By Joel Ceausu
“We haven’t heard anything on our side in terms of an audit,” says English Montreal School Board chair Angela Mancini, a week after the EMSB nixed budget cuts demanded by Quebec City, and days after Education Minister Yves Bolduc wielded the spectre of audits.
At its last council meeting before the Nov. 2 election, the board was faced with making drastic cuts to student services. It balked, even though moist people were fully aware that in the current atmosphere of compressions and austerity measures, there would certainly be blowback from their decision to cut only $1.4 million, not the $2.3 million that Quebec was immediately asking for.
“In terms of fallout from that decision, people need to understand we were heading for a zero deficit with the monies we earned from our adult vocational sector. The $5.2 million deficit we were facing was government imposed.”
She said there is simply nowhere else to cut but student services, but it seems that Bolduc’s not buying.
“People need to understand—for myself and people on my team—that the idea of cutting $900,000 specifically in measures offering success for students was not an option. We were talking about touching wellness programs, anti-poverty measures, and special needs. Our administration received instructions from the ministry and did their job by presenting these, but we as a council could not vote for it.”
It’s also important Mancini said, to realize that when the government asks everyone to make cuts, it presents a two-pronged attack on English boards. “We have language laws that keep our enrolment in decline, which leads to fewer allocations for students and then the cuts on top of that. There’s a big difference between asking for cuts when enrolment is up, than when it is in decline.”
It’s not the concept of a deficit that riles, she says, but that there’s no more room left to cut. “I’ll go into a deficit any day just as long as I can make sure those kids get schooling.” Mancini said come Nov. 3, the new council in place will inevitably have to take a look at more cuts, perhaps in the board’s administrative structure. “In the public sector there is a cycle in the budget, a time we can look at organigrams; many retirements happen in the spring, and so forth, and if you want to look at anything to do with structure it’s best to do it at a certain time. Right now, our administration operates at under five percent, the lowest cost of any level of government, and we’ve taken actions to keep it that low. But I’m prepared to look at it again, to see if we can bring it lower.”
She says she doesn’t fear that the board’s obstinacy can hurt negotiations and entreaties on issues like the need for a building for Philip E. Layton School—Quebec’s only school for blind and visually impaired anglophone children that serves severely disabled students. In fact, the issue makes the importance of school boards even more clear says Mancini, who has chaired the board since 2007. “We can say to the government, ‘You gave (CSDM school with a similar mandate) Victor Doré, $16.8 million. We need a building, and we have a supra-regional mandate. We need the money’.”
Only a representative board can make the case for important issues she says. “What this all shows is the need to have elected body to represent our schools and stakeholders so we can stand up and say ‘no’.”
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