AARON DERFEL, MONTREAL GAZETTE
The Lester B. Pearson School Board has severed its ties with a private recruiter involved in its controversial international student program, board chairman Suanne Stein Day announced at a public meeting Monday night.
“We had already issued a public statement to the media that we had uncovered irregularities in our international department and we have contacted the minister and UPAC,” Stein Day said in response to a question by retired teacher Chris Eustace.
“We did sever some employment ties in an effort to restructure the department.”
Stein Day declined to identify any individuals, but a parent later accused her of a lack of transparency. That’s when she confirmed that the board no longer does business with Naveen Kolan, who runs LPB Vocational College.
On its website, LBPSB has posted a message warning international vocational students that “all tuition fees/transfers need to be paid ONLY to ‘Lester B. Pearson School Board.’ The name ‘LBP Vocational College’ refers to a privately owned enterprise with no affiliation” to the board.
“We’re revisiting a lot of the agreements that have been made in the past to make sure they fulfill our needs so that we’re only getting reputable recruiters,” she said. “It’s an ongoing process.”
Vocational programs for international students at Lester B. Pearson and the English Montreal School Board have come under intense scrutiny as provincial auditors and Quebec’s anti-corruption squad, UPAC, probe alleged irregularities at the two boards.
Underfunded Quebec school boards, including Lester B. Pearson, have turned to international student enrolment as an added revenue stream, estimated to be in the millions of dollars. But questions are being raised as to whether private interests are also profiting from the influx of foreign students, who seek to benefit from a Quebec program offering fast-tracked immigration.
At a public meeting in September, the board council voted to fire a senior administrator. It turns out the administrator is the former head of the board’s International program, Carol Mastantuono.
Mastantuono said she has filed a wrongful-dismissal complaint with the labour standards board.
Although Stein Day sought to portray herself at Monday’s meeting as a reformer eager to fix problems, a number of people during question period accused her of a lack of leadership and shrouding board affairs in secrecy.
“Repeatedly I have asked for answers and the transparency wasn’t there,” longtime LBPSB teacher Luc Horne told Stein Day. “There’s been a lack of leadership.”
In a meeting last month, Stein Day confirmed she is the commissioner who was in breach of the board’s code of ethics three times this year, but she rejected calls for her resignation. On Monday, she insisted she won’t step down.
“I don’t think I’ve done anything worthy of resignation,” she told reporters. “I’m committed to this school board and I very much intend to fulfill that commitment.”
The LBPSB and EMSB, the largest English-language boards in Quebec, report among the top graduation rates in the province.