It’s discrimination in either language
“ It’s almost discriminatory,” said Steve Bletas, chairperson of Laval’s Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board, about the fact that homeowners affiliated with the town’s English-language board are being charged a higher school-tax rate than those affiliated with the local French-language board, the Commission scolaire de Laval. While discrimination might not have been the intent of the government measures, as it stands the situation is in fact discriminatory, period.
The problem arises from the Education Department’s formula for calculating school-tax rates and revenue levels that set a maximum school-tax rate as well as a maximum amount of tax revenue a board can collect. That maximum rate is 35 cents per $ 100 home valuation.
At that rate, the French-language board would have exceeded its maximum total amount and was therefore able to lower its rate down to about 30 cents per $ 100 valuation. Sir Wilfrid Laurier, with a substantially smaller tax base, meanwhile needs to tax at the maximum rate to get the money it needs. That means the English board taxes the owner of a $ 400,000 home $ 200 a year more than the francophone board does.
The discrepancy – and unfairness – is even greater in the Laurentian region where anglophone parents are taxed at the Sir Wilfrid Laurier rate while francophones come under a separate board that charges even less than the French-language Laval board.
There is a provision in place for boards, such as Wilfrid Laurier, with a tax base that can’t deliver the maximum total amount of revenue to receive equalization funding to make up the difference. There is a catch, however: To receive the equalization grant a recipient board must tax at the maximum level, which is what has led to the Laval situation. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that only homeowners with children who attend public schools in a given jurisdiction are required to pay taxes to the board whose schools their children attend. Others are free to choose the board to which they wish to pay the school tax, which, given the discrepancy in rates, could understandably prompt Laval anglophones with no children in school to pay their taxes to the French-language board, further eroding Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s tax base.
The board has complained to the Education Department and so far has been put on hold. An aide to minister Michelle Courchesne said late last week that the matter is being studied. The aide added that it is a complex situation in that the school tax formula is based on a range of factors, including size of territory, transportation requirements, the number of schools in a jurisdiction, etc. More simple is the fact that public education is a basic public service for which some people shouldn’t have to pay more than their neighbours, no matter what language they speak.