Stein Day: “This is an attack on English school boards”
By Robert Frank
Quebec’s Education Ministry wants to force the province’s school boards to close their sparsely populated schools by in September, Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) chair Suanne Stein Day disclosed.
“The government said that it won’t fund those schools’ capital improvements because they’re operating at less than 50 per cent capacity,” she said in an interview. “This is an attack on the [province’s] English school boards.”
The province wants to force those schools to close by September, if they’re within 20 km of another school, Stein Day explained. That is a predicament that is largely unique to Quebec’s English schools, where the province’s language laws restrict enrolment.
“It’s not generally a problem that the province’s French school boards face,” she observed.
In March, LBPSB embarked on a round of public consultation about potential school mergers that was supposed to last until Oct. 31. Stein Day said at the time that four of the board’s high schools were hovering at or below the Education Ministry’s 50 per cent capacity threshold.
Although LBPSB enrolment is steadily sagging, in the off-island communities west of Montreal its schools are straining to accommodate the burgeoning population there.
“We’ve gone back to the government and asked to postpone school closures to next year,” Stein Day reported.
More heads to roll
LBPSB also announced staff cuts last week, in the wake of deeper Education Ministry budget cuts than the school board had expected. More will follow, Stein Day warned.
The school board notified its support staff union that it intends to shed 25 staff, including 18 part-time documentation technicians who spread their work among 37 elementary schools. After the cuts, LBPSB will still employ two full-time staff in elementary school libraries, as well as a full-time person in each of its 12 high school libraries, Stein Day said.
“Once we get the finalized budget rules from the Education Ministry, some other positions could be abolished,” she acknowledged. “We’re looking at all levels of management as well.”
Stein Day wondered aloud whether the educrats in Quebec City have an inkling of the disruption the changes that they are imposing will entail.
“There are [almost] no pedagogues left in the [Education] Ministry,” she noted. “The only one left is assistant deputy minister Chantal Beaulieu. Do they really understand the impact of these changes?”
To help fill the void left in elementary school libraries, LBPSB plans to rely more heavily on parents who volunteer there.
“[The remaining full-time documentation technicians] could also provide services to the schools that are losing them,” Stein Day said. “It might be [reduced to] one day every two weeks.”
Independent Association of Support Staff president Anita Nenadovich regretted that the school board has put parents at odds with the interests of LBPSB’s qualified library technicians.
“These are not 20th century librarians who stamped your loan card,” the support staff union leader explained in an interview. “Students now have to do research online from a very early age.”
“Library technicians are at the heart of integrating 21st-century education technology with the curriculum,” Nenadovich emphasized. “Electronic books; book club blogs; purchasing and tracking systems; and collect and research material for literacy programs.”
To train volunteer parents to do that could be “to replace our library staff with free labour.”
The support staff’s collective agreement stipulates that the school board can’t use volunteers or trainees if that would entail the layoff, demotion or reduction in working hours or abolishment of an employee’s position.
“The government is devastating support to students and guidance to teachers by placing the burden of their austerity measures on the backs of our children’s education,” Nenadovich concluded. “Where is this going to end?”
“Any one of the bureaucrats at [the Quebec Education Ministry] gets paid more than my entire council,” added Stein Day. “The compensation for my council is $110,000 a year. No benefits. When you add in the value of their pension, I don’t think that a single person working at the [the Quebec Education Ministry] gets paid less than that.”
LBPSB submitted its budget proposal to the Education Ministry June 1. Stein Day expects to receive a final answer from Quebec City within two weeks, in time to pass its austerity budget at LBPSB’s June 29 council meeting.
Note: Following publication of this report, Anita Nenadovich noted that the fifth-to-last paragraph ought to have read “To train volunteer parents…” and not “To train volunteer students…” That paragraph was subsequently corrected. She also clarified her statement in the third-to-last paragraph, explaining that documentary technicians who work in LBPSB libraries provide “support” to teachers and not “guidance”.