School board election campaign heats up at EMSB By Marian Scott, Montreal Gazette
The Nov. 2 school board election got down and dirty Monday, with outgoing English Montreal School Board chairperson Angela Mancini attacking a commissioner for a “blatant record of misconduct”, while opponent Anne Lagacé Dowson retorted by accusing Mancini of playing “sandbox politics”.
The salvos were the latest controversy in a board plagued by deep divisions between elected commissioners who typically align themselves in different camps.
Mancini issued a press release attacking Dowson for associating herself with commissioner Julien Feldman, a seven-year board veteran who is running in downtown Ward 3, which includes Point St. Charles, St-Henri, Ville Émard and Westmount.
Dowson, a broadcaster and former NDP candidate who is vying for the chairperson’s job, fired back with a statement accusing Mancini of launching “personal attacks on her opponents rather than defending her record of governance, which is a dismal failure.”
Mancini contended that Feldman, who has pushed for greater transparency and an end to closed-door meetings at the EMSB, has discredited himself by repeatedly violating the board’s code of ethics.
In June, Feldman was suspended for a month by the board’s ethics commissioner for inviting a CBC-TV camera crew to EMSB headquarters in December 2012 after the board sold its art collection, to film a room where paintings by prominent artists like Group of Seven member A.Y. Jackson had formerly been displayed, and for making public a list of the artworks that were sold. Feldman obtained the list of paintings under access to information.
He was also suspended for a week for sending what the board’s director-general Robert Stocker had called an “inappropriate, immoral and intimidating email” in September 2013 to EMSB communications officer Mike Cohen. In the email, Feldman complained that Cohen had left commissioner Rocco Barbieri out of a group photo of a prize-giving ceremony that was published in a board newsletter. Barbieri, who is not running for re-election, was part of a group allied with Feldman.
The rulings said Feldman breached ethical rules by tarnishing “the reputation of other EMSB’s (sic) commissioners” and making statements that harmed “the reputation of the director general.”
In an earlier ruling, Feldman was reprimanded for calling fellow commissioners “dinosaurs” and “secrecy-obsessed characters”.
Dowson said the accusations against Feldman were “bogus ethics complaints (…) made mainly by members of (Mancini’s) group and allies.”
“None of the complaints (against Feldman) actually deal with ethics in a substantive way, in particular, conflicts of interest, nepotism or abuse of power by a member of the school board, all of which have been problems on the board in recent years,” she said in the statement.
Last week, an envelope containing the four ethics rulings against Feldman was left anonymously at The Gazette. A cover letter signed by “A concerned citizen and supporter of public education” suggested that they “need to be made public prior to the November 2nd elections.”
Mancini said she knew nothing about the anonymous package. “It wasn’t us.”
Feldman said in an interview he has been the target of constant attacks by rival commissioners since defeating long-time commissioner George Vogas in 2007 by just six votes. Vogas, who died in 2009, contested Feldman’s victory in court but dropped the suit in 2008.
“They’ve accused me of everything but the kitchen sink,” said Feldman, adding that the purpose of the complaints “was basically to intimidate me.”
The ethics commissioner in the two most recent cases noted that Feldman did not show up at the hearing to defend himself.
Feldman said he did not appear because the EMSB had previously refused to cover his court costs and his lawyer had advised him not to appear without legal counsel.
However, Mancini denied this, saying the board has covered Feldman’s legal costs and that ethics complaints against him have cost the board thousands of dollars.
But Feldman said in 2008, he went to court to force the EMSB to cover his legal costs after the board refused to do so. In 2012, the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled in his favour and ordered the board to pay, he said. In 2013, the board finally paid Feldman’s legal fees that were owing, he said.
Feldman has appealed the most recent ethics commissioner’s decision against him in Quebec Superior Court.
Ten commissioner positions are up for grabs in the EMSB election. Advance polls will be held Oct. 26.
Il y a des faits que les commissions scolaires du Québec n’aiment pas se faire rappeler. Déjà menacées d’abolition et victimes d’une crise de confiance sans précédent, ce ne sont pas elles qui vont faire la promotion d’éléments susceptibles de leur nuire… Voici donc six faits que les commissions scolaires ne risquent pas de répéter publiquement, d’ici aux élections scolaires du 2 novembre prochain.
