03/30/2015 04:38 EDT | Updated 05/30/2015 05:59 EDT

Lester B. Pearson School Board faces tough decisions

The Lester B. Pearson School Board, one of Quebec's largest, which oversees English schools from Verdun to the West Island and further west off-island, is faced with a major decision tonight.

The school board council will vote at 7:30 p.m. on whether to consider what’s called a “major school change consultation,” which would take a hard look at how the school board can save money.

School closures, program cancellations, and mergers could all be a possibility.

Here’s a closer look at the challenges facing the school board:

Costs rising faster than expenses

The school board's expenses — most of which are tied up salaries — have been rising more quickly than its revenues, which come from Quebec's education ministry. Last year, the school board had a $4-million budget shortfall.

Lester B. Pearson's annual revenue and expenses (in millions)

In the last week's budget, the Quebec government announced education spending would be limited to a 0.2 per cent increase, which, after rising costs are factored in, essentially amounts to a cut, said Carol Heffernan, who oversees budgetary matters as Lester B. Pearson's assistant director general. 

Teachers salaries are going up by one per cent on April 1, while Hydro-Quebec rates are going up 2.9 per cent.

That means cuts will have to be made elsewhere within the system, Heffernan said.

School board chairperson Suanne Stein Day said she's "very, very concerned" about how the latest budget will affect Lester B. Pearson. 

She said the school board has had a total of $10.7 million in claw backs in 2014-2015, of which over $4 million were new cuts this year.

Declining enrolment

The school board serves approximately 21,000 students in the youth sector and another 8,700 in its continuing education sector, but enrolment is on the decline at the elementary and high school level.

Only 12 of Lester B. Pearson’s 50 elementary and secondary schools expect to see increased enrolment between now and 2017-2018, according to the school board’s own projections. 

Stein Day said parents have made it clear more French-language teaching is a priority in the system, and the school board will put an emphasis in the hopes of increasing enrolment.

Closures not ruled out

The school board is responsible for a network of 37 elementary schools, 13 secondary schools and seven continuing education centres. It also operates alternative learning centres and international language centres. 

Even if enrolment is expected to decline, the cost of operating and heating all those buildings continues to climb.

Stein Day said the school board's vocational programs and international language centres are among two areas of growth within the school board.

She said those programs could generate revenue and fill empty space in schools where enrolment is down.

"Nobody wants to close schools,” Stein Day said, though she didn't rule out the possibility that could happen.