By Robert Green
Thus far this series has looked at where Quebec’s political parties stand on education funding, curriculum reform and school autonomy . This article will examine where the parties stand on the abolition or reorganization of Quebec’s school boards.
The idea of abolishing or in some way restructuring Quebec’s school boards is being proposed by nearly all of Quebec’s political parties. School board reform is a seductive idea for political parties because it offers them a means to direct more resources to Quebec’s badly underfunded public schools without making the sort of reinvestment that, though desperately needed, might be associated with increased taxes [cue the shrieks of horror from the press gallery]. However, as with most magic bullet solutions, voters have a number of good reasons to be skeptical.
The first reason for skepticism is that the claims that restructuring school boards will create a more efficient system that benefits schools are dubious at best. Political parties make vague references to “duplication of services” and “inefficiencies” without presenting the concrete details of specifically which services are being duplicated or how services would be reorganized to be more efficient. Not a single study has been done to illustrate the concrete benefits of such a proposal. Nonetheless, five of Quebec’s six main political parties have proposed charging ahead in that direction.
In order to assess the claims of the political parties with regard to school boards, voters need to have a clear idea of exactly what it is that school boards do. The fundamental mission of school boards is to equitably distribute the resources allocated by the Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport (MELS) to the schools in its territory. However, school boards are responsible for much more than that: they manage real estate and building maintenance; they fix the rate for school taxes; they engage in long term planning; they negotiate the local conditions in collective agreements; they organize bus and cafeteria services; they prepare professional development and pedagogical support services for teachers. Any plan to abolish or reorganize school boards should at the very least explain how each of the above responsibilities would be fulfilled and how such a plan would be more efficient.
Another reason for skepticism has to do with Quebec’s recent history. This is not the first time Quebecers have been promised more efficient public services through the amalgamation or reorganization of public institutions. In 1998 Quebec reduced the total number of its school boards from 230 to 72, and between 2000 and 2006 it amalgamated many of its municipalities. Before buying into the most recent claims regarding the abolition or reorganization of school boards, Quebecers should ask themselves whether similar past efforts to make public institutions more efficient have produced the improvements in service delivery that the politicians had promised.