School boards to lose control over funding in Crombie panel proposals

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The province will have an increased role in funding education and setting standards, while school boards will lose almost all their taxing authority if the government accepts the proposals of the education subpanel of the Who Does What panel chaired by David Crombie. The subpanel’s report, released November 13, 1996, also recommends that the number of school boards in the province be reduced by half.

WHO DOES WHAT

The province’s leadership role in education would be strengthened by assigning it more power in funding education and in setting standards and curriculum. The province would be responsible for setting performance indicators and monitoring the overall effectiveness of the school system.

School boards, on the other hand, would be encouraged to focus on activities that “bear directly on students and the classroom”. It is suggested that this would include functions such as implementing the provincial curriculum with necessary local modifications, providing feedback on the success or shortcomings of the curriculum, staffing and hiring, setting school policies regarding student assessment and discipline, and determining school budgets.

As for the business functions of school boards, such as transportation and school construction and maintenance, the subpanel recommends that these continue to be assigned to school boards, but that they be carried out by municipalities, local service providers or cooperative service authorities under contract to the boards. The subpanel asserts that this will allow boards to concentrate on education, and permit the system to realize savings through the cooperative provision of non-educational services. In making this recommendation, the subpanel cites the efforts of several boards across the province which have already entered into cooperative arrangements with municipalities and other boards for administration and purchase of services.

To implement its advice regarding the subcontracting of these latter services, the subpanel proposes that legislation be enacted to set criteria, timelines and expectations for this outsourcing. This legislation would also set up a body to oversee and support the restructuring, and would specify that francophone school boards would be responsible for choosing service providers who would deliver business services in French.

FEWER BOARDS, LINKED TO MUNICIPALITIES

The boundaries of school boards and upper-tiered municipalities should be aligned “to the extent that it makes sense educationally, administratively and constitutionally”, the report suggests. This alignment is to take place as municipal boundaries are restructured by the province. The subpanel also urges the province to resolve the issue of French-language governance of school boards, and suggests that school councils be strengthened over time to play a larger role in school board decisions.

PROVINCE TO FUND EDUCATION, DEVELOP NEW ALLOCATION FORMULA

The subpanel proposes that the province be responsible for a substantial increase in its share of education funding. It also recommends that the province develop a new allocation formula, consisting of a core grant per pupil, along with a set of special grants to recognize differences in student profiles and the costs of delivering education in different parts of the province. The new formula would be developed and regularly reviewed by an advisory council representative of various stakeholder groups.

BUSINESS AND RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY TAXES

Currently, school boards raise $3 billion from business property taxes and $5 billion from residential property taxes in support of education. The report recommends that the business property tax for education be set at a uniform rate by the province. The revenues raised from this tax by a municipality would then be shared among all the school boards in a region on the basis of enrolment. School boards would have no further access to business property taxes.

School boards’ reliance on the residential property tax base would be drastically reduced. This is part of a suggested shift of responsibilities among the province, the boards and municipalities. It is proposed that the province reduce its grants to municipalities for a number of municipally delivered services in order to increase its funding of education. Municipalities would in turn receive most of the residential taxing authority previously reserved to school boards to make up for the loss of provincial subsidies. However, the subpanel also considers that some room for local decision making should be preserved. It therefore recommends that school boards be permitted to raise, through the municipality, five per cent of their budgets from residential property taxes. This represents some $500 million out of a total of $13 billion in the education system.

The subpanel claims that these proposed changes in the way education is funded will ensure greater equity in funding education across the province, and create a level playing field for business property taxpayers.

IN OUR VIEW

While the Crombie panel stresses that its recommendations would lead to greater equity in funding education across the province, it appears likely that the strategy of placing financial control in provincial hands is aimed at facilitating the government’s goal of eliminating $1 billion from the education budget.

Some observers have asked whether divesting school boards of this much authority will cause the public to question their role. In this connection, it is worth noting that similar moves in Alberta have led to a court challenge by school boards which is being heard by the Alberta Court of Appeal. The boards are contending that the Constitution implicitly guarantees a certain amount of local autonomy to school boards, and that removal of taxing and spending powers violates constitutional guarantees. Readers of FOCUS will be kept informed of developments in this important case. (To subscribe to FOCUS, click here; for a description of more recent developments, see “The Fewer School Boards Act, 1997: First stage in Ontario’s overhaul of education governance” on our What’s New page.)