School funding issue examined

We are happy to post a submission from David Daniels on

THE SCHOOL FUNDING LAWSUIT

I spent time at the Kentville Justice Centre reviewing some of the documents in the lawsuit between Kings County versus Wolfville, Kentville, Hantsport and Berwick.

There is a court hearing scheduled for March 8th at 10:00 a.m. and March 9th at 9:30 a.m.

I was told that Justice Warner, who is presiding over this case, was in the process of reviewing the case file so I could not review all and the more recent submissions.  However, I was able to review the Amended Notice of Application and the Notices of Contest.

The question at the heart of the case is how to determine how much the municipalities should be paying for education.  A 1982 agreement required that the municipalities would have to contribute to cost of education based upon the student enrollment numbers from each municipality.  There was no end date set in the agreement.  This agreement was amended in 1989 which added Hantsport to the agreement.  No change to the formula was made in this amendment.

Kings County claims the allocation of funding for schools should be based on the uniform assessment as required by the present Education Act.  Kings County claims that if it was paying its share of education costs based upon uniform assessment, and not number of students, it would be paying about $1,000,000.00 less a year.  If Kings County pays $1,000,000.00 less, that means that Wolfville, Kentville and Hantsport would have to make the difference.

Kings County presents two legal arguments to support its position.  First, it claims that the parties did not have the legal authority to enter into the 1982 agreement.  The legal term used is that the action of the municipalities was “ultra vires” (“beyond powers”).  And since the parties had no power to enter into the agreement, the 1982 agreement (amended in 1989) becomes void.  In that case, the Education Act would control and allotment of costs would be based upon uniform assessment.

Second, assuming the agreement is legal, Kings County claims that it has the right to terminate the agreement on reasonable notice to the other parties.  Once the agreement is terminated, and no agreement takes its place, then allotment of education costs would be based upon present Education Act, by uniform assessment.  Kings County claims it has given reasonable notice, and beginning April 1, 2010, education payments by the municipalities should be based upon uniform assessment.

Not surprisingly, Wolfville, Kentville and Hantsport claim that the municipalities had the legal authority to enter into the agreement.  The 1982 agreement was not ultra vires.  Furthermore, the towns also claim that no party can unilaterally terminate the agreement.  In other words, Kings County does not have the legal ability to end the agreement.  Changes to the agreement can only occur if all the parties agree.

One point of interest in the legal argument, at least from the papers I have been able to review, is that the issue of “fairness” of one or the other formulas for funding education is not at issue.  In other words, at least in the legal arena, no one is claiming that it is “better”, “more equitable” or “fairer” that educational contributions should be based upon uniform assessment versus school enrollment.

David A. Daniels
February 25, 2010

Our comment:

A good elucidation of the legal issues which as Daniels points out doesn’t get to the guts of the matter. We are not sure that the legal nonsense is necessary as it only fills the coffers of the lawyers. The issue of fairness and equal treatment can only be resolved by sitting down and coming to some new agreement.

As we have said before, perhaps (if education is considered a societal good to be paid by everyone whether they have children or not) it is time that it be taken out of the property tax system and put fully into the provincial budget. The property tax system (flawed and misunderstood as it is) is not the best funding mechanism.

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One response to “School funding issue examined

  1. Duck-shoving between the various levels of government is wasteful and disruptive.

    So when will Double-Dexter and Minister Steele get off their butts and consolidate those 8 School Boards and 11 Health Boards? Heck, 1 million souls barely constitutes a modern city — there is a stack of replicate administrative fat to trim.

    Double-D was pretty quick off the mark when it came to shutting down a ferry in an electorate that didn’t vote for him… but otherwise, he’s been dragging the chain.