Stephen Burke, Chairman of the Central Québec School Board
As we approach Election Day 2012, I feel compelled to share some thoughts on the issue of school boards and their pertinence in our public education system. Much of these thoughts are in reaction to the complete overhaul of the Quebec public school system promised by the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) should it form Quebec's next provincial government.
For almost 25 years, I have had the privilege of being an elected School Commissioner. During all these years, I have worked with fellow Commissioners genuinely dedicated to the success of the public school system. These men and women from all walks of life bring with them their personal experience and expertise. They represent their school communities and make sure to voice the concerns and expectations of their respective electorates at Council of Commissioners meetings and committees. They understand and willingly apply the principle of equitable distribution of resources, human as well as material, throughout the vast territory of the Central Québec School Board (CQSB)*, which spans over 30% of the province. The result is that all of our schools and their students receive the same amount of quality services and support, whether they be situated in the school board's outlying regions or in the Quebec City area. This equitable distribution of resources has made it possible for our students, irrespective of where they reside, to do extremely well in the Ministère de l'Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport's (MELS) June exams. In fact, in both 2010 and 2011, our students' results were the highest among the nine (9) English school boards and fifth overall including the 60 French school boards!
In the English-speaking communities, the school board is the last public body administered by and for our community. Although not as high as we would want it to be, the participation of eligible voters at school board elections in the English-speaking communities is more than twice what it is in the French system - 17% versus 7%.
The CAQ's proposal to abolish elected school boards and replace them by service centers or agencies would remove the present ''ownership'' that the English-speaking communities have of their schools. Although the idea of eliminating bureaucracy and giving decisional power to the school, meaning to the Principal, the teachers and the parents, may seem to be a great idea, the fact is that Principals have already enough to do in order to ensure that the students are educated in conformity to the Quebec Education Program (QEP) and that their teachers are given the necessary direction to accomplish their pedagogical task. Imagine if the Principal had also to manage bussing, building maintenance, snow removal and renovation contracts, etc., rather than focus n the success of his/her students?
In the CAQ plan, there is no mention of the principle of equitable distribution. It follows that regional schools might well be at a disadvantage in comparison to schools in major urban centers.
The CAQ also plans to make over 2,000 cuts in the present manpower working in Quebec school boards, French and English. Evidently, such cuts could not be made only by attrition, and thus potential conflicts between schools and various unions or professional associations would inevitably ensue.
No system is perfect and there are most probably ways to make the present system better. But to believe that abolishing school boards will bring about great savings in the present system does not reflect reality. The total cost of the Council of Commissioners of the CQSB represents less than 0.34 % of the CQSB's total budget of close to 60 million dollars! I doubt that the proposed service agencies would be less costly. More importantly, we do not know who would be called upon to manage these service centers. Would they be nominated? Would such nominations ensure that English schools continue to be managed by the English minority?
Last Thursday, the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) held a press conference to highlight the fact that all political parties in this election had been silent on the future of English school boards in Quebec. Of course, the QESBA questioned the CAQ, but also the PLQ and the PQ as to how they foresee the future of English school boards and in particular the potential impacts of changes to Bill 101. It is hoped that some answers will be given to us before September 4. In any case, I encourage you to visit the CQSB website and to read the QESBA press releases of August 23, 2012. http://www.cqsb.qc.ca .
The English-speaking community as a whole knows the importance of its schools. They are the lifeline of our communities. They ensure our very survival and often act as a focal point for the community.
In conclusion, the English-speaking community has the right to know how all three major political parties view the future of the English public education system in this province before September 4. I'm hoping that this article as well as QESBA's recent press conference will incite them to enlighten us promptly.
*The mission of the Central Québec School Board (CQSB) is to support vibrant learning communities in its schools and Centre that empower all students to receive the best possible education, to foster their social development and to prepare them to achieve their fullest potential and become contributing members of our ever-changing society.
The CQSB administers 8 elementary schools; 4 secondary schools, 6 schools that offer instruction from kindergarten to secondary V and one adult and vocational education centre. These are dispersed across a territory covering 30% of the province with schools located in Chibougamau, the Saguenay, Shawinigan, Trois-Rivières, La Tuque, Thetford Mines, Portneuf, Valcartier and Quebec City. The CQSB also administers a Naskapi school, the Jimmy Sandy Memorial School, in Kawawachikamach (Schefferville).