1- LES MEILLEURES ÉCOLES AU MONDE FONCTIONNENT SANS COMMISSIONS SCOLAIRES
Au Québec, on aime bien se comparer au modèle finlandais. Et en matière d’éducation, on a raison de le faire. Bon an mal an, la Finlande trône au sommet des systèmes éducatifs les plus performants de la planète. Ses élèves sont parmi les meilleurs au monde. Son secret ? Contrairement au Québec, la Finlande a sabré dans la bureaucratie, en abolissant l’équivalent de nos commissions scolaires il y a près de 30 ans. Toutes ses écoles relèvent depuis des municipalités. Cela lui a permis d’économiser et de réinvestir dans les services, au point où le lunch de tous les élèves, par exemple, est fourni quotidiennement par l’école.
De tous les pays du monde, c’est en Allemagne que le taux de décrochage scolaire est le plus faible. Pas moins de 95% des jeunes qui y entament des études secondaires en ressortent avec un diplôme en poche. Chez nous, la situation du décrochage scolaire demeure préoccupante, particulièrement chez les garçons. Le secret du succès allemand ? La grande autonomie dont profitent les directeurs d’école qui travaillent dans un monde où, vous l’aurez deviné, les commissions scolaires n’existent pas.
Lorsqu’ils veulent justifier l’existence des commissions scolaires, les défenseurs de cette bureaucratie affirment que la constitution empêche de les éliminer, car cela brimerait les droits de le minorité linguistique anglophone du Québec, qui sont protégés par la Charte canadienne des droits et libertés. Sauf que ce n’est pas tout à fait vrai. Pas selon plusieurs constitutionnalistes, du moins, comme notre collègue blogueur Patrick Taillon, professeur à l’Université Laval. Il a récemment écrit un billet fort éclairant sur le sujet. «Le Québec dispose aujourd’hui de la pleine compétence d’abolir les commissions scolaires», a-t-il notamment affirmé.
4- IL EXISTE DÉJÀ DES ÉCOLES PUBLIQUES SANS COMMISSIONS SCOLAIRES AU CANADA (ET ELLES SONT TRÈS PERFORMANTES)
Cela demeure méconnu, mais il existe en Alberta un réseau d’écoles publiques qui fonctionnent à 100% à l’extérieur du réseau des commissions scolaires : les écoles autonomes. Le Journal s’y était rendu, en 2010 et y avait découvert des écoles publiques extrêmement populaires, où les profs sont évalués et où les performances sont enviables. Leur secret ? Même si elles reçoivent la même subvention de fonctionnement que les autres écoles publiques, ces institutions ne versent pas un sou aux commissions scolaires, ce qui leur permet d’investir davantage dans les services. Rappel : la bureaucratie scolaire québécoise coûte environ un demi-milliard de dollars par année.
5- LES DIRECTEURS D’ÉCOLE DU QUÉBEC SONT PRÊTS À TRAVAILLER SANS COMMISSIONS SCOLAIRES (MAIS ILS NE LE DIRONT PAS PUBLIQUEMENT)
Cela fait plus de cinq ans que les directeurs d’école du Québec réclament une plus grande autonomie. Ils rêvent, plus ou moins secrètement, de travailler dans une école où ils peuvent tout décider eux-mêmes, tout gérer eux-mêmes, pour mieux répondre aux besoins des élèves qu’ils ont devant eux. Ils ne le diront jamais aussi clairement — car leurs employeurs demeurent les commissions scolaires — mais la disparition de cette structure bureaucratique ne les ferait pas pleurer. Il y a quelques années, on chuchotait qu’il valait mieux ne pas inviter au même party l’ex-présidente de la Fédération québécoise des directeurs d’école, Chantal Longpré, et sa vis-à-vis des commissions scolaires, Josée Bouchard.
