Billions in school tax bills to go out, July 1, despite overdue school board elections

“Massive cuts” await primary and secondary school students when they return to school in August

By Robert Frank

Demonstrations by recalcitrant university students protesting small tuition increases might soon be overshadowed, after taxpayers receive their 2012 school tax bill to help pay for Quebec’s primary and secondary education system.

Those tax bills are supposed to be issued by democratically elected school boards.

However, before the last school board mandates expired in 2011, Education Minister Michelle Courchesne pushed a law through the Quebec legislature, which postponed school board elections indefinitely. The law prolongs the existing mandate of Quebec’s school board commissioners, which is now well-past its best-before date.

“Through all this brouhaha over post-secondary tuition fee increases, little attention has been paid to the primary and secondary education system, and we’re dealing with massive budget cuts that will affect services to students in our schools when they open in August and early September,” warned David D’Aoust.

The Quebec English School Boards Association president added that English schools have already pared to the bone and are in no position to sustain the pending cuts.

The Suburban asked Elections Quebec when the next elections might be held to refresh school boards’ democratic mandate.

“That is the $1 million question,” replied spokesman Denis Dion. “Nobody knows. It was supposed to be last year and now only Madame Courchesne knows when.”

Mr. Dion explained that “because the participation rate is so low in school board elections, there was a proposal to amalgamate municipal and school elections.”

“Municipalities don’t want that,” he continued, “so there’s a kind of no-man’s-land, un flou artistique. The decision is on the desk of the education minister and we don’t have any indication as to when it will happen.”

“If you consider that the last school board elections were in 2007, it’s a long time,” Mr. Dion added. He said that he is certain that none will be held this year, “because there is no longer any time to organize them, I’m pretty sure.”

Though the pretext for postponing Quebec school board elections was to find a means to increase pathetic voter participation by holding them at the same time as municipal elections, the participation rate for English school boards elections is about double that of their French counterparts.

Quebec’s next round of municipal elections won’t be held until November 2013. In the meantime, the new law has simply indefinitely extended the mandate of the current roster school board commissioners. The legislation places no limit upon how long those school board elections can be postponed.

Mr. D’Aoust observed that school board councils are of particular importance to English speakers, as they account for some of Quebec’s few remaining elected offices to which they can still aspire.

He noted that Ms. Courchesne has called for the number of elected positions to be reduced to eight per school board.

“There was a submission deadline for us to ask for more members than what was proposed for the Education Act, if we felt that it was justified. We met that deadline, but we have not received any response to those submissions.”

He explained that some off-island school boards administer an area “the size of Belgium” and that they consequently need more wards to properly represent their widely scattered electorate.

Mr. Daoust told The Suburban that “Quebec school tax rates are set to the maximum of 35¢ per $1,000 of real estate valuation throughout most of the province.”

“However the rates are somewhat lower in Montreal because the property roll is more valuable there.”

Almost a half-billion dollars in school taxes are collected per year on the island of Montreal alone.

The Suburban attempted to ask Education Minister Michelle Courchesne when school board elections might reasonably be expected to resume, however her office had not yet responded at the time the newspaper went to press.

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