The future of school boards at stake
Should the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) form the next government, as polls suggest, the province’s school boards could disappear in the near future. François Legault’s Coalition proposes to abolish school board elections, as well as school boards themselves. The CAQ, a federalist party, wants to replace the school boards by “school service centres” in order to give more powers to those who directly deal with students. With this change, the new government would save money that could be directly invested in services to students, says the CAQ.
The CAQ insists that French- and English-speaking citizens barely participate in the elections. According to the Ministère de l’Éducation, only 5.54% of all Quebecers voted in the 2014 school elections.
The Parti libéral du Québec (PLQ) wants the date of the next school elections pushed back so that they coincide with other elections, saving much of the present board election costs. “To counter the low voting rate, we have asked the Directeur général des elections to study different voting options”, said the Pontiac’s Liberal candidate and current Transport Minister, André Fortin. To stimulate voter participation, the Directeur général des elections could also put forth electronic voting.
“One of the Anglophone community’s requests is to maintain the school boards and their elections,” Mr Fortin told the Bulletin, despite the lack of participation. There are 69 school boards in Quebec, 9 of which are English boards.
The Parti québécois has a similar vision, wanting to enhance the school boards by giving them more capacity, although which powers they could be given remains unclear.
“School boards work in the field, they know what is happening at the regional level, so abolishing school boards and centralizing is a bad idea,” says Julia Wilkie, Quebec Solidaire’s candidate in Pontiac.
As for the boards now, they each set their own orientations. The boards decide on their education and administrative policies, allocation of resources among their schools and training centres, as well as building maintenance and their school transportation policy. Boards have no control over actual school curriculum or staff working conditions.
Harmonization of school taxes
The CAQ’s push to harmonizing school taxes has resulted in this year’s tax rate adjustments, which moves all tax rates to the lowest rate in every school district. If the CAQ forms the next government, the Ministère de l’Éducation will make this policy permanent. The CAQ opposes the old policy which saw some boards receiving more tax revenues, as taxpayers search out the boards with the lowest assessment rate, despite having fewer students and facilities to maintain. No party is proposing to abolish English-language schools.
The Coalition had originally proposed abolishing school boards during the 2014 electoral campaign, as a way to eliminate one level of bureaucracy and remove school board elections being used as a political stepping stone by aspiring politicians. The CAQ, in general, wants to streamline government, whereas the PLQ and PQ see local control as more important. (Transl: CB)