Homeowners who live off the island of Montreal will receive school tax bills next month that will be hundreds of dollars higher than last year, according to the president of the Quebec English School Boards Association.
“On July 1, when school board tax bills are issued for all of the off-island board areas, taxpayers will notice a significant increase,” David D’Aoust warned in an interview. “I expect my own tax bill will go up by about $280 a year.”
“What the [Quebec] government has decided to do in its financial wizardry — in order to reduce its costs for education — is to remove 50 per cent of our equalization grants for 2013-2014,” he said.
“In 2006, the Liberal government was very aware of the [tax impact of] rapidly increasing real estate values and decided to protect real estate owners by allowing them a reduction on their [school] tax bill,” D’Aoust explained.
If you look at your [previous] school tax bill, it was given as a reduction,” he continued. “That reduction won’t appear there in total [this year]. It will be a partial reduction of 50 per cent.”
D’Aoust added that, to make up the difference, ratepayers will have to fork out the remaining 50 per cent, this year.
“If your tax bill would normally be $1,200 and they gave you a reduction of $350, it showed right on [last year’s school] tax bill,” he observed. “That reduction would be $175 this year.”
In addition to the abrupt removal of the equalization grants, Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) anticipates that ratepayers will receive overall school tax bills averaging 2.29 per cent higher than last year.
The amount individual ratepayers will pay will depend on the municipal evaluation of their property, so individual tax increases could therefore vary significantly.
Less money for schools
“Faced with decreasing enrolment and reductions made the Ministry [of Education] to its funding for school boards, off the island of Montreal, school boards are being hit with a double whammy,” D’Aoust emphasized, while noting as an exception that the number of students enrolled in Sir Wilfred Laurier School Board, north of Montreal, is growing.
According to LBPSB assistant director-general Carol Heffernan, Quebec gives school boards about $794 per student for the year. Fewer students means less money for schools.
“During the past five years, all the boards across the province have received almost $1 billion less in funding,” D’Aoust reminded.
He anticipated that next year will be even worse.
“We’re expecting some boards who have to carry out those cutbacks to have another 25 per cent taken away from their equalization grant in the 2014-2015 budget,” he said, “so it’s not going to be pleasant during the next two years.
He said that the provincial government has cut 50 per cent of its grants for disadvantaged students.
“That’s where we’re being hurt,” he complained. “To maintain all those services that we run so well, we’ll have to dig deeper to find the funding.”
D’Aoust added that school overhead is already cut to the bone and that the Ministry of Education won’t let boards increase school taxes to compensate “because the government wants us to cut internally.”
“The administrative costs of school boards has to be the lowest of all public and parapublic organizations,” he concluded. “At 4.4 per cent it is low, and very much lower than municipalities, as a matter of fact.”
by Robert Frank