Regina, July 1, 2014 - During a special meeting on Thursday, June 26, 2014, at 7:00 p.m., the trustees of the Conseil scolaire fransaskois (“CSF”) decided that it had no choice but to return to court in order to obtain supplementary funding.
"The morning of Friday, June 27, 2014, at 9:00 a.m., the CSF asked Roger J.F. Lepage, of Miller Thomson LLP, to appear in court before Justice Barrington-Foote, to advise that the CSF had to return to court to obtain supplementary funding prior to the start of classes in September 2014. The CSF made this decision in order to ensure that the students of the Conseil des écoles fransaskoises (“CÉF”) had the full services to which they are entitled."
The CSF has been chronically under-funded since its creation in 1995. Since the very beginning, the Government of Saskatchewan has provided funding to the CSF in the same manner as for English school boards. The Government of Saskatchewan has not recognized the costs associated to the additional responsibilities imposed on the CSF by section 23 of the Charter. Under the Charter, the CSF has an educational, cultural, identity and community mandate, and must be able to right the wrongs caused by 100 years of assimilation.
Firstly, the Government of Saskatchewan claims that it is not responsible for funding the costs associated with francization of part-time kindergarten for 3-year-olds, full-time kindergarten for 4-year-olds and full-time kindergarten for 5-year-olds. According to the Government of Saskatchewan, its obligation in terms of financing begins only at part-time kindergarten for 5-year-olds. Secondly, the Government of Saskatchewan claims that it is not required to fund programming for non-rights-holders. The CSF claims that it is important to support some non-rights-holders to right the wrongs of assimilation. The Government of Saskatchewan claims that it does not have to fund the cultural and social activities aimed at developing the identity of the students. According to the Government of Saskatchewan, it is not responsible for providing additional funding to right the wrongs caused by assimilation.
The CSF states that it is in a unique position. It must serve a small population spread out over a large geographic area. It is the only one of 28 Saskatchewan school boards that finds itself in this situation. This small population spread out over a large geographic area is the reason the CSF does not benefit from economies of scale. Its administrative staff must travel considerable distances in order to provide the same services provided by English school boards in Saskatchewan. It must build and maintain 15 buildings for 1,942 students, must have 15 school administrations and 15 custodians, and must have a bus system, which the other school boards are not required to provide.
The CSF stresses that if its 1,942 students were all located in one city, for example, Saskatoon, the CSF would be able to meet its needs with two buildings, and two school administrations. It would benefit from economies of scale for each educational level. The CSF currently needs many teachers to meet educational needs, from kindergarten for 3-year-olds to grade 12. In many cases, the CSF is forced to combine grades within a same classroom, which requires a student-to-teacher ratio that is costly to the CSF. Over the years, the CSF has attempted to explain the reasons why it needs supplementary funding. Unfortunately, the Government of Saskatchewan has never made the changes required.
Starting in 1995, the CSF undertook the renovation of eight schools. These eight schools were funded by the federal government. Once this step was completed, the CSF turned its attention to expanding its network. Once again, following much negotiation, the CSF was required to go to court in order to get the following schools: Zenon Park (1998), Moose Jaw (2003), Saskatoon-secondary (2003), Regina-secondary (2010), Saskatoon-primary (2013), Lloydminster (2013), Ponteix (2013), and Saskatoon-primary (2013).
The CSF finally had to make a court application in 2004 to obtain operational funding, following several years of negotiations to create a Francophone factor in order to fund the specific needs of the CSF. This court application led to a settlement agreement in 2005, by which the Government of Saskatchewan was required to pay $1.7 million per year more to the CSF. The Government of Saskatchewan required the CSF to take on responsibility for all red-roofed buildings belonging to the Collège Mathieu corporation, in Gravelbourg. The CSF did not want to take on responsibility for these buildings since the number of students did not justify the number of buildings. The Government of Saskatchewan required the CSF to take on responsibility for these buildings and agreed, in the settlement agreement of 2005, to pay all operating and maintenance costs related to the red-roofed buildings outside of the usual funding formulas. Under this agreement, the CSF took on these buildings.
The Government of Saskatchewan followed the agreement until 2008 and without the CSF’s consent, stopped making payments. The Government of Saskatchewan owes the CSF $2.9 million to August 31, 2014. Despite repeated requests from the CSF for the Government of Saskatchewan to live up to the agreement, the latter still refuses to pay. This is one of the reasons why the CSF had to dip into its line of credit, which has resulted in the CSF having to pay interest and having trouble paying its other bills. It is quite likely that the CSF will have to make another court application to force the Government of Saskatchewan to pay this amount.
