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Quebec plans to axe school boards but offers compromise to English institutions

ABOVE: Québec government moves ahead with its plan to abolish school boards

The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government intends to axe school boards across the province, replacing them with service centres in a move it considers to be “the end of school boards as we know it.”

Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge tabled Bill 40 Tuesday afternoon, which will essentially give more power to the ministry. The government explains the centres will be administered by a board of directors made up of parents, community members and staff.

“Now at the school boards we have too much bureaucracy, too much petty politics at the expense of our kids and too much money taken from the schools,” said Roberge, while specifically pointing to the English Montreal School Board (EMSB).

READ MORE: Majority of anglophone Quebecers say axing school boards puts minority language rights at risk — survey

There is a compromise for English institutions, which will still have the right to hold democratic elections ⁠— after Roberge noted the English community had argued hard to protect its minority language rights.

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Christopher Skeete, the parliamentary assistant to the premier for relations with English-speaking Quebecers, said the exception will help anglophone Quebecers keep authority over their institutions.

“The community will maintain control and they will benefit from a revamped governance and I think this is a solution going forward,” said Skeete.

However, in the French system, general elections will be eliminated. The board of directors for service centres will instead be elected by the parent, professional and student representatives on the schools’ governing boards.

WATCH: CAQ won’t comment on school board reform

Fate of Quebec English school boards still up in the air
Fate of Quebec English school boards still up in the air

Additional changes include modifications to the governing boards ⁠— such as mandatory training from the Ministry of Education, the creation of a commitment to student success committee and revisions to the resource allocation committee.

The bill also proposes abolishing the Religious Affairs Committee and removes certain mentions in the Education Act related to spiritual progress.

The Legault government has long contended that eliminating school boards in favour of replacing them with service centres is necessary despite opposition from the English community and school boards themselves.

On Tuesday, Roberge claimed his long-awaited bill will make the province’s public school system more efficient and modern.

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Concerns from EMSB and QEBSA

Russell Copeman, the executive director of the Quebec English School Boards Association (QEBSA), described the proposed legislation as complex and one of the most important reforms to education within the province.

He said the association is still studying Bill 40 and that it is too early to tell if it maintains the English community’s rights. However, Copeman said he hopes there is a broad consultation process and that it isn’t rushed through the National Assembly by the government to become law.

“I guess the message is we need to go slowly on this,” said Copeman.

“We need to understand all its ramifications because we can’t afford to get this wrong.”

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However, Copeman did say QEBSA is “clearly disappointed” by some aspects of the proposed school board reform, including nixing general elections for the French system.

“We have said from the beginning of this debate that we should maintain universal suffrage for the people who are going to be running service centres throughout Quebec,” he said.

Angela Mancini, the chairperson for EMSB, also expressed concerns about the potential changes especially concerning voting rights and who will be able to run for service centres.

“With all that, I think there is a loss of democracy when not everyone who is an eligible voter can run because, in any other election, any eligible voters could technically run for office if there is a position available they can choose to run, they can choose to put their name on a ballot,” she said.

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READ MORE: ‘English rights will be protected’ — Quebec government insists it is listening to community concerns

Mancini also added that she thinks Roberge is “completely wrong” in his targeting the EMSB’s problems.

“I think that changing the structure doesn’t change the possibility of having difficulties within an organization, within a board,” she said. “Whether you call it a council of commissioners or a board of directors of any other kind, conflicts can occur and they can become extremely difficult to manage.”

In September, a team of government investigators found the EMSB has “dysfunctional governance” and is unlikely to progress under its current management. The blistering report came after Roberge ordered an inquiry into allegations of mismanagement at the board.

Under the proposed legislation, school boards will cease to exist as of November 2020.

WATCH: Saving English-language school boards in Quebec

Saving English-language school boards in Quebec
Saving English-language school boards in Quebec

⁠— with files from Global News’ Gloria Henriquez, Aalia Adam and The Canadian Press