Anglo school boards
By Joel Ceausu
The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) struggles with declining enrollment and an increasingly stretched tax base, many of its anemic schools neighboring French schools engorged by a steady diet of new immigration, as Quebec’s language laws continue to choke off the stream of new blood in the beleaguered English sector.
While debates ensue over the presence of English schooling-eligible anglophones in the French sector, another source of immigration is causing opportunities and headache for the EMSB and its Montreal-area sister anglo boards.
Last week the Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) partnered with Laval’s Sir Wilfrid Laurier board in Laval and a private Toronto-based consulting firm to recruit foreign students for their international programs, lucrative endeavours that bring much needed foreign cash into local coffers to help educate Canadian students.
At the Laurier council meeting, LBPSB chair Suanne Stein Day reported that her board is projecting $1.6 million in profit from its international program this year. Wilfrid Laurier’s efforts included a recent recruitment trip to Asia, causing headaches for its chair who travelled courtesy of private firm Edu-Edge, in possible contravention of his board’s own ethics code. But the program may net more than $640,000 this year alone.
Pearson now has operations on three distinct school board territories: in Laval, the West Island and a downtown operation in EMSB territory, raising the hackles of that board for what it deems an intrusion.
EMSB chair Angela Mancini said as far as she is concerned, the Pearson board “should have consulted us” before launching a downtown venture, and has sought guidance from Quebec’s Education Ministry on the issue.
She said after initial meetings between her and Stein Day, EMSB council will consider its next step and meetings between the two boards and MELS is forthcoming. “We are trying to work things out with them,” she told The Suburban, adding MELS has “no particular rule on this.” Mancini did say however, that she would be open to exploring a joint venture with the West Island board.
Sources have told The Suburban that the sentiment at the Montreal board is a lot less polite than that, and that some commissioners and administrators feel that at minimum, compensation should be offered.
“We’re all serving the same dwindling clientele,” said one board official. “Do we know if they are pulling in Canadian students, and that every single body in those downtown seats is a foreigner? Do I take Lester B’s word for it?”
EMSB commissioner Julien Feldman says the Pearson board is out of line.
“They know it and that’s why they did not do it in an open fashion, but rather in stealth.”
He says the Quebec Education Act is “absolutely clear” on the issue of territoriality. “It says one board ‘shall’ be established on each territory. It’s very clear, there’s an imperative for one board to operate on each.”
He doesn’t however, think the government should be involved in resolving the issue. Feldman says the boards need to get together to create a single agency (like the CGTSIM committee that collects and administers Montreal’s school taxes) to handle the international and adult student files.
“We’re all running around spending taxpayer dollars to bring in foreign students and compete with each other. What we should really be doing is work together to compete with other cities for those students.”
In either case, he says, if Lester B. Pearson doesn’t agree on some kind of shared partnership or settlement with the English board “then it should just go.”
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