Windsor Catholic board only one in Ontario to have deficit

The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board was the only board in Ontario to start the school year with an accumalated deficit.

CBC News has learned the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board was the only board in Ontario to start the school year with an accumulated deficit.

Seventy-one boards, including public and Catholic, had accumulated surpluses heading into the 2011-12 school year. However, the local Catholic board was more than $.2.4 million in debt.

"All of us on the board of trustees are very concerned about this budget deficit," trustee Frank Favot said.

By comparison, the Greater Essex County District School board began 2011-12 with a total accumulated surplus of more than $24 million.

The Ministry of Education, expects the board will likely start the next school year in the red, too. Although, the board is projected to have a balanced budget for 2012-13.

Ministry spokesperson Gary Wheeler said the ministry worked with the board last year to establish a plan to eliminate the accumulated deficit in 2011-12.

"However, we understand the board has provided information that they expect to end the year with an in-year balanced budget and will not be able to eliminate their accumulated deficit by Aug. 31, 2012," Wheeler wrote in an email to CBC News.

Windsor West Liberal MPP Teresa Piruzza has been meeting with both the board and the Ministry of Education. She said the deficit "didn't happen overnight."

"I’m trying to determine what the history is and how this came to be over time. Early reports did seem to indicate they were on track to eliminate that deficit.  Recent information seems to indicate otherwise," Piruzza said. "We’re trying to get more details of the involvement of the ministry and the plan the board wants to bring forward in terms of what’s happening with that deficit."

Construction of schools to blame

Research conducted by the ministry last year stated the capital deficit of $17.2 million "originated under prior administration when the board undertook the construction of school facilities not fully supported by new pupil places revenues" normally provided by the province.

The decision to build those schools has saddled the board with the accumulated deficit, according to Favot.

"One of the No. 1 [reasons] was the schools built. Those are one of the largest factors," he said.

The report went on to say the $2.4-million deficit will "persist unless action is taken."

Favot said the deficit "constrains" the board of trustees.

"We want to deliver the best possible education we can to our children. This will have a negative effect on us," he said.

Piruzza disagreed. When asked if the deficit could be paid off without affecting the quality of education, she said, "I would think so, yes."

According to Wheeler, if a deficit recovery plan is unsuccessful, the province has a number of "escalating measures at its disposal."

Supervision is an option, but it is used only after other interventions are unsuccessful, Wheeler wrote.

"It is important to note that the ministry will first engage the board with a recovery plan and provide advice to the board before it resorts to board supervision," he wrote.