Chair’s Message: EMSB Calls upon the government to cover more than $10 million in COVID-19 expenses not budgeted
On behalf of the Council of Commissioners of the English Montreal School Board (EMSB), I thought it was important to update the community on the financial situation of the Board after our second quarter budget review. Our financial position is worse than anticipated. This is largely due to costs associated with the pandemic, which could result in more than $10 million alone in COVID-19 related expenses, which are not budgeted.
The current Council of Commissioners took office less than four months ago in the midst of the pandemic and after the EMSB had been under trusteeship for a year. While we have focused on the safety and well-being of our community, the evaluation and implementation of the Transformation Plan and the recruitment of our next Director General, the increasingly deteriorating financial position of the EMSB should be of concern to all stakeholders.
In June of 2020, the government appointed Trustee adopted a 2020-2021 budget of $376 million that used all of the allowable amount from the EMSB’s accumulated surplus of $7.8 million to balance revenues and expenses for the year ending June 30, 2021.
This was the first time in many years that the EMSB projected what was essentially a deficit of this magnitude, due largely to expenses related to the pandemic, which was to be covered by using the Board’s accumulated surplus.
Approval to Finance Transformation Plan Was Never Received
It is important to emphasize that the cost of implementing the EMSB’s Transformation Plan was not included in the budget adopted by the Trustee last June. As context, during a Board meeting on November 4, 2020 the Trustee announced that the EMSB had obtained approval from Québec’s Ministry of Education to finance the implementation of the Transformation Plan using the EMSB’s accumulated surplus. On February 17, the Deputy Minister of Education confirmed, in writing, that this is not the case. Consequently, the EMSB cannot use the accumulated surplus to fund the Transformation Plan.
At the mid-point in our financial year, the situation is worse than was projected last June. Through a combination of decreased revenues and significantly increased expenses, the forecasted 2020-2021 deficit of the EMSB could be as high as $14.6 million, $10 million of which are pandemic related expenses. This is only a projection and it is important to note that these figures will likely change as the real numbers are collected over the next two quarters.
These elevated, COVID-19 related projected expenses, unfunded to date by the Ministry of Education, are:
- An additional $5 million for the EMSB’s Virtual School .
- $3 million in daycare fees to be refunded to parents during pandemic related closures and absences.
- $1.6 for the purchasing of personal protective equipment (PPE).
- An additional $340,000 for caretaking costs,
These figures do not include the expenses associated with the purchase, installation and maintenance of the 800 air purifiers which have been installed in those classrooms without mechanical ventilation in all our schools – a cost estimated at $1.4 million borne entirely by the EMSB.
Without these additional pandemic related expenses, which are necessary to ensure the safest educational environment possible for our students, teachers and staff and their families, the EMSB’s financial situation would be much more positive.
This situation is not unique to the EMSB. Many other school boards and school service centres, throughout Quebec, are facing similar deficits. Like all other provinces and territories, Quebec has received additional funding from the government of Canada for educational expenses relating to fighting the pandemic. The government of Quebec must use these additional transfers, and its own autonomous revenues, to adequately compensate the EMSB and all other educational institutions for doing what is required to keep educating our youth sector and adult students during these exceptional times.
Calling on The Government
The EMSB is calling upon the Quebec government to fund our deficit due to the unusual circumstances of the past year. Failing that, we will have no choice but to make very difficult decisions at budget time in June. In the interim, we will continue to closely monitor our financial situation and to take all measures to ensure that services to students are maintained and enhanced during this challenging period. That is our pledge to the community.