Montreal

Lester B. Pearson School Board expects budget slashing

School closures, program cancellations and mergers are all on the table at the Lester B. Pearson School Board following yesterday’s provincial budget.

'My personal reaction is one of fear,' says school board chairperson

The Lester B. Pearson School Board is facing major budget cuts. (CBC)

School closures, program cancellations, and mergers are all on the table at the Lester B. Pearson School Board following yesterday’s provincial budget.

The school board is anticipating an additional cut of $8.7 million, on top of the annual recurring cut of $10.5 million into its operating budgetIts entire budget is $275 million, though the vast majority — 83 per cent — of that money is tied up in salaries.

On Thursday, the Quebec government announced the province's education budget will see an increase of only 0.2 per cent, which, after inflation is factored in, essentially amounts to a cut.

Those cuts are forcing the school board council to consider what's called a "major school change consultation," which would take a hard look at all avenues available for saving the lost money.

"We are very, very concerned," said school board chairperson Suanne Stein Day.

School closures are a possibility. There could also be mergers and changes to programming.

"Everything is on the table," said Stein Day. 

Special needs programming could be affected

When Stein Day heard the budget yesterday, it worried her immediately.

"My personal reaction is one of fear. It's one of fear for our system." 

If the school board is unable to run a deficit budget, Stein Day said cuts may have to come from areas that are unfunded by the provincial government. Lester B. Pearson spends millions of dollars annually on special needs programming.

Stein Day worries there will be a temptation to cut those programs — but says she'll fight to keep them.

"We have a model that works. They are included in our successful graduation rate, and my biggest fear is that we'll have to cut some of those services," she said.

Consultation process to begin

On Monday night, the school board council will vote to start the consultation process called the "major school change consultation." 

If council decides to go through with it, it will have seven months to receive input from parents, administrators and the community. In October and November, council would have to digest all that information and make decisions on how to move forward.

"No decisions have been made," said Stein Day.

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