The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) has been placed under partial trusteeship by the Quebec government until April 2020.
Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge confirmed the news Wednesday afternoon.
“An exceptional situation calls for exceptional measures,” the minister said in a press conference.
Roberge said the move was necessary in order to ensure the healthy management of the board.
Former Liberal MP Marlene Jennings will head the trusteeship, effective immediately.
Accounting and auditing firm Deloitte has been commissioned to counsel and assist Jennings in order to present a plan to restructure the EMSB’s administration.
Jennings will assume all the functions and powers of the EMSB’s Council of Commissioners apart from its power to institute and manage legal proceedings.
It means the council of commissioners will still be able to follow through on pending court procedures including its challenge against Bill 21, the province’s religious symbols ban.
“We don’t want to appear as we are trying to muzzle the community,” Roberge explained.
In January, Roberge ordered an investigation into allegations of mismanagement at the EMSB, including spending irregularities, contracts being handed out without the proper tendering process and serious ethical violations.
A scathing report released in October concluded the board had “dysfunctional” governance and was unlikely to progress under its current management.
The probe led to a series of recommendations, including a major intervention at the school board. At the time, one of the proposed solutions included placing the EMSB under trusteeship and stripping the council of commissioners of its powers.
Roberge said he has enough concerns that the ministry will transfer the investigation to the province’s anti-corruption squad, known as UPAC.
EMSB chair reacts
EMSB chair Angela Mancini says she’s not surprised to hear the news. In fact, she says: “It’s been a while coming.”
“Last November, myself and four other commissioners wrote to the minister for help. It wasn’t something we were happy to do, but I think it was a necessary step,” she said. “The dysfunctionality of the council has become worse and worse.”
Mancini says things have deteriorated to the point that she alleges she has received threats from fellow commissioners.
“As late as this weekend, I received an email from a fellow commissioner who said to me that I have to pay for what I have done,” Mancini explained.
“So I don’t know what that means, but to me, that is a threat that I received on paper.”
Mancini added that she regrets the school board’s accomplishments are being overshadowed by the turmoil within the commission, but she said much needs to be worked on in order to better serve the EMSB’s student and parent populations.
“I’m hoping this will be an opportunity to redress it and give back what I believe is the opportunity for the elected officials to take their place,” Mancini said.
Two camps within the EMSB
While Mancini welcomes the news, the board’s vice-chair, Joe Ortona, qualified the government’s move as “unfair”.
“There is no fraud,” Ortona said.
“There were no contracts that were done against the rules. We’ve issued our response and our objections to some of the findings of the report,” added the vice-chair.
As for the government’s decision to transfer the investigation to UPAC, Ortona said he didn’t think it was necessary.
Ortona also pointed fingers at Mancini for “trying to profit from the situation and promoting herself as “the actual whistle-blower,” referring to Mancini’s letter to the minister urging him to take action in order to settle issues within the board.
Ortona accused Mancini of refusing to comply with “properly filed access to information requests” he says were filed on the letter.
“She is legally bound to abide by such a request,” he said. “What is she hiding? Does this letter to the minister even exist? And if it exists, why won’t she abide by the law, and if it doesn’t, why is she lying about its existence?
Québec English School Board Association questions the process
In a statement, the Québec English School Board Association (QESBA) deplored that the process has not been “as fair and independent as one would expect of government procedures.”
QESBA criticized the fact that the education department’s report on the EMSB hadn’t been made public until Wednesday afternoon, and that neither the EMSB nor the QESBA had seen the full report.
“A version of the preliminary Treasury Board Report on their audit of the EMSB was leaked to the media by unnamed sources, without including the comments of the EMSB. The EMSB has since reviewed and refuted some of the Treasury Board findings. Further leaks of the unreleased Education Department Report appeared in the media again on November 4th, the day the Parliamentary hearings on Bill 40 began,” QESBA wrote.
“The process leading to this decision of the Québec Cabinet has been less than transparent.”
The association added it will continue to work with the EMSB and the government in order to provide the best education for students.
The trusteeship can be renewed once for another six months if necessary.
–With files from Global News’ Julie Turcotte and Kalina Laframboise