6- LES ÉLECTIONS SCOLAIRES SONT UNE CATASTROPHE
L’un des arguments les plus souvent avancés par les défenseurs des commissions scolaires est le suivant : cette structure est indispensable car elle est élue. Et, quand on impose une taxe, c’est bien connu, on doit être élu («No taxation without representation», dit l’adage.) Mais peut-on réellement parler de démocratie dans le cas des commissions scolaires du Québec ? Lors des dernières élections scolaires générales, en 2007, 67 % des candidats avaient été élus par acclamation. Et le taux de participation pour les autres avait atteint un famélique 7,9%. Il y a même une commissaire qui avait été élu avec… 32 votes! Quel sera le taux de participation lors des élections scolaires du 2 novembre prochain ? Rappel : ce scrutin coûtera 20 millions de dollars aux contribuables.
If the parents are so important why can they not attend this debate? “Invitation only”!!?!!? Who will decide which questions posted on the Internet will actually be asked? The boardroom at the LBPSB is huge. How many “invitation only” guests will be there? Why not open this up to the voters? Please do not mention the word “transparency” when using the Internet to filter out real voters who have real questions.
After sitting, mostly silent for three years besides the LBPSB chairperson, Suanne Stein Day, The LBPSB Vice-Chair Angela Nolet is silent no more. This morning on “Breakfast Television” – City TV, Mrs. Nolet vocalized her views on what is wrong with the current LBPSB and it reflects very closely what most parents have been saying amongst themselves.
“The Board needs a different type of leadership”
Mrs. Nolet went on to say that:
“Presently many parents feel intimidated when they approach the board and many employees feel that they are not appreciated as they should be”
One of ACDSA editors got a taste of the intimidation himself when abruptly cut-off by the Chair, Suanne Stein Day, in the middle of a question during question period and escorted out by a security guard. Hah Democracy according to Stein Day and the LBPSB.
School board elections at the EMSB : misleading statements by incumbent Angela Mancini
There are many reasons why some politicians stretch the truth and/or flagrantly lie, the general consensus being that they believe their dishonesty is the best policy for getting elected.
In a debate held between Angela Mancini and Anne Lagacé Dowson, Mancini proudly stated that she testified in court on behalf of St. Patrick’s. At the time, Mancini was the commissioner for St. Pat’s. She did testify but only after being issued a summons or subpoena, contrary to some of her colleagues who courageously signed affidavits supporting St. Pat’s , and did so at great personal cost. There is a huge difference between signing an affidavit and being issued a summons. Mancini showed “support” in private when she occasionally met the parents of St Pat’s, but nowhere else where it counted. She did not represent the interests of the community she was elected to represent and her deafening silence during our most difficult years, spoke volumes. Fast forward to the 2014 debate, Mancini reached a new low when she tried to score political points on the back of the St Patrick’s community. Desperate? You be the judge.
St Pat’s spent many years in court, in fact almost a decade. Many of the court decisions rendered in its favour were based on EMSB decisions which were made in private secret meetings. This was repeatedly declared illegal by the courts. Despite numerous court judgments, despite the Education Act, the practice of making decisions in private appears to be par for the course at the EMSB. The EMSB is a public school board, funded entirely with public dollars, it is not a private club for a selected group of individuals. If it refuses to be transparent, then it should be shut down.
Last but not least, the St Patrick community including its staff suffered greatly at the hands of the EMSB, it was punished repeatedly because it dared to challenge illegal decisions and it dared to win. For the most part, all the players who ruthlessly participated in the demise of St Parick School are on Team Mancini. Judging by how Mancini behaved during the debate & how she treats fellow elected commissioners who disagree with her at public meetings, the bully mentality we experienced at St Pat’s is alive and well at the EMSB. In fact, Mancini and company use intimidation tactics to stifle debate by routinely filing ethics complaints against fellow commissioners when challenged. If Mancini still does not comprehend that attacking those who disagree with her will not move the EMSB forward, then she is not qualified to be chairperson at the EMSB.
Ethics case against the LBPSB Chairman, Suanne Stein Day, has officially been re-opened as confirmed by the LBPSB Director of Legal Services, Me France Goyette and by the Ethics Commissioner, Me Bernard Grenier.
In an email to the complainants, the Director of the LBPSB Secretariat and Legal Services, Me France Goyette, re-confirmed that the investigation into the ethic complaint filed against the LBPSB Chairman Suanne Stein Day has been reopened by the Ethics Commissioner Me. Bernard Grenier.
The complainants, Cindy MacDonald, Michele Poupore and Luc Horne indicated in their press release of September 16th, 2014 that they were contesting the initial ruling for the many irregularities in the handling and ruling of the case.
