Heated debates increase awareness and media coverage – a good thing
T he Gazette has published a number of articles recently about the English Montreal School Board and its council of commissioners, of which I am an elected member (“Infighting still divides EMSB,” Opinion, Dec. 15).
The council is made up of 23 elected men and women, plus two parent commissioners – who come from a variety of backgrounds. Some have or have had children in the school board’s schools; others are retired school administrators. Many come from the worlds of business, health, and law.
But despite our diverse backgrounds, we without exception, sought election because we had a vision for the school board that is rooted in student success. We want to offer our services to help the EMSB to be strong and to thrive in light of the many challenges it faces – not the least of which is our declining enrolment and the impact of Bill 104.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that reaching consensus among 23 people is a difficult task in any circumstance. So while the council generally agrees on its goals, the means of achieving those goals have been a little more contentious. As such, the public meetings are “spirited” – even “animated” at times. And occasionally the debates and discussions go on for lengthy periods.
The results of these heated debates are twofold: first, an increase in public awareness and interest, and second, an increase in media coverage, Both are desirable. Debate that results in good long-term decision-making, as well as heightened public interest in the governance of our school board, is important and fundamental to democracy.
None of the above, it must be stressed, has affected the day-to-day operations of our elementary schools, high schools, or adult centres. Allocations of budgets to the schools, approval of a multitude of programs and initiatives, school maintenance and physical improvements are all occurring in a timely and responsible fashion. More than 90 per cent of the resolutions discussed by the commissioners are passed unanimously.
Some major areas, where commissioners have come together to work toward the betterment of the school board, need to be mentioned.
In November 2008, commissioners unanimously voted to create a permanent humanresources advisory committee with a broad mandate. Among other reasons, this committee was formed in response to allegations, made four years ago, of favouritism in the hiring process.
Millions of dollars have been spent on equipping all our schools and centres with closed-circuit camera systems to enhance the safety and security of our students.
The $1.5-million surplus from the 2006-07 school year was entirely spent on muchneeded physical repairs to our schools and centres, including painting, maintenance, and more. That included an allocation of $50,000 to each high school and centre to carry out repairs to student washrooms.
To examine the operations of the school board’s head office and its various departments, as well as the services delivered by the head office to our schools, 21 of 23 commissioners voted in favour of hiring a management consulting firm in April 2008. This analysis is currently in process.
The $4-million surplus from 2007-08 was again directed toward schools to help with physical improvements and to purchase computer hardware. As well, $1.2 million went to the early-intervention literacy program for elementary schools. This was unanimously approved by the commissioners in December 2008.
The school commissioners are steadfast in their commitment to the students, parents, and employees of the EMSB. Even though recent articles have focused on some negative aspects of what goes on at our public meetings, we have not lost our focus. We all share the common goal of providing our students with the best education possible in a safe and healthy environment. The students are still our primary concern.
Eighty-three per cent of high school students in the English Montreal School Board receive their high school diploma – the secondbest success rate in the province. This is a job well done.
Joseph Lalla is the EMSB school commissioner for Montreal West, N.D.G., and Côte St. Luc, and a retired school principal and teacher.