Think about classrooms

Dear Editor:

Permit me to clarify some points and offer a different perspective on the February 12th editorial in The Equity :  A vote for education .

The first paragraph states : ” Among the consequences of the PQ government ‘s cuts to the public school budget just over a year ago will be a significant reduction in the number of commissioners representing their local communities on school boards across the province.”

The credit to the PQ is misplaced.

Consider this headline from an article in the May 28, 2008 of Le Devoir: ” Les commissions scolaires doivent en finir avec le statu quo, dit Courchesne”.

The reduction in the number of commissioners in the province is the result of Bill 88, a product of former Liberal Education Minister Michelle Courchesne,  passed in the autumn of 2008 .  The parent-friendly bill calls for the modernization of school board democracy.

Bill 88 called for reforms that would shrink school boards and make the administrative bodies more accessible and more accountable to parents. The idea was to make the system more democratic and less costly.

This means more parental involvement because school boards’  past record provides little comfort that they are willing or able to present an open, democratic and accountable organization.

Anyway, the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) was not happy with Bill 88 and they said so. They complained bitterly about everything in the bill from universal suffrage for election of the chairman to the idea of a student ombudsman.  Ironically,  the only thing the QESBA accepted, in Bill 88 was the reduction of the number of commissioners.

So, what is the QESBA?  The nine English school boards in Quebec are members of the QESBA, which is a member of the Canadian School Boards Association. Membership in either association is costlyand, of course, paid by the taxpayer.

What do they do?  Talk a lot; attend conferences, conventions, congresses, and committee meetings but accomplish little but merely exist for personal aggrandizement.

Let’s review two of the association’s past actions concerning the Anglo education community.

1. Consider how the association was virtually invisible when opposing the laws concerning the access to English schools matter. For six years following the enactment of Bill 104, in 2002, the association remained mute. I witnessed the hearing at the Supreme Court of Canada, in Ottawa, on December 15, 2008, when a lone lawyer said the English school boards were not helpful for his clients.

2. Note too the boards’ lethargy regarding the lack of updated English textbooks for students to follow the new curriculum. I was a teacher in one of the two Montreal high schools piloting the new curriculum. We raised concern about the lack of English texts. For a decade, teachers had to make do while the QESBA kept quiet.

Worse the government was misled by the QESBA saying everything was fine on the English front. Four MNAs were obligated to write a letter to the Gazette Editor (“We pushed for textbooks” – June 21, 2008).   ( Yolande James, Lawrence Bergman, Russell Copeman, Geoff Kelley)

Looking back:  what benefit was the QESBA’s 2006 paper: “Advisory Council on the Future of English Public Education,” the brief to the Bouchard-Taylor Commission in 2007, and the report to the forum on the Future of School Boards in 2008?

Not one word was mentioned regarding the English textbook matter. Finally, thank heaven it was the Quebec government, not the boards, that came to the aid of the English students.

That said, Quebec has the largest education bureaucracy, comprised of the costliest school boards governed by too many commissioners with the lowest voter turnout – in Canada. The QESBA does not respond to the needs of English Quebecers.

We need schools with more autonomy and fewer bureaucratic levels, which cost a lot of money that seem to serve little purpose.

Coincidentally, last Saturday the QESBA brought in Madame Courchesne to promote the school board elections, slated for November.  She made one point that is  worth noting.

She said  ” Parents are the authority. ”  Indeed !

With that thought in mind, consider that parents, teachers, school principals and school support personnel are more important than school board commissioners and their pitiful , costly elections, where about 70 % of commissioners are acclaimed.

Now think about the reported three French school boards who dropped their membership into their Federation, citing “ethical differences.”

The QESBA’s aim is to maintain the status quo, continuing with a system which both stifles local power and school initiatives and prefers to dictate rather than serve via its elected spendthrift school boards.

Presently, our school tax-dollars are being used against us. I believe the QESBA should be dismantled because it is unfavourable to the benefits of Bill 88. If the English school boards of Quebec were to withdraw their membership from the QESBA, about one million dollars could be reinvested into our English-speaking classrooms.

In November, let’s think about classrooms not board rooms ; governing boards not school boards .

Chris Eustace
(retired teacher)

Montreal, QC