Equal access to services issue raised at LBPSB

By Robert Frank

Former Sherwood Forest governing board member Cindy Mac Donald called on Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) to remove Chair Suanne Stein Day from office, during the school commissioners June 23 meeting.

“I am not in conflict of interest,” Stein Day replied, adding that “this is not a matter for council.”

She asserted that such complaints must instead be made to the LBPSB ethics commissioner, and directed Mac Donald to file the complaint through school board director general Robert Mills.

Mac Donald’s complaint hinges on concerns about the growing role that private organizations play in public schools.

She said that LBPSB dissolved Sherwood Forest’s governing board after she started to ask questions about home and school association activities and finances.

“It’s a conflict when a third party gives gifts for new teachers lounges, pays for trips to attend conferences and funds some of their projects,” Mac Donald told The Suburban in an interview afterward. “The teachers then want to rely on these private organizations to do everything. It compromises their decision making ability.”

Mac Donald successfully challenged Sherwood Forest’s differential pricing for school activities for which children of home and school non-members paid more.

“Public schools have a responsibility to provide equal access to services,” she declared.

She alleged that Stein Day failed to disclose that she was treasurer of the Quebec Home and School Association when LBPSB moved to dissolve Sherwood Forest’s governing board.

Mac Donald observed that because the home and school association is incorporated privately, its finances are beyond public scrutiny. She noted that such activities have also become controversial this year in the English Montreal School Board. 

“The Royal Vale governing board has reportedly asked for an accounting from its home and school,” she said, “which raises more than $500,000 a year and has more than 52 employees. Interested parents and the chair of the governing board don’t know why extracurricular fees are going up [there] by a few hundred dollars to over $1,000.”

“Parents initially trust what the school board and the principal tell them,” she said. “Then they start to wonder why everything is costing them so much.”

“All of this underlines the relationship between the home and school and the school board,” Mac Donald emphasized. “Why eliminate parents from the equation? Why is a [private] charity taking over school activities and what does it mean in the long-term for education?”

As reported in The Suburban, Mac Donald initially raised the matter of conflict of interest during the April LBPSB council meeting.

A few minutes later, Stein Day ordered security guards to remove her when Mac Donald returned to the microphone during question period to object to the ejection of Stein Day’s political opponent Chris Eustace.

“Somebody has to call the police,” Stein Day subsequently stated, just before The Suburban witnessed two Montreal police officers forcibly eject Mac Donald from the building’s public lobby.

According to the school board’s webcast, Stein Day claimed during the following month’s meeting that she had only asked that they be removed from the room. However she is clearly audible on The Suburban’s audio recording ordering the guards three times to remove the pair from the building.

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