls has plagued the province’s school elections, Maccarone said that it’s not the school boards’ fault.
“The English voter list was very inaccurate,” she reported, “which means that the French list was inaccurate as well. Today, you can do anything online but you can’t update your data on the voter registration list. Yet the Parti québécois just elected their own leader by universal suffrage through online voting.”
“[Elections Quebec] was not equipped to make all the changes to the voters list in time for the election,” Maccarone complained. “The voters list contained no phone numbers. Going door-to-door in Ste. Agathe meant that I had to drive ten minutes between houses to get from one [English school board] voter to the next. Imagine how many voters I could have reached had I had better tools to do the job.”
Twinning school board and municipal elections would attract more voters to both, said SWLSB chair Jennifer Maccarone. (Photo © Robert Frank)