EMSB put under trusteeship after report finds mismanagement, questionable expenses
'This is not a political decision to put some hidden agenda forward,' education minister says
The English Montreal School Board, which oversees 77 schools and educational centres and more than 44,000 students, has been put under partial trusteeship by the Quebec government, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge confirmed Wednesday.
The move follows a 10-month government probe into the school board.
The resulting report, made public in full Wednesday, found irregularities in the awarding of contracts, issues with the board's management and human resources, as well as the "excessive politicization of decision-making" that, according to Roberge, has been detrimental to the board's students and parents.
"With this inquiry alone we have enough to put the EMSB in trusteeship," Roberge said at a news conference in Quebec City.
"This is not a political decision to put some hidden agenda forward. It's just what a good government should do."
Roberge also announced UPAC, Quebec's anti-corruption unit, will look into the findings of the report, to determine whether it should launch a formal investigation because of "irregularities and expenses we can't explain."
Ex-Liberal MP named trustee
Former Liberal MP Marlene Jennings, regarded as an outspoken advocate for English schools, has been named as the trustee.
Jennings will take on nearly all the powers and functions of the EMSB commissioners, while coming up with a plan to restructure the board for the next six months.
In April, Jennings will report back, and the government will determine whether the trusteeship should be renewed for a second six-month term. But by then, the future of school boards could be in doubt.
The move to put the EMSB under trusteeship comes in the middle of hearings into the government's proposed law, Bill 40, that would abolish school boards.
The EMSB has been threatening to challenge the constitutionality of that proposed law, but under the terms of the trusteeship, the commissioners will retain the power to manage such legal proceedings.
The board is in the midst of legal battles against the province on three separate fronts. Aside from Bill 40, it is challenging Bill 21, the religious symbols law, and it is fighting the government's decision to transfer English schools to the French school system.
'Less than transparent': QESBA
The Quebec English School Boards Association, which represents English-language boards across the province, called the process leading to the government's decision "less than transparent."
In a news release, QESBA denounced the government for not having made the Education Ministry's report public sooner — even as details had been leaked to the media.
"This process has not been as fair and independent as one would expect of government procedures," the news release said.
'A necessary step,' EMSB chair says
The chair of the EMSB, Angela Mancini, said the move did not come as a surprise. In September, she said she wasn't opposed to trusteeship, and she stood by that position Wednesday.
She said that she and four other commissioners had written to the Education Ministry asking for help last year.
"It wasn't something we were happy to do, but I think it was a necessary step. The dysfunctionality of the council was becoming worse and worse," said Mancini.
Mancini said no single person is to blame for how dysfunctional the board has become.
The trusteeship also follows a preliminary report by the provincial Treasury Board that found irregularities in the awarding of contracts by the EMSB in 2017 and 2018.
Mancini questioned those findings.
"There are many things in the Treasury Board report that I think you will find in other school boards," Mancini said.
"And there are many that we've already explained to the public."
End to cliques?
Antonio Zaruso, a parent on Dante Elementary School's governing board, said the government's decision was overdue.
When the government transferred two EMSB schools to the Pointe-de-l'Île board earlier this year, Zaruso said he was shocked to see the way in which board's council of commissioners interacted.
"It never for once took what they were mandated to do seriously — which is look after the children's well-being," said Zaruso.
"There are cliques and clans which control the way certain actions are taken and the way certain decisions are done."