Faced with declining enrolment, five Montreal school boards have joined forces to plan a new ad campaign that administrators hope will convince more parents to send their children to public schools.

The public school boards have learned a lesson from private institutions,which regularly buy ad space in newspapers, magazines and on billboards to laud the advantages of a private education, said one of the campaign's main architects.

"It's a matter of letting people know what we have to offer," said Mike Cohen, a spokesman with the English Montreal School Board. "I think we have to be a little more aggressive."

Public school enrolment in Montreal has fallen steadily in the last six years, partly because of the affordability of private school tuition. Enrolment in English school boards across the province was down by 1,400 for 2006, according to Quebec's Education Ministry.

The Quebec government subsidizes private schools more thanother provinces, making it an affordable alternative for middle-class families.

But a public education can give students an edge, argues Cohen. Many successful Montrealers are public school graduates, and the boards will capitalize on their stories in the campaign.

"The founders of the Just for Laughs Festival are now multimillionaires, and they founded Airborne Entertainment [a mobile communications content provider company]," Cohen said. "They both went to the public system. These are the types of people we want to bring in and show."

The ad campaign will be small-scale by industry standards, with a budget of a few hundred thousand dollars, Cohen said. But it will explore new platforms such as the internet, to reach parents who have school-aged children.

The campaign will be officially launched in January 2007, to coincide with public school registration for the 2007-2008 academic year.