Montreal

East-end EMSB schools battle for survival amid new proposals for mergers, closures

It will be left to the CAQ government-appointed trustee of the English Montreal School Board, Marlene Jennings, to make some painful decisions about the fate of several schools.

It will be left to CAQ-appointed trustee, former MP Marlene Jennings, to decide schools' fate

The EMSB will hold hearings on the fate of several east-end Montreal schools at its headquarters on Fielding Avenue in NDG, tonight and tomorrow evening.

The English Montreal School Board — now under the government-imposed control of a single trustee — began two nights of hearings Wednesday to debate the future of several schools in Montreal's east end.

The fate of several schools is up in the air, just months after the forced transfer of two EMSB schools to a neighbouring French-language board last year.

Remaining schools in the area are now competing against each other for increased enrolment and influence — and in some cases, their very survival.

Final decisions will be left solely to Marlene Jennings, the former Liberal MP appointed by the CAQ government as trustee of the EMSB last fall, after a government audit found irregularities in the awarding of contracts, issues with the board's management and "excessive politicization of decision-making." 

Whatever Jennings decides when she announces her final decision at a meeting scheduled for Jan. 20, some EMSB parents are bound to be heartbroken and angry. 

Transfers force EMSB to reshuffle the deck

CAQ Education Minister Jean-François Roberge announced in June he was transferring General Vanier Elementary and John Paul I Junior High schools in Saint-Léonard from the EMSB to the overcrowded Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l'Île.

Some parents were frustrated by the decision, and the EMSB launched a legal challenge last fall, even though the transfers had already gone through.

The transfers also had a domino effect on other schools — changes that the EMSB is still grappling with.

The retired MP for NDG-Lachine, Marlene Jennings, was appointed trustee of the English Montreal School Board in early November. Jennings will have sole decision-making power on the fate of several schools. (Sean Henry/CBC)

Students from General Vanier are sharing a building with Pierre de Coubertin Elementary this year.  And students from John Paul I Junior High are sharing a building with Laurier Macdonald High School.

Both those solutions are temporary, and the decisions about what to do with those schools and their students in the long term will have ripple effects on other schools in the area.

Schools pitted against each other

There are four items on the agenda for the hearings, which will continue Thursday.

The first two are directly connected to the forced transfers, and the other two deal with other EMSB schools in the area. 

The hearings will cover:

  • The future of General Vanier Elementary School. The EMSB's long-range planning committee is proposing the school merge permanently with either Pierre de Coubertin, Danté or Honoré Mercier elementary schools.
  • The future of John Paul I Junior High School. Currently, it exists as a separate school in the same building as Laurier Macdonald High School. The committee is proposing two options: keep the present arrangement remain in place, or formally merge the two schools
  • The future of St. Dorothy Elementary School in Saint-Michel and Our Lady of Pompei Elementary School in Ahuntsic.  The committee is proposing a merger of the two schools in one of the school buildings yet to be determined
  • The future of Lester B. Pearson High School. There is a proposal to move it to a brand new building, sometime in the next few years

Briefs submitted by the governing boards of each school involved in the discussions reveal competing interests and little consensus.

Each school, understandably, wants to ensure its survival and boost its enrolment.

Governing boards from both Danté and Pierre de Coubertin schools argue in their briefs that they are best-positioned to absorb all the students from General Vanier school.

Students at the former General Vanier Elementary school building, which was transferred to a French-language board last year, have been attending Pierre de Coubertin Elementary this year. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Honoré Mercier's governing board said it's prepared to welcome any students from General Vanier who choose to come there.  

General Vanier's governing board recommends its students be given the choice of which of the three schools to attend and that the EMSB provide bussing to students who need it.

In its brief, the governing board for John Paul I Junior High said it wants the school to continue to exist as its own separate entity in the building it now shares with Laurier Macdonald High School, but with more space than it is now allocated.

Laurier Macdonald's governing board, meanwhile, said it wants to absorb John Paul I students into its school and operate as a single entity.

And finally, the governing boards for both St. Dorothy and Our Lady of Pompei elementary schools each insist that if a merger happens between the two, their respective buildings would be best-suited to swallow the other school.

Jennings will have to sort it all out on her own.

Painful process

In their briefs, many of the governing boards touch on how painful the forced transfers have been.

"The past year has been emotionally and physically exhausting for students and staff. We lost our school very quickly and had to relocate in haste. We lost many comforts that made our school a gem," said the John Paul I governing board in its brief.

Major school change consultations have the undesirable effect of pitting school communities against each other.- Pierre de Coubertin Elementary School governing board

Laurier Macdonald's brief touches on the challenges the school has faced in being forced to share space with John Paul I students, noting a "divisive outlook by staff and students, duplication of services and loss of school space."

"Our students are our most important stakeholders, and they have suffered a great loss. This community unfortunately was left to feel like their voices were not heard," General Vanier's governing board said in its brief.

Maria Corsi, a member of Pierre de Coubertin school's governing board, said schools are feeling the pressure of declining enrolment numbers. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

Maria Corsi, a member of Pierre de Coubertin school's governing board, was among those presenting her board's position Wednesday night.

''We all feel the pressure of declining enrolment levels, and so we all feel the pressure of needing to increase these enrolment numbers and, indirectly, it pits schools against each other," she told CBC News.

Wednesday's hearings dealt with the proposals involving the future of General Vanier and John Paul I students.

On Thursday, the merger of St. Dorothy and Our Lady of Pompei schools is on the agenda, as well as the possible new building for Lester B. Pearson High School.

Governing boards and unions representing staff will present their briefs.

About the Author

Steve Rukavina is a journalist with CBC Montreal.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.