School board council wraps up

International program gets light, heat

By Joel Ceausu
www.thesuburban.com

Last week’s Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board (SWLSB) council meeting was a long affair.

It quickly dispensed with housekeeping issues like bathroom renovations and new hires before broaching the subject of its international program, which promises long-term financial gain, but is causing some short-term pain, thanks to a possible Asian travel blunder.

Recruiting students from abroad has become popular with Quebec’s budget-slashed school boards, eager to fill dwindling coffers with yuan and rupees from Asian families keen on giving their kids a leg up, while using hard cash from the developing world to buttress Canadian students’ educations.

Last month, SWLSB piggybacked on a trip to India and China scheduled by Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB)—an old hand at recruiting foreign students. As previously reported in The Suburban, the trip earned outrage from some commissioners because it was never officially announced at a public council meeting, and chairman Nick Milas went to India courtesy of private Toronto-based consulting firm Edu-Edge, which the public board has partnered with to recruit clients, and gone into business with a health program.

Director-general Stephanie Vucko said the trip’s efforts will help the board earn more than $640,000 in profit this year, but a private firm funding the chairman’s trip rattled commissioner Mike Pizzola, who suggested Milas or the board reimburse them.

“A third party paid for it,” Pizzola told council. “I don’t want to be in a position that we owe the company something.” The board’s own ethics code prohibits such gifts he said, referring to Section 6.9, which prohibits a commissioner from accepting “any gifts, proof of hospitality or advantages other than those that are common and of minimal value.”

The issue saw no debate, as commissioner Emilio Migliozzi moved to “postpone it indefinitely,” swiftly supported by a majority and effectively—given council’s expiration this month—burying the issue for now.

“I still want to talk about this,” Migliozzi told The Suburban, “but it was embarrassing the way that it was brought up. You can’t just tell people, ‘We made a mistake, here’s your money back’. We just began this project.”
Migliozzi said that the next council “will find a way to deal with the issue.”

Council might not be looking at it, but the board’s own ethics commissioner apparently is.

Vucko maintained it was important for the chairperson to be there. “Seeing the chairman there on the ground, that is something that is respected,” she said. “It helps with the buy-in.” 

She said the board first declined the invitation to the chair given the expense—approximately $10,000 a person.
“It became clear that prospective client cohorts were more responsive if the elected chair were present,” leading them to reconsider and allow the tab to be picked up by Edu-Edge, so as “not to incur costs.”

The board also launched a public-private business partnership with Edu-Edge and the Pearson board to operate a Health Centre with programs in pharmacy assistance, health assistance and nursing, a booming sector says Vucko, given that “homecare is the number one” vocational program in China for targeted clientele.

The programs will operate from the Junior building on Daniel Johnson in Chomedey and the board’s Pont Viau Centre.

The ten-year business partnership with Edu-Edge was not open to tender, as it was a new business arrangement and not like a purchase from a supplier, said Vucko. “This is not a service, this is an investment.”

Vucko and Milas offered gratitude to LBPSB and its chair Suanne Stein Day for their generosity in allowing SWLSB to accompany them on their trip and for offering the Laval board the learning experience it needs to make money off foreign students.

During the meeting to sign the partnership agreement, Stein Day reported that Pearson forecasts a $1.6 million profit on its foreign-student operations this year.

Its Laval arrangement now gives it a presence on three distinct school board territories, including its own in the West Island and a downtown operation in English Montreal School Board territory, raising the hackles of that board for what it deems an intrusion onto its exclusive territory.

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