Situation in Lloydminster
In September 2010, the CSF, in good faith, implemented a French first language program in Lloydminster. As early as the first year, students from the Alberta side of the border were registered. There were talks between the governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan in order to make sure that the Francophone school in Lloydminster could operate in the same way as the catholic and public schools in Lloydminster. These schools are governed by the Lloydminster Charter, which ensures that both governments pay their pro rata share of education costs based on the number of students from Alberta and Saskatchewan at the school. The CSF had requested that the Lloydminster Charter be amended to include the CSF.
Both governments have claimed that it was not necessary to amend the Lloydminster Charter to ensure the CSF school operates in the same way as the catholic and public schools in Lloydminster. The CSF received correspondence from the premier of Saskatchewan, the honourable Brad Wall, and from the ministers of education of Alberta and Saskatchewan, all of whom committed to operating as if the CSF was included in the Lloydminster Charter, which guaranteed it pro rata funding.
Contrary to what the Government of Saskatchewan has told the CSF, the former amended the Lloydminster Charter on January 1, 2013, but did not make the changes required to include the CSF. In March 2013, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal confirmed that the Government of Saskatchewan was, in fact, only responsible for providing funding for Saskatchewan students, and that the Government of Alberta was responsible for providing funding for Alberta students. Four years have passed and the CSF has yet to receive the funding owed to it for educating Alberta students. Since the very beginning, the majority of students at the Francophone school in Lloydminster have come from Alberta. The CSF made many attempts to obtain payment from the Government of Alberta, unsuccessfully. The CSF began negotiations with the Conseil scolaire Centre-Nord, which provides French education services in this region of Alberta.
The CSF was to receive approximately $1.7 million from the Government of Alberta for these four years. Unfortunately, it only received $400,000 in May 2014. This unpaid amount has caused the CSF to have to dip into its line of credit once again.
In 2008, the CSF was once again faced with under-funding. Once again, it informed the Government of Saskatchewan that it had to change the Francophone factor to find a permanent solution to the chronic under-funding. The negotiations were unsuccessful. In February 2009, the CSF was to make a court application because of this under-funding. The Government of Saskatchewan offered to negotiate for two years, during which it would change its funding formula for the CSF and for the English school boards. The CSF agreed to negotiate for two years. It received $4 million in standby funding, which allowed it to operate during this two-year negotiation period.
In March 2011, the Government of Saskatchewan requested a third year to draft its new funding formula. The CSF agreed on the condition that the Government of Saskatchewan provide it additional standby funding for the new year. The Government of Saskatchewan refused. The CSF was forced to make a court application in April 2011 to obtain additional funding. In May 2011, the court awarded the CSF an additional $2.3 million. In May 2012, the CSF returned to court to obtain another $2.7 million in additional funding. Despite the CSF’s efforts to negotiate a solution, it had to return to court a third time, in May 2013, to obtain an additional $1.7 million.
Some are asking why the CSF always needs more funding. The answer is simple: the CSF began in 1995 with 800 students in eight schools. To date, it must meet the needs of 1,942 students in 15 schools. This has increased its needs significantly in terms of funding. Moreover, the CSF is still growing. It receives requests to establish new education programs in new communities. To do so, the CSF requires funding. Contrary to English school boards, which have been in existence for decades, the CSF must still develop its programs and infrastructure to meet the needs of the 6,000 rights-holders across the province.
Negotiations for 2013-2014
The chronic under-funding has caused the CSF to have to eliminate some administrative positions in order to meet its budget to August 31, 2014. A first round of cuts took place in October 2013. This caused a panic in the Francophone community. Some members of the board of Directors decided to take a new approach in its relationship with the Government of Saskatchewan. They decided to suspend all the CSF’s court applications and to attempt to negotiate an agreement, named “PELEC”, which guaranteed that the CSF would receive permanent increased funding.
