Don’t toss out funding formula: Catholic board

Water worries at Our Lady of the Way School in Stratton, and possible changes to the education funding formula, were debated at the regular monthly meeting of the Northwest Catholic District School Board on Saturday.
“The board is doing everything they possibly can and this week [coming] the work will be completed,” OLW principal David Sharp told the board, which held its meeting at the school.
The boil-water advisory for the school, which had been in place since the last school year, has been lifted and Sharp is confident the repairs will ensure water quality will remain acceptable there.
Repairs to the water system were to be completed over the summer months but they were delayed due to difficulty getting contractors to do the work, the board was told.
Meanwhile, a presentation the local Catholic school board made before the Education Equality Task Force in Thunder Bay on Sept. 12 also was discussed at Saturday’s meeting.
One of the main points the board tried to drive home to the panel, which is re-evaluating and proposing changes to the funding formula, was that, for the most part, it is pleased with the current model.
“The principles and structures that underpin the current funding model are basically sound,” the report presented to the task force said.
In the past, school boards had control over the school tax in their area and could raise taxes if they needed more money to build a school or run a program.
They lost that control in favour of the current funding formula, in which the province allocates funds based on enrolment.
“The new funding formula addressed the issue of equality of funding for students in Ontario. Catholic schools benefited from the new formula,” board chair Wade Petranik said Saturday.
“There are discussions out there to return to the tax-based system,” noted John Madigan, the board’s director of education. “It makes for inequalities in rural areas because we just don’t have the tax base.”
With only 1,500 students spread across 11,008 sq. km of mostly rural area, the local board felt it couldn’t compete with the tax base in more urban areas.
Madigan said where school boards in Toronto or Ottawa could merely raise taxes a 10th of a percentage point and still generate millions of dollars in additional revenue, doing the same here only would raise $20,000 or $30,000.
The board agreed there were issues with the current formula that must be addressed, such as the fact that costs are projected by the province based on 1997 estimates.
“There are challenges, such as funding special education and transportation programs, that need to be addressed, but that model was not just thrown into place. It was carefully considered across the province,” Petranik noted.
The task force is expected to deliver an interim report on the new funding formula in November.
The final report should be completed in January in order to give boards a chance to make changes before the next 2003-04 school year.