Budget balanced; services & jobs cut English school board obeys orders

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Laurent Robillard-Cardinal

The Western Québec School Board (WQSB) managed to adopt a
balanced budget for 2015-2016, June 30, but not without cutting services and positions. This was inevitable due to provincial cutbacks of $1.1 million to the WQSB for the coming school year. This left a bitter taste in WQSB Chair James Shea’s mouth.

Laurent Robillard-Cardinal

The Western Québec School Board (WQSB) managed to adopt a
balanced budget for 2015-2016, June 30, but not without cutting services and positions. This was inevitable due to provincial cutbacks of $1.1 million to the WQSB for the coming school year. This left a bitter taste in WQSB Chair James Shea’s mouth.
“I’m pleased the budget is balanced, but I’m not pleased that the reductions have required we impact educational programs and services,” the chairman told the Journal. “The reduction in the budget over the past few years has been about $4.5 million. There’s no flexibility left. The (Liberal) austerity (program) required us to cut back significantly. It’s starting to hurt the programs and services. We did everything we could to maintain what we are doing in the classrooms.” The minister – and premier – had earlier said no services to the public would be cut.
Programs reduced
By maintaining services in classrooms, the board had little choice but to cut back on support programs and activities outside the classrooms, such as Destination Imagination, Music Makers and Grade Six debating. “We will continue to do the
activities, but on alternate years, not every year. From an educational experience there are things that would be nice every year, but rather than cut them totally, our compromise was a rotation. We will see how it goes,” explained Shea.
These programs and events require high transportation costs. Given
the WQSB’s large
territory, from Abitibi-Temiscamingue to Pontiac and all the Outaouais, transportation can be very expensive. “City boards have similar costs, but not to the same extent we do,” noted Shea. As with health services, the government treats rural and urban services alike.
Job cuts required
The WQSB will avoid further human-resource costs by not filling unoccupied positions and by abolishing some vacant positions. “Nobody was let go, but there
were a dozen positions removed,” noted Shea.
With less staff, employees will take on more duties, such as principals of smaller schools who will assume guidance responsibilities.
More user fees coming
The board also decided to remove portable classrooms to decrease school capacities, review administrative contracts such
as for photocopiers,
insurance, and cleaning, and will introduce more user fees for extracurricular activities. According to Shea, these decisions
followed several months of a line-by-line review of the budget.
The board also looked at increasing revenue by recruiting international students to its vocational training programs, promoting cost-sharing partnership with Francophone school boards, and increasing rental revenues from many buildings.
This September, a new Planning and Review Committee will begin work. It will review boundaries for transportation, operating costs of buildings, and assess building capacities for future enrolment. However, cutting services to students next year remains a challenge for Chairman Shea.
“As an educator, I’m concerned the impact will affect our educational programs in the future. And that’s our prime
purpose,” he concluded.