From the Montreal Gazette, April 29, 2014.
For the first time in the history of Quebec school boards, the chair will be elected by universal suffrage this fall, and retired teacher Chris Eustace has kicked off the race by announcing his candidacy for chair of the Lester B. Pearson School Board.
School board elections will be held on Nov. 2.
LBPSB chair Suanne Stein Day, who was elected by board commissioners in 2011, has also confirmed she will run for chair and told The Gazette she’s heard rumours others will be declaring their candidacy in the weeks to come.
Even without other candidates, the race might well be heated.
Eustace has never been shy about criticizing how the LBPSB is run.
He taught English at Pierrefonds Comprehensive High School for 33 years and has attended every council of commissioners meeting for the last 15 years.
Over time, his persistent quest for details about how business is done at the board during question period rubbed both Stein Day and her predecessor, Marcus Tabachnick, the wrong way.
Eustace was barred from asking questions at council meetings for 18 months during Tabachnick’s time as chair, and five months ago, under Stein Day’s watch, he was told he could no longer ask questions.
Eustace said it’s because he asks uncomfortable questions about the board’s practices.
Stein Day said she told him more than once to only ask LBPSB-focused questions but he often asked questions that had to do with other institutions.
She also said his questions were often overly long and detailed. A three-minute limit was introduced, but Stein Day said he would go over the allotted time.
“He wouldn’t respect the rules,” Stein Day said. “He came to one meeting with 14 questions. I told him to pick his two favourites. And we won’t tolerate personal attacks on present or past administrators.”
Eustace asked his lawyer to send the board a letter requesting the ban be lifted. He has yet to hear back.
“I first saw the letter Feb. 14,” Stein Day said. “At the time, we were in the middle of a search for a new lawyer. We just hired one, so Mr. Eustace’s lawyer should be receiving a response in the near future.
“When legal counsel is introduced, we let the lawyers speak to each other.”
Eustace said he decided he would run for chair because he is tired of waiting for his voice to be heard.
The 69-year-old grandfather of eight has two grandchildren attending LBPSB schools, and a third one will begin in September.
“I’ve tried every avenue to be allowed to speak,” Eustace said. “I always handed in my questions in advance so that (the commissioners) wouldn’t be taken off guard and could come prepared. The lawyer’s letter asks that we settle this amicably, but I’m being completely ignored.”
Campaigning will be a new experience for Stein Day.
In the past, the chair was voted in by the board’s elected commissioners, but in a bid to make the boards more accountable to the voting public, changes were made to the Education Act under Jean Charest’s Liberal government.
“Now I will be campaigning in a territory the size of Belgium,” Stein Day said. “Do I put up posters? Go door to door? I don’t know yet.”
With six months to go before the election, there is plenty of time to hone a campaign platform, but Eustace already has a number of issues he would like to address if elected.
He would study the proportion of administrators to the board’s student population to see if the administration might need to be streamlined.
He would also give the LBPSB’s governing board more power. The governing board includes a mix of teachers, students, parents and members of the community, which means it hears, first-hand, a variety of concerns from a number of grassroots sources and reports to and makes recommendations to the board.
“That’s where the action is,” Eustace said. “The school board says it consults, consults, consults with the governing board, but does it listen?”
And, Eustace said, he would reinstate a more fluid limit of about five minutes per person during council question periods.
Kathryn Greenaway – Montreal Gazette