Power and politics at Laurier School Board

Power and politics at Laurier School Board
Power and Politics at Laurier School Board: Chris Eustace, activist and defender of English educational rights during question period.
Renata Isopo

As TLN projected October 24, 2018, the posts of Chairperson and two commissioners were officially filled at that evening’s regular Council of Commissioners meeting by a vote of the seven remaining council members.

Hardly a surprise to the sparse audience of board officials and a handful of interested parties in, Paolo Galati snapped up the Chair in a secret ballot that cast former commissioner Ailsa Pehi aside.

The filling of the two vacant seats for commissioners, no surprise either.  TLN had already revealed the names of the two retained candidates, James Di Sano and Anick Brunet, who were confirmed by acclamation.  This was probably the easiest and most effortless walk to a commissioner’s chair ever recorded, unless you bring up the in-secret appointment of Melissa Wall to replace Robert Dixon.

Business as usual? Not this time. Eustace unleashed

Following this publicly questioned election, the seven still sitting Commissioners of the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board (SWLSB) approved several motions which had been agreed to before the gavel had struck the meeting open.

Discussions ranged from soup to nuts but make no mistake, the deliberations had little or nothing to do with pedagogical, psychological, emotional, physical, spiritual, social or cultural needs of 14,000 children and young people, and 2000 employees working at the board.

Well, much to the delight of the stakeholders and taxpayers at the meeting, a voice that would not be stilled sprang into action. Chris Eustace, activist and defender of English educational rights whose concerns have been widely and regularly published in numerous newspapers in Quebec and the rest of Canada, in both official languages, rose in muted anger to assail the commissioners with several questions which went unanswered.

At the microphone during question period, holding up his familiar “Anglo” sign, Eustace caused quite a stir with two pedagogical questions regarding school curriculum.

Black History Month and Bicycle riding courses

To his first question – “Is Canadian Black history properly represented in your history course?” – Interim chairperson Dean Dugas responded, “I am not aware.”  No response or intervention from Council or school board administrators either.  Holding up a book for all to see, Eustace then asked, “Are students in grade 5 and 6 taught the Bicycle Riding course?” “I am not familiar with this book,” stated Dugas, unable to hide obvious discomfort.

Threatened by the Chair to be shut down and warned to cease and desist, Eustace stood his ground, insisted and persisted in asking – “Are you commissioners going to go on with QUESBA (Quebec English School Boards Association), donating $114,368.48 of public funds  to support a newly elected manager sitting in a chair for a minimum salary of $120,000 per year?”

In other words, every one of the 14,000 or so students of SWLSB is deprived of $8.33, so that the board can, in the words of Chris Eustace, “aid and abet an organization that is under severe attack from several sides both from within the educational system and from the community-at-large. According to Eustache these precious funds should be put to better use by allocating them for the reduction of class sizes, and or providing better learning tools for teachers and students. Eustace ended his intervention with a challenge that resounded in the council hall from wall to wall.  “Will this board take steps against QUESBA, knowing the falsehoods they are spreading for self-preservation?”  No response.

Former chair Jennifer Maccarone supported QESBA

It’s important to keep in mind that this collection of commissioners inherited this controversy from the departed Jennifer Maccarone who exhibited overwhelming support for QESBA while serving as chair of the board for four years, part of which she spent as president of this lobby group, while at the same time holding sway over SWLSB’s affairs as its chief elected official.

Former commissioner Robert Dixon was so strongly opposed to board funds donated to QESBA that before departing he voted against funneling money to an organization he described in published reports as “…Ineffective,” stating his case to then chairperson Maccarone: “I’ve never supported payments to QESBA for the previous work it has done. I don’t think they deserve it.”

On September 11, of this year, QESBA announced that Russell Copeman, former Côte-des-Neiges/Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough mayor and former Member of the National Assembly for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, has been appointed as their new Executive Director.

“Education has long been an interest of mine. As both a graduate of the English public education system and the parent of three children who attended English public schools, I know the importance of high quality English education. Our school boards are essential institutions for the English-speaking community and I am looking forward to working with the elected commissioners who make up the Board of the QESBA and its staff to ensure the best possible public education for our students,” stated Mr. Copeman.

Power and politics at Laurier School Board
Power and Politics at Laurier School Board: From left: Newly elected James Di Sano, Commissioner, Paolo Galati (Chairperson) Anick Brunet (Chairperson)

Gallati elected as chairman

Paolo Galati was the favored candidate of enough of the seven commissioners to win the job.  A secret vote was moved by commissioner Peter MacLaurin who also moved to have the votes destroyed.  When Commissioner Anne McMullon requested an official count of the vote to be made public, she was denied, with this response from the Chair “It’s a majority.”  Murmurs quickly spread through the stupefied audience over the apparent lack of transparency, although the law makes it possible to have a “secret” vote in a public domain.

Newly installed Chairperson Paolo Galati will represent all SWLSB schools and centers.  TLN invited Galati to a post-election interview which he cancelled due to personal reasons. Subsequently, TLN emailed him a series of questions which went unanswered in time for publication.

In the meantime, outgoing commissioner Ailsa Pehi, retains her role as Vice President of the  Laurier Foundation, a non-profit organization that raises funds from the community, in support of needs in the Laurier Board’s schools and centers.  In a phone interview with TLN,  Pehi thanked constituents who elected her four years ago. “It has been and incredible ride. I hope I served with dignity, integrity, and honor,” she stated.  “It has always been about the students,” she told TLN in a cheerful voice.

Interim Chairperson moves on

In view of another upcoming grand “exodus” for one or two sitting commissioners of SWLSB, TLN has learned that Dean Dugas is moving on, making way for Secondary Parent Commissioner Bobby Pellerin to replace him, by appointment.  A source in the know at the school board told TLN that this has already been decided, without consultation and devoid of a call to the community-at-large for candidates interested in filling the vacancy.

The question is,” What is the protocol and was it applied?” TLN made two attempts to contact Dugas for confirmation of his resignation, but he, too, did not respond.

Parent Commissioner Sergio Di Marco resigned his seat a few weeks ago.  No news on who has replaced him.  This seems to be in line with being consistent with inconsistencies at SWLSB, losing count of turnovers and revolving doors on several levels of the political hierarchy.

A parent speaks

“Continuation of poor practices  and tweaking that works are the order of the day when insiders are ‘appointed’ school board chiefs. For heaven’s sake, To counteract what’s happening in the system – the dysfunction, mediocre performance, proliferation of problems, and the accompanying disarray, for heaven’s sake, let’s put pressure on the school board’s decision-makers to seek outsiders and invite them to be part of a democratic process,” stated Amanda Pujolle, a concerned parent observer.

“I’ve been following Laurier School Board affairs for a long time, and I know that outsiders can sometimes do great things in renewing and refreshing the work of all aspects of the system. ‘Outsider’ Paul Lamoureux, Director-General who sadly passed earlier this year, is proof positive that this approach can be highly effective.”

TLN is interested to hear other parents views on the issues that derive from their school board policies.