Quebec’s largest school service center is struggling to manage budgets of $ 250 million per year dedicated to helping students in difficulty. Managers do not know if the support is offered to children with the greatest needs and do not seek to measure the delays in access to student services, warns the Auditor General of Quebec, Guylaine Leclerc.
The Montreal School Service Center (CSSDM), which was the subject of this audit, “does not take sufficient account of the needs of students” to allocate its resources, the Auditor General said on Wednesday. This service center is responsible for 10% of all students in Quebec with a budget of $ 1.2 billion.
“The CSSDM does not collect important data and does not sufficiently exploit the data at its disposal to better redirect the distribution of resources and support students with special needs”, she said during a press briefing afterwards. the tabling of its report in the National Assembly.
In 2017, each service center had to create a Resource Allocation Committee made up of school officials and school administrators. The mission of these committees is to recommend the best ways to allocate budgets dedicated to student support (for the help of psychoeducators, remedial teachers or speech therapists, in particular).
The service centers also had to adopt a Commitment to Success Plan which sets out objectives to be achieved, such as reducing the graduation gap between boys and girls.
The CSSDM took four years – especially because of the pandemic – to fully implement these mandatory mechanisms, revealed the Auditor General. Guylaine Leclerc is concerned about these delays, because the 178 school principals deplore the long delays in the offer of specialized support to students.
Two-thirds of respondents indicated that they were unable to provide the services required for their students “in a timely manner”. Almost 20% of the administrators mention that the students of their establishment have to wait more than a year to have their assessment assessed if they have an adaptation or learning difficulty.
Indicators to be documented
Another indication of a lack of data, 14 schools reported no student absences for the entire 2018-2019 school year. These establishments simply do not keep track of absences. These are, however, a revealing index of students at risk of failure, notes the auditor.
Guylaine Leclerc also raised gaps in adult education and vocational training, where students with special needs have little specialized support. The auditor notes another well-known phenomenon at the CSSDM: the service center cuts budgets for adult education and vocational training to cover deficits in primary and secondary schools.
These cuts reached $ 5.4 million in adult training and $ 6.5 million in the vocational training budget between 2017-2018 and 2020-2021, or 10% of their respective budgets. “These punctures were part of the measures taken to restore balance taken in 2015-2016 by the CSSDM. Although the budget was balanced over the next three years, these drainings continued and were not called into question, ”says the auditor.
Another point for improvement, the CSSDM is absorbing the losses of certain establishments with the surpluses of other schools at the end of each financial year. By having better indicators of needs on the ground, the service center could allocate budgets to the worst-off schools, according to the auditor.
Fixes in progress
The CSSDM claims to have made corrections even before the publication of the Auditor General’s report. An Office of Data Governance and Success Monitoring will be created by the start of 2022 to “better value school and administrative data and help school teams, managers and bodies to make the best decisions based on on these ”.
“This office will exploit the potential of digital technologies to ensure regular monitoring of students’ results, the evolution of their needs and the effectiveness of the interventions carried out. Predictive tools will also make it possible to guide the early detection of pupils in difficulty and adapt the strategies deployed with them, ”indicates Alain Perron, spokesperson for the CSSDM.
The graduation rate also increased despite the difficulties raised by the auditor. The CSSDM has reached its target of 77.6% of graduate students (after seven years of study).
The gap in the graduation rate between boys and girls also fell to 5.4 percentage points for regular students and 5.3 points for students with disabilities, below the target of 6.1 points set by the service center. This gap was until recently more than 10 percentage points, still in favor of girls, who persevere more than boys.
Crises to manage
In the auditor’s report, the CSSDM recalls that the pandemic has forced the education network to completely review its priorities. School officials and school principals have had their hands full since March 2020 to manage distance education, health measures and class closures due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
The reform of school governance, which replaced elected commissioners with volunteer administrators, also caused major difficulties at the CSSDM, in the midst of the global health crisis: eight of the 15 members of the board of directors resigned, which caused the placing under supervision of the service center.
School administrators have devoted considerable energy to curbing these crises, which left less time to strengthen the distribution of resources, argues the CSSDM.