PQ fighting school boards over unpopular tax hikes
Published Wednesday, October 2, 2013 12:50PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 2, 2013 6:47PM EDT
The provincial government says that its demand for school boards to cut $100 million from their budgets is not an attack on the school boards, but instead an attempt to regulate longstanding problems with how boards are operated.
The Parti Quebecois government, showing a $1.8 billion deficit for the first third of the 2013-2014 fiscal year, cut its funding to school boards earlier this year by $100 million.
Premier Pauline Marois said this cut was the elimination of equalization payments first created by the previous Liberal government.
In a move that was initially approved by Education Minister Marie Malavoy the boards responded by increasing taxes, in some cases up to 30 percent.
"We had no choice but to up the tax bills, and that was our last resort by the way," said David D'Aoust of the Quebec English School Boards Association.
Those tax hikes generated a furious response from residents in suburban and rural areas.
"The tax hikes hit families in the vote-rich 450, where the PQ needs to grab votes to win an election," said CTV Montreal's Quebec City bureau chief Max Harrold.
Facing a revolt, PQ told the boards that tax increases were no longer acceptable, and that they had to make cuts instead.
"I must say this to you, I foresee hard times for our school boards if we do that. it's going to be tough," said D'Aoust.
School boards, often complaining they do not have enough money to provide basic services to students, said there is no room to cut, so two weeks ago the boards met with Marois, Malavoy, and several other government members to discuss the cuts, and pointed out all that had been done.
The French boards in particular are adamant, saying there is no more waste to eliminate.
"They are basically ordering us to cut services to students," said Josée Bouchard of the Quebec School Board Federation.
Now Premier Marois says if the boards are not willing to make cuts, the government will tell them where to chop.
"We want to study in depth their challenges, their administration and their management. We believe the current system of property taxes does not serve education very well," said Marois.
Suanne Stein Day of the Lester B. Pearson Board does not fear any government analysis.
"I say bring them on. We are completely transparent, we have nothing to hide in our school board," Stein Day said.
The PQ government has also floated the idea of doing away with school boards altogether, something that Stein Day dismissed out of hand because it would require altering the federal constitution.
"We have a constitutional right to exist," she said.
The Coalition Avenir Quebec supports the move to remove school boards, while the opposition Liberals do not favour making cuts.
Education critic Francine Charbonneau said the PQ doesn't seem to have any real interest in helping schools cope.
"My concern is every time they get an envelope from the government of Quebec, which is Pequiste, is they get a bill. They don't get help, they get a bill and that's my preoccupation because the families need money they don't need cuts," said Charbonneau.