In exchange, the CSF asked the Government of Saskatchewan for additional funding of $3.7 million and the construction of schools in Prince Albert, Saskatoon, Regina, and Ponteix to meet its immediate needs. The Government of Saskatchewan insisted that the CSF sign an agreement to suspend its court applications before it would decide on the amount of standby funding it would pay to the CSF. The latter signed the agreement in good faith on April 1, 2014. Under this agreement, the Government of Saskatchewan had until May 28, 2014, to provide reasonable standby funding to the CSF. Unfortunately, by May 28, 2014, the Government of Saskatchewan did not pay the $3.7 million in additional funding requested by the CSF. On May 29, 2014, the CSF pulled out of the agreement and sent a letter to the Government of Saskatchewan advising of its intention to sign a new agreement on the condition that the Government of Saskatchewan provide it with standby funding during the negotiations. The CSF gave the Government of Saskatchewan until June 30, 2014, to provide this funding.
Because the Government of Saskatchewan still had not paid the $2.9 million owed to the CSF, and because the Government of Alberta had not paid the amounts owing to the CSF for the education of Alberta students in Lloydminster, the CSF was no longer able to pay its staff on June 25, 2014. It then asked its teachers if they would agree to be paid on June 30, 2014, instead of on June 25, 2014.
It is important to understand how the CSF receives its funding. In March of each year, the Government of Saskatchewan announces the annual budget to be paid to each school board. However, the funds are only paid to the school boards once per month, on the 30th of the month, while the local collective agreement signed by the CSF and approved by the Government of Saskatchewan and the teachers require the school boards to pay teachers on the 25th of each month. In other words, the CSF is required to pay salaries on the 25th of each month while it only receives its subsidy five days later. This causes the CSF financial problems, as it must always dip into its line of credit to pay its staff. Additionally, in May and June 2014 the CSF still had not received approximately $1 million in reimbursements for capitalization expenditures owed to it by the Government of Saskatchewan.
This is the context in which the CSF asked the Government of Saskatchewan to pay it an advance on salary to be able to pay its staff on June 25, 2014. When this issue was raised by the Opposition at the Legislative Assembly in early June 2014, the minister of Education seemed embarrassed. Rather than pay the amounts owing to the CSF, the minister of Education laid the blame on the CSF. He accused the CSF of mismanagement and of bad governance. He even announced that the government intended to ask the provincial auditor to do a performance audit. The Government of Saskatchewan then admitted that it owed $1 million and immediately paid this amount to the CSF. This allowed the latter to pay its teachers on June 25, 2014, as it is required to do.
Attempt to Renew Negotiations for the PELEC
In June 2014, the CSF met several times with civil servants and politicians in an ultimate attempt to reach an out-of-court settlement regarding standby funding to allow it to negotiate the PELEC.
On June 10, 2014, the Government of Saskatchewan stated quite clearly that it was refusing to pay additional standby funding until it received a report from the provincial auditor. The CSF was advised that this report would not be available until December 2014, as the provincial auditor’s office does not have the linguistic capabilities to do an audit in French.
The CSF trustees felt betrayed by the Government of Saskatchewan. The latter knew that it had to provide standby funding in exchange for the suspension of the three court applications. Despite this, the Government of Saskatchewan has now clearly indicated to the CSF that it has no intention of providing it with standby funding in the foreseeable future. Without this standby funding, the CSF is not in a position to suspend the court applications and begin negotiations. It is in this context that the CSF had to make the difficult decision to return to court.
Thus, the CSF’s lawyers, Roger J.F. Lepage and Francis Poulin, of Miller Thomson LLP, appeared in court before the case management judge, Justice Barrington-Foote, on Friday, June 27, 2014, at 9:00 a.m. They told the court that the CSF would file a motion for an injunction in order to receive additional funding. The CSF requested to appear in court on July 28, 2014, and to receive a decision no later than August 15, 2014. The CSF wants to make sure that the students of the CÉF have the full services to which they are entitled. According to the CSF, it is essential that it receive additional funding to make up missing services. The next court appearance is scheduled for July 7, 2014, at 9:00 a.m., in order to set the date for the motion.
Ironically, in the evening of Thursday, June 26, 2014, the Government of Saskatchewan submitted a new draft agreement to suspend the court actions. This time, the Government of Saskatchewan asked the CSF to cooperate, by appearing in the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal with respect to a reference regarding four issues. The Government of Saskatchewan admitted that it was not ready to negotiate regarding funding for early childhood development, non-rights-holders, cultural and identity activities, and activities to right the wrongs of the past. Moreover, according to this new draft agreement, the Government of Saskatchewan would not provide any additional funding. It is because of this new offer from the Government of Saskatchewan that the CSF felt it needed to return to court.
For further information:
Miller Thomson LLP
Roger J.F. Lepage