Saskatoon: Secrecy and a lack of financial transparency are two of the most common characteristics of public private partnerships (P3s), says Kathleen Corrigan, a CUPE researcher in British Columbia and chair of the Burnaby Public School Board.
Ms. Corrigan, who is in Saskatoon to speak to CUPE education workers about the perils of P3 schools, says citizens must demand accountability from both the Saskatoon public school board – which is considering a P3 school for the city – and the provincial government.
“There needs to be iron clad assurances that the public will be fully apprised of the terms and conditions of any P3 school proposal before a final decision is made,” says Corrigan. “This is especially important when you consider that P3 schools contracts can extend for up to 35 years – much longer than the tenure of most school boards and governments.”
In September, the Saskatoon public school board announced it was “actively exploring” the idea of a public private partnership (P3) to build a new school in the north-east area of the city. Under the controversial scheme, a private company would finance, build and operate the school and lease it back to the school division over an extended period of time.
The SaskParty government, which announced in March it is receptive to P3 proposals for large-scale capital projects, is currently working on a P3 school policy.
Although Saskatoon school board chair Ray Morrison stated publicly that he believes P3 arrangements tend to get things done faster than traditional financing, Ms. Corrigan says that’s not the case.
CUPE Saskatchewan President Tom Graham says there’s also ample evidence to show that the P3 model is a much more expensive way to build a school.
“A 2007 Alberta case study [Doing the Math: Why P3’s for Alberta schools don’t add up] concluded for every two schools financed and built as P3 projects, three schools could have been built using conventional public financing,” says Graham.
“The cost of private sector borrowing is even more expensive now as a result of the global credit crunch,” he adds.
In addition, Nova Scotia scrapped its experiment with P3 schools in 2000 after it encountered cost-overruns in excess of $35 million and a myriad of other problems. As former Nova Scotia Education Minister Jane Purves stated, “there are an awful lot of loose ends and problems with the P3 process.”
Will Bauer, President of CUPE Local 8443, which represents public school support staff in the city, questions why school boards have to look for “financial alternatives” to fund school construction, when the province is enjoying an economic boom.
“The government’s responsible for education – including the construction of new schools,” Bauer says. “School boards must insist the government’s school construction policy meets the needs of students and communities, not developers. That means a policy of public school construction,” he states.
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For more information contact: Tom Graham at 229-8171.