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English school boards ‘reservedly hopeful’ after meeting education minister

WATCH: After meeting with Quebec’s education minister English school boards are hopeful, but as Caroline Plante reports, he maintained that his government will abolish school board elections.

QUEBEC CITY — The mood was reservedly hopeful at the Quebec English School Board Association’s annual convention.

School administrators and elected officials met the Education Minister and concluded they can probably work with him, although they completely disagree with Francois Blais’ plan to abolish school board elections.

“We have to start looking at the multiple levels of government as well.”

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“If only 30 per cent of people go out to vote for municipal elections, are we saying then as well that they’re also not effective?” asked Jennifer Maccarone, Chair of the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board.

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Not only that, but English school board representatives said they believe it’s their constitutional right to manage their own schools and that right extends to holding elections. They hired a constitutional lawyer to guide them through negotiations with the minister.

“It’s a frightening situation,” Maccarone said.

“We don’t want to have to escalate and bring our situation to the next level, but we will, if we have to.”

As school board representatives tried to keep their cool, nearby Blais insisted school board elections were costly, useless affairs that don’t necessarily help students succeed.

“I believe in democracy and I believe in the representation of parents,” he said.

“Parents will probably be the key to reaffirm the control of the community on school boards.”

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Blais maintained his government will abolish school board elections, and he is waiting on the community to propose a way out of the impasse.

“I need some proposals from the community to preserve their rights,” he said.

“I want to work with the community.”

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So far, proposed solutions include twinning school board and municipal elections, or asking people to vote online to boost voter turnout.

But the minister brushed those suggestions aside. Blais said he will introduce a bill on school governance in the fall.

Also concerned is John Ryan from the New Frontiers School Board. He said his school board may merge with two others, creating an entity stretching from the Ontario border to New Brunswick.

“The local voice, the voice of the community member in that dispersed area would be lost,” Ryan told Global News.

The next few months will be crucial, as the Quebec Liberals continue to slash layers of bureaucracy. Nevertheless, English school boards promise to stand up for their rights.

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