OPINION: Reasons we must merge the school boards in London

Ontario needs to have a serious conversation about the ethical, discriminatory and financial problems with the separated school board systems. It is time we consider merging the Catholic and public school boards into one before we close more schools and fall into further budgetary gaps.

It was announced two week ago that the London District Catholic School Board (LDCSB) is running another shortfall of $2 million for the 2014-2015 fiscal year.

In 2001, the Canadian Union of Public Employees added pay-equity contract language within the school board’s contract.

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Pay-equity is equal pay for work of equal of value in the same workplace regardless of sex. One of the main reasons for the shortfall is that the school board did not bargain for pay equity with employees from 2001 to 2010. So when it decided to focus on pay equity again in 2010, the operation costs of the school board skyrocketed. For many trustees it was a surprise pay-equity proposal worth $1.2 million and a projected $1 million over-run for substitute teachers. This will deplete the board’s reserves and put them into a projected $4.2 million deficit.

The Province of Ontario prohibits school boards from running deficits. So last spring when the LDCSB had a shortfall of $2 million with its proposed $230 million budget, they decided to dip their hands in the reserve funds. However the latest financial numbers show that if the school board wipes out their entire $8 million reserve fund they will still run a projected deficit double that of what was anticipated.

The ongoing financial mismanagement of the London Catholic School Board only begs the question, is there an alternative model to further budget efficiencies? Perhaps there needs to be a bigger discussion around the elephant in the room; the merging of school boards in Ontario.

Ontario has 72 school boards many of which are small. Each of these school boards has trustees, superintendents, office space, and administration expenses.

Up until 1999 the Quebec education system had separated schools but passed a constitutional amendment to replace it with a linguistically based secular school system.

Newfoundland and Labrador also established a single non-denominational public school system in 1997.

The Catholic school board can deny employment and enrolment based on faith. Moreover, this means that one-third of teaching jobs are not available to two-thirds of the province because of faith-based reasons.

There is a fundamental human rights and constitutional issue with publically funding Catholic school boards. The government is impeding on personal freedom of conscience and religion by extending rights to only one religion; Roman Catholicism. Ontarians should not be forced to fund Catholic education if they are not Catholic themselves. These privileged rights are not extended to followers of the many other religions found in this province.

In fact in 1999, the United Nations Human Rights Committee observed that Canada and specifically Ontario, have violated the equality provisions (article 26) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. They stated that Canada has failed to, “adopt steps in order to eliminate discrimination on the basis of religion in the funding of schools in Ontario.”

According to the Federation of Urban Neighbourhoods of Ontario, the province could save upwards of $1.6 billion from the duplications of services within the four school boards. The redundancy of administration, staffing, bussing, board offices, building maintenance and operations are an unnecessary financial burden on tax payers.

 The merging of school boards will also keep neighbourhood schools open at a time when hundreds of schools are confirmed for closure (i.e. Lorne Ave Public School).  It will result in tremendous financial and educational benefits. Most importantly it will address the discrimination, human rights violations and fairness concerns.

It’s time for the people of Ontario to ask the question of whether or not their public tax dollars should be funding the Catholic school board system. Is it truly reflective of our community’s values, diversity (multi-faith) and constitution?

Amir Farahi
Amir Farahi
Amir Farahi is the Co-Founder & Executive Director of the London Institute. He is an entrepreneur, columnist, public speaker, and is currently specializing in Economics and Political Science at Western University.
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