The cornerstone of English-speaking community vitality in Quebec is the health and stability of the key institutions that serve it. The future of our communities will be built on that cornerstone. I know, having spent my professional life defending and promoting this concept. Our government recently deposited Bill 86, an act to reform the governance of public education in Quebec. My friends and colleagues on the Côte-St-Luc city council have suggested that Bill 86 will remove that cornerstone (“School board bill is an affront to the anglophone community” Opinion, Dec. 16).
I strongly beg to differ.
Bill 86 addresses the issue of school governance, but with a single and resolute vision in mind: to produce better outcomes for our children in classrooms across Quebec. Producing those better outcomes for English-sector students in Quebec depends on our community’s continued leadership of English public schooling. I submit that Bill 86 will set in place the conditions to deliver on that vision while protecting the community process to get us there.
As my colleague Education Minister François Blais has repeatedly underlined in his public interventions on this matter, Bill 86 is designed to ensure that our schools, their teachers and ultimately our students and parents are at the very centre of public school management. That means decisions on programs, resource allocation and equality of access to services will all focus on ensuring student success.
Having been executive director of the Quebec English School Boards Association for 10 years (and an executive director of Alliance Quebec for another 10) I can attest to the record of innovation, collaboration and transparency that has marked English public schooling over the years. Consequently, student success is most often achieved. Perhaps, our network will thus have a head start in implementing the changes in the draft law. I’m convinced that those changes will only build on the strengths of the system.
Let’s be clear: English-speaking Quebecers will retain the constitutional right to exercise control and management over the public schools that serve them. Six representatives elected by universal suffrage (of those on the English school board voters lists) will join an equal number of parent representatives around the new school council tables, making those the two predominant groups on the councils.
The chair will be chosen from these two groups. They will be joined on council by two principals, one teacher and one professional.
In my view, the presence of these key stakeholders around the decision-making table can only help improve student outcomes and thus, strengthen the state of democracy in education governance. Yes, the elections will only happen if 15 per cent of parents within the council’s territory call for those elections to take place. Our community surpassed that threshold in every school board election ever held. I expect that we will do so again.
Is setting a threshold fair? Is reshaping school governance pertinent? Yes, when Quebecers of every stripe have asked legitimate questions about the interest in and cost of school board elections. The average participation rate across Quebec, while substantially higher at English boards, was five per cent in 2014. Yes, when Quebecers have asked legitimate questions about many school boards in Quebec regarding their modest record of parent involvement, occasional absence of transparency and coordination among principals, directors general and elected councils. Those questions, ultimately, reflect the same preoccupation as ours: How do we maximize student welfare and success?
The government has a responsibility to set the conditions in place for the delivery of quality public education across the province — in English as well as French. Bill 86 is an opportunity to further improve those conditions.
As a member of the Committee on Culture and Education of the National Assembly, and as a proud English-speaking Quebecer, I look forward to upcoming public hearings on Bill 86 as an opportunity to further improve the legislation. I trust that leaders across the community will come forward to help make it so.
David Birnbaum is MNA for D’Arcy-McGee and parliamentary assistant to the premier of Quebec.