They reiterated that the filing of this ethics case has nothing to do with the current school board elections, as alluded to by the incumbent LBPSB Chairman, Suanne Stein Day.
“Nothing could be further from the truth” stated Cindy MacDonald. ”It is the culmination of three to four years of access to information requests and the compilation of such, plus requesting the LBPSB Chairman on numerous occasions to address the issue. With her constant rebukes of my verbal and written demands and with the termination of the school board council of commissioners, there was no other option available but to file the ethics request in order for it to respect the June 30th deadline as indicated in the LBPSB Code of Ethics.”
Luc Horne added “That it is our wish that the pending judgment by the LBPSB Ethics Commissioner, Me Bernard Grenier, will only be announced after the conclusion of the School Board Elections”
Source: The Suburban by Robert Frank, October 15th, 2014
School officials have taught a Macdonald High School grade seven student that those who rock the boat will face recrimination.
Principal Jad Deegan suspended the 12-year-old boy 48 hours after his father, Martin Roloff, revealed on CBC Daybreak, Oct 8, that classes in one of the Lester B. Pearson School Board’s vaunted French immersion programs are, in fact, being taught in English.
“The course was, unknown to us at the time, conducted entirely in English last year, then fraudulently documented as a French course on the government recognized report card,” Roloff alleged in a prior electronic mail exchange with Deegan.
Roloff contacted Deegan on the first day of classes, Sept. 2, after he learned that his older son’s French-immersion class had been conducted entirely in English during the 2013-2014 school year.
“I can assure you that the teachers who are teaching the Éthique et culture religieuse [course] at Mac this year are aware that the course must be taught in French,” Deegan reassured in an e-mail reply, Sept. 4.
Two weeks later, Roloff’s youngest son came home and told him that his class was also being taught in English this year.
Because the boy’s feedback was at odds with Deegan’s reassurances, Roloff gave the boy a digital audio recorder to record the class and find out whose version was correct.
The Suburban listened to the audio, which revealed that the teacher indeed taught the class in English, with occasional lapses into broken French. At one point, a student corrects the teacher after he refers to “…une belle lac.”
“I believe you are aware that your child recorded a teacher in class without his permission,” Deegan wrote in a letter to Roloff after he suspended the child whistleblower.
Though the recording was not illegal, the school principal asserted that the boy had violated school board policies that are designed to protect against cyberbullying, sexting and child exploitation.
“As a parent, you are one of the key players [whom] we count on to help keep Macdonald High School a safe and harmonious place,” Deegan concluded.
Deegan subsequently told The Suburban that he would not comment.
“I cannot speak about individual children,” he said. “About specific children, it’s impossible to talk to anyone but their parents.”
Deegan did talk to reporters in 2010, after he meted out a three-hour detention to an 11-year-old boy, after a schoolgirl kissed him on the cheek.
“That was St. Patrick school, many, many years ago,” he replied.
Families flee to French schools
Roloff who is an elected member of the school’s governing board, invited Degean to meet “All the parents we’ve so far encountered who are equally disillusioned with Macdonald High School’s ability to make good on its advertised French immersion program.”
“We are concerned that the standards of French education have been dumbed-down to a detrimental level,” Roloff complained. “This allows more students to succeed, giving the school board the opportunity to trumpet high levels of success.”
“The continued increase of English-eligible families choosing [to enroll their children in] the French school system underscores the continued erosion of confidence in the English school system,” he emphasized.
Roloff said that he wants the school to imbue his children with strong French-language abilities that will permits them to fully function in Quebec society.
“If I could go back in time, I would have put my kids in French school from day one,” he told The Suburban. “I was duped into believing that English schools could deliver a quality French education.”
Roloff doesn’t believe that the school board’s cyberbullying policy outweighed the need to determine clearly whether school was delivering the French education that it said it was.
“The students and their parents are being ripped off by the school’s lack of transparency and honesty,” Roloff concluded. “I’m proud of my son, who understands that sometimes you have to step outside convention for the greater good.”
Stein Day: “That’s not whistleblowing”
LBPSB chair Suanne Stein Day, who is running for reelection, Nov. 2, declined to comment specifically on Roloff’s son’s suspension.
She told The Suburban that the school board has a policy on reporting financial fraud and misconduct, but that disclosure “about the quality of education in schools and the language of instruction is not whistleblowing.”
“The school erred in not informing parents and recording on transcripts [the language of instruction],” Stein Day acknowledged. “I don’t call that whistleblowing. I call that complaining about a situation.”
She added that the LBPSB can’t replace teachers who aren’t proficient in French.
“We only have a certain number of teaching staff which we can’t change and the collective agreement won’t let us fire any teachers,” Stein Day explained. “They are excellent teachers who are unable to teach in French. We don’t want to fire them but, when they retire, our policy is to hire francophones or bilingual anglophones proficient in both languages so we can continually increase instruction in French.”
Stein Day’s opponent in the Nov. 2 election Angela Nolet suggested that could ask the school to rescind the suspension and called for greater transparency.
“They could ask for it to be removed from the behaviour record,” Nolet told The Suburban. “I think at the beginning of the year when the school realized that it couldn’t provide a French teacher that it should have sent out a letter advising parents.”
“Parents need to feel that they can talk to the school openly and honestly,” she added. “You feel bad when parents don’t feel that they can do so.”
“It doesn’t say much for LBPSB’s digital citizenship program,” added Chris Eustace, who is also running for chair. “The school board is not being up front with parents, and suspending a 12-year-old kid for revealing it is absurd.”
“French instruction should never have been dumbed-down in the first place,” he concluded. “That is why we’re losing hundreds of students to the French sector.”
ACDSA Editor’s note: It is interesting to note that while the principal of MacDonald High School rightfully states “I cannot speak about individual children,” “About specific children, it’s impossible to talk to anyone but their parents.”, the chairman of the same LBPSB school board, Suanne Stein Day, revealed all sorts of personal information about a Beaconsfield high school student this past spring.
Décidément, les prochaines élections scolaires suscitent l’intérêt. Peut-être pas tout à fait ce que l’on voudrait.
La CAQ vient d’annoncer qu’elle boycottera le suffrage du 2 novembre. Évidemment la Fédération des commissions scolaires est outrée. Le MELS songerait à fusionner les commissions scolaires francophones, soit de les réduire de moitié. Cette idée est en fait une contre proposition à la suggestion du groupe Rémillard qui proposerait de les éliminer. Enfin, on retrouve dans les lettres d’opinions des journaux locaux, des suggestions de tout acabit. Du côté anglophone, certains voudraient voir les commissions scolaires linguistiques disparaître, ce qui mettra fin à l’apartheid actuel. Il semble que les commissions scolaires anglophones ne soient plus perçues comme le dernier lieu de représentation des anglophones. Selon les statistiques entre 20 et 25% de la clientèle anglophone ne fréquentent pas les écoles des commissions scolaires anglophones. Du côté francophone, aujourd’hui, un ancien directeur d’école propose que les présidents des conseils d’établissement se regroupent et jouent le rôle des commissaires. Il semble que de plus en plus de voix réclament plus de pouvoirs et de fonds pour les écoles. Bien sûr, ceux qui profitent ou devrais-je dire ceux qui ont des intérêts ou un poste dans les commissions scolaires veulent faire sortir le vote.
Au niveau local, une partie de la joute se joue sur les pages Facebook des candidats. Il est assez intéressant de voir ces pages. Un candidat propose des citations philosophiques du jour, un autre présente un montage vidéo exposant certains incidents ayant pris cours à la commission scolaire et un troisième affiche des photos de sa famille. Entre ces choix éditoriaux on peut lire les commentaires des candidats et de leurs supporters. Le plus important, il faut noter la présence d’un lien pour accéder à la plateforme électorale des candidats ailleurs sur le Web.
Bref, il reste un peu plus de deux semaines avant les élections scolaires. Chaque jour apportant sa part de surprises qui sait ce que l’avenir nous réserve? Dans ce contexte rocambolesque, faute de sondages, il est quasi impossible de prédire si le taux de participation des citoyens au suffrage augmentera…
Drôle à dire, mais si la tendance se maintient, les élections scolaires du 2 novembre 2014, seront les plus palpitantes que le Québec n’aura jamais vu.