By Robert Frank
Pending education reforms might relieve English school board taxpayers from the unequal burden that they have long borne.
According to newly elected Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board (SWLSB) chair Jennifer Maccarone, changes that Quebec Education Minister Yves Bolduc announced last week might equalize the rates that French- and English-speaking property owners pay.
“The minister is looking at different options concerning how school boards are governed,” she told The Suburban. “Additional powers could potentially be given to school boards, including the regionalization of school board taxation—the idea that there might be a more of a harmonized rate.”
“That would be good for SWLSB,” Maccarone said in an interview.
SWLSB is responsible for educating a sparse English-speaking youth population over a vast territory that reaches north past Mont Laurier in the Laurentians. That drives SWLSB’s cost per student well beyond its more densely populated French counterparts.
Then, on the revenue side, SWLSB gets hit with a double-whammy.
Quebec law defaults English-speakers’ taxes to support the French education system, once their children graduate from English school, depriving SWLSB of revenue.
In addition, English-speakers who want to ensure that their tax dollars still go to support English schools can ask to do so, but SWLSB must charge a much higher tax rate to cover its higher per student expenses. That gives English-speaking taxpayers a financial incentive to do the opposite: Many flee to French tax rolls to save money, further gutting SWLSB’s budget envelope.
Minister Bolduc also indicated that he wants to slash the number of school boards in the province, though SWLSB was not affected by this move.
“He announced that the number of French school boards will shrink from 60 to 36,” Maccarone explained. “The number of English school boards will decrease from nine to seven. That potentially could affect Riverside, New Frontiers and Eastern Townships school boards.”
She added that SWLSB will do its utmost to continue delivering educational services to students, in the face of pending provincial austerity measures.
“What’s most important in the face of all these changes is that we are not forgetting student success,” Maccarone concluded. “Whether we proceed through amalgamation or by cutbacks, change is always done with the objective of promoting and preserving student success.”