Ratepayers whose school taxes go to the Conseil des écoles publique de l’Est Ontarien (CEPEO) will see their rates rise by six per cent for the 2020-2021 school year, with COVID-19 safety measures and an increase in student population accounting for significant portions of the increase.

The CEPEO’s budget for the upcoming school year will total $292 million.  The board operates 43 schools offering French-language education to more than 17,000 students throughout Eastern Ontario and forecasts an 4.3% increase in students for the upcoming school year, which will result in an addition of approximately 70 new staff positions throughout the region.

The French-language school board is also implementing safety protocols recommended by the province in order to deal with the threat of COVID-19. The cost of those measure alone is expected to total $700,000 and will provide for extra janitorial staff and additional personnel in order to monitor expanded lunch hours and recesses.

“We are looking at two or three different lunch periods in the same school, so that we can maintain social distancing in the cafeterias,” noted CEPEO President Denis Chartrand, who spoke with The Review on July 20. “We may have two or three recesses in the same school as well, so we will need more monitors and we’ll need more janitors.”

Chartrand pointed out there could also be future costs associated with the pandemic, depending upon how the scenario plays out over the next few months. Such items as additional personal protective equipment may be required, or in a worst-case scenario school classes could possibly not resume at all. The CEPEO already had significant on-line learning options for its students prior to the pandemic and those tools have been further improved and will be available to all students, but the board is hoping classes will be able to resume at the schools in as normal a format as possible.

“One great benefit of school is learning how to behave in society with your peers,” Chartrand emphasized. “Online learning is good for certain things, but I would not consider it a great benefit to take all of your courses online.”

The board’s 2020-2021 budget also includes funds for five major construction and renovation projects, including a new French-language public high school in Barrhaven, which is to begin classes in September of 2021.