The stakes have never been higher for anglophones in local school board elections to be held Nov. 2, and broadcaster Anne Lagacé Dowson is urging community members to register and vote.
With the slogan Choose Action for a Better Classroom, Dowson and a team of ten, are running against incumbent Angela Mancini and her team. Several independents also are seeking election.
Dowson, who was director-general of the anti bullying Tolerance Foundation and a noted CBC and CJAD personality, has turned what usually is a ho-hum campaign into a real race.
It also is the first time the chairperson is being elected by universal vote, and the first school board elections in seven years.
Because it comes at a critical time, Dowson is urging all who are eligible to vote but have never get around to it to get their names on the list and help save English language public education from further erosion.
“My commitment is to my two daughters, both of whom go to EMSB schools, and all of its students. I am a big supporter of public education, literacy, libraries, and the arts,” Dowson says.
Low voter turnouts of only 18 per cent at the last election could be used as a basis for getting rid of them. Dowson blames the board for a lack of transparent.
“School board politics are hard to follow, especially when there is a veil of secrecy over so much of what goes on at the board and its opulent headquarters on Fielding in NDG.”
The current board has refused a government request to lop off $2.3 million from its current $275 million budget but is saying no to Quebec enough?
Dowson says she’s prepared to look at other cost-saving measures, such as whether the Fielding building is necessary at a time of rising costs and diminishing funding.
She is also ready to examine cuts at the top administrative level that would not affect services to students, and ways to collaborate and share costs with other boards.
“The EMSB has closed three schools since 2007, but there has been no real attempt to cut back on administrative costs,” she notes
“If we want our children to stay and put down roots in Quebec they have to be proficient in French. That means more immersion and bilingual schools, while respecting the fact that some students need to focus more on core English education,” she says.
Her team’s platform includes more parent consultation, openness in decision-making, more and better language instruction, championing special needs children and a moratorium on further school closures.
The election comes at a critical time for the only institution in Quebec over which anglos have compete control, though budgets are determined by Quebec.
The challenges are many. Enrolment has been declining steadily over the years because Bill 101 funnels students who do not have at least one parent who received most of their education in English in Canada into the French stream.
Meanwhile, an estimated 12 per cent of eligible students attend French schools by choice, while stiff competition from private schools keeps some of the most motivated families and their children out of the public system.
State support of private schools – Quebec gives them about 60 per cent of the cost of educating a child in the public system – has the effect of eroding quality public schools, which should be a pillar of any liberal society.
As an economy measure, various political parties have toyed with the idea of scrapping boards altogether or forcing some to merge. It’s still being discussed.
If more citizens get their names on the voting lists and show up to vote, this will send a message to Quebec that the community cares about its public schools.
The English Montreal School Board, under its current leadership, has not been able to reverse the steady decline in numbers. Board meetings have featured squabbles over lack of transparency and fights with parents over school closures.
Still, there have been successes. These include the popular FACE (Fine Arts Core Education) schools downtown, offered in French and English streams, Royal West Academy offering an alternative program in Montreal West, Marymount Academy on Côte St. Luc, now giving International Baccalaureate, and Bancroft elementary in the Plateau, which has a bilingual program.
That school has increased its enrollment, thanks to parent pressure and tireless efforts of their representative, Julien Feldman. It is there to serve the growing population of young families in the Plateau.
Based on the 2007-12 cohort, EMSB also had the second highest success rate in Quebec, which Mancini emphasizes on her team’s website. Anglo success rates, it should be said, are substantially higher than those in French boards, which have chronic dropout issues.
The deadline for getting on the voting list is Oct. 18. The registration form is on the website of local school boards. It should be printed out and brought to the board or mailed. It must be received by Oct. 14.
Click here to access a PDF of the EMSB voter eligibility form.