School boards say tax hikes inevitable, despite meeting with government
Published Monday, September 16, 2013 2:49PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, September 16, 2013 6:59PM EDT
Quebec's largest school boards say they will, once again, examine their budgets, but don't think they can do anything except pass on the burden of tax cuts imposed by the provincial government.
"If there's any possible way we can reduce expenses we'll try again. But I don't see it as being that easy," said David D'Aoust, the president of the Quebec English School Board Association.
D'Aoust made that statement Monday following a two-hour meeting with Premier Pauline Marois and Education Minister Marie Malavoy.
Along with his French board counterpart, D'Aoust said school boards had no choice but to hike taxes this year after the provincial government slashed $215 million from budgets at boards across the province in the past two years.
Some boards have increased school taxes by 30 per cent, although the average increase in Montreal is around 3 per cent.
Pauline Marois didn't speak to reporters before or after the meeting, but in recent days, she has publicly criticized school boards for increasing school taxes.
“We really were able to talk directly, and the premier was very clear. I think the school boards understood very well what we want,” said Malavoy.
Last month Malavoy said that the tax hikes were expected, and earlier this year she told school boards to go ahead and increase taxes to make up the $65 million shortfall, after the government cut $150 million from public education funding in the last provincial budget.
Facing the ire of angry citizens faced with steep increases, however, Premier Marois demanded the boards take another look at their budgets, reduce administrative expenses and find ways to increase revenues without imposing tax hikes.
“We're going to work with them, we're going to share our information, because we think they can probably do more, make a bigger effort than they've done, and we will make comparisons,” said Malavoy.
School board representatives say trimming the fat isn't an option if there's nothing left to trim, but agreed to take a closer look at the figures provided by the government; figures they say they hadn't been given before.
"She's angry. She wants school boards to look at our budgets again, and we'll take a look at that if we can," D'Aoust said.
He pointed out that if anyone is to blame for the school board tax increases, it is the Parti Quebecois government.
"It started with her government and adopting Bill 25, and she was told in the National Assembly, by the opposition parties, that this would not work, that this would still result in a tax hike for the taxpayers," he said.
But he didn't rule out making yet another attempt to limit increases.
"There are figures that they had that we didn't have so we'd like to look at them, and we're always ready to sit down for the benefit of our students," said D'Aoust.
Malavoy said she hasn’t ruled out the possibility of the taxpayers receiving a refund through a tax credit.
“Not as a cheque; certainly not. It would be impossible to do. I don't want to identify right now just one solution. What I'll tell you is that we have many kinds of solutions,” she said.
The school boards will meet with Marois and Malavoy again in two weeks.