By Robert Green
Elections for school board commissioners are fast approaching. On November 2 citizens living within the EMSB’s territory will have the opportunity to choose between a slate of candidates lead by the EMSB Council of Commissioners’ incumbent Chair Angela Mancini and a slate of candidates lead by media commentator and parent Anne Lagacé Dowson.
Before discussing the candidates, its important to mention how one becomes eligible to vote in these elections. If you are a parent with a child in the English school system you should be automatically registered to vote in English school board elections. To verify call 1 (888) 353-2846. Otherwise you are likely to have been registered by default to vote in French school board elections and need to submit this form to the EMSB in order to be registered to vote in the EMSB elections. Don’t delay in submitting this form as the deadline to make this request is October 14.
There is no question that these are incredibly important elections. Given recent government threats to abolish school boards altogether, the stakes are extremely high. The very survival of these institutions may depend entirely on the quality of their elected leadership.
Those considering giving incumbent Chair Angela Mancini another term in office might want to take a trip down memory lane:
- In 2008 Henry Aubin wrote a column in the Gazette entitled ‘School board’s secrecy cuts it off from the public‘. The column outlined the duplicitous political manoeuvring Ms. Mancini engaged in to initially win for herself the position of Chair. Aubin describes how this manoeuvring ensured that the culture of secrecy, block voting and entrenched loyalties won out over and against the public interest.
- In 2009 the Gazette reported that the infighting amongst school board commissioners had gotten so bad under Mancini’s leadership that the Quebec government had to appoint a special mediator whose salary cost taxpayers upwards of $100,000
- In 2011 the EMSB received a great deal of very negative press coverage over its move to close a number of schools. Particularly contentious was the case of Nesbitt elementary whose parents created a blog that is essential reading for anyone interested in learning what Ms Mancini’s leadership has meant for parents. Hour magazine published a scorching condemnation of the EMSB’s handling of the affair by two Nesbitt parents, describing its public consultation process as “a sham” and concluding with the question ” How could we be in worse hands than we are now?”
- Also in 2011 the blog Citizens for Democratic and Autonomous Schools published a piece by commissioner Julien Feldman (running on Team Anne Lagacé Dowson) questioning Ms Mancini’s decision to include three elected commissioners on a junket to China.
Though Ms Mancini’s record offers plenty to be wary of, I am not advocating that people vote for Ms. Lagacé Dowson simply as an alternative to Ms. Mancini. I am advocating that people vote for Ms Lagacé Dowson because she is intelligent, articulate, politically savvy and firmly committed to the public interest. In short, she is exactly the sort of person the EMSB needs to turn the page on the culture of secrecy, bitter partisanship and entitlement that has plagued the EMSB council of commissioners for far too long.
However it is not just that Anne has the skills and principled commitment to openness and transparency, she also has a clear vision for how the EMSB can deal with its most fundamental existential threat: declining enrolment. In response to reports that as many as 15 percent of those eligible to attend English Schools are instead registering in the French system, Anne wrote an op-ed in the Gazette arguing that the EMSB needs to bring those students back by improving its French language instruction.
Team Angela Mancini candidate Ruth Rosenfield responded with an op-ed of her own crassly characterizing Ms Lagacé Dowson’s thoughtful piece as a “broad attack on English-language schools and school boards” and suggesting that the EMSB already does a great job in French language instruction. In focusing only on the work the board is already doing Rosenfield seems to be suggesting that this is enough; that 15% of those eligible for English schools choosing the French system is an acceptable situation that does not warrant any additional action being taken. It would be interesting to know if Ms Mancini also thinks that despite the large numbers leaving, the status quo is just fine.
If there’s one thing that’s clear its that the status quo is not fine. The EMSB needs new leadership that is committed to people not partisanry; to democracy not demagoguery; to cutting bureaucracy instead of closing schools. The EMSB needs Anne Lagacé Dowson!
Here are a few video clips of Anne articulating her vision for the EMSB: