Tag Archives: Education

School boards: What will we do with them now?

Now that school board elections are over, with absolutely atrocious voter turnout, the inevitable we-have-to-do-something leadership-by-hindsight begins.

Some of the options being considered:

Abolish school boards entirely: This is the ADQ’s solution to the problem, and the excuse for reason why they want to force a real election. Administration of schools would fall to municipalities, the provincial government, and the schools themselves, removing a layer of bureaucracy. Unfortunately, as municipal mergers should have shown us, it’s not that easy. The bureaucracy created by the change might be as large or even larger than the bureaucracy it’s replacing.

Give school boards more power: For those (like me) who complain there aren’t any issues to be decided here (things like school taxes and curricula are set by the Quebec government), this might make elections more interesting. But it would also make the boards inconsistent, and that could lead to problems down the road.

Tie school board elections to municipal elections: I can’t see how this isn’t a good idea. Let’s reduce the amount of times we need to go out, update a voters’ list and wait in line to cast our ballots.

Here’s one I’d like to suggest adding to the list: Have school board commissioners appointed by municipalities instead of elected by the populace directly. This may sound anti-democratic at first, but the system it’s replacing isn’t perfect either. This solution would keep the bureaucracy as is, but the decisions about how local schools would be run would be left in part to the municipal governments they’re in. (Municipal politics aren’t high on voter turnout either, but it’s better than school board elections — and most people can name their mayor at least.)

Just a thought.

School board election results

I don’t blame you if you slept through it, but yesterday was school board election day across the province. Turnout in English boards (which have a much smaller electorate because you have to specifically request to be added to it) was low, about 10-30%. Turnout for the French boards was comically bad, in the low single digits.

That probably had something to do with the fact that there were no issues in this election, nobody knew anything about the candidates, and school boards are powerless to make any meaningful changes about how our kids are educated anyway.

Still, for those who care (the immediate families of the candidates come to mind), here’s a quick breakdown of what happened.

English Montreal School Board

EMSB results (PDF)

  • Spiridigliozzi: Wards 8, 11, 15, 21, 22, 23 (plus 16, 17, 18 and 20 by acclamation)
  • Barbieri: Wards 2, 3, 5, 6, 9, 12, 13, 14
  • Mancini: Wards 1, 4, 7, 10, 19
  • Independents: None

The EMSB election, as Henry Aubin explained it, was a battle between chairman Dominic Spiridigliozzi (whose team had a slim majority on the board) and Rocco Barbieri and Angela Mancini, who work together and whose candidates did not compete against each other for seats. Despite having four candidates elected through acclamation (including Spiridigliozzi himself), the team managed to win only 10 of the 23 board seats, with the rest going to Barbieri and Mancini’s teams. This will represent a major shift in the way this board is governed.

Spiridigliozzi lost 3 incumbents: vice-chair Elizabeth Fokoefs (NDG Ward 3), Daniel Andrelli (St. Henri/Point St. Charles/Westmount Ward 6) and George Vogas (Plateau/Park Ex Ward 13)

Two of the races were extremely close (close enough that judicial recounts have been ordered): Rocco Barbieri won by a margin of only seven votes: 319-312. Julien Feldman (also on Barbieri’s team) defeated incumbent George Vogas in Ward 13 by only six votes: 319-313, with 52 votes going to independent Adam Beach. (A second independent, Ilias Hondronicolas, dropped out.)

As for Bryce Durafourt, who I had high hopes for, he received only 49 votes against Barbieri’s Liz Leaman (454) and Spiridigliozzi’s Mario Pasteris (200).

Lester B. Pearson School Board

Official results

Not as fun to analyze as the other board because there weren’t any declared teams and there were only seven races. Two incumbents, Howard Solomon (who’s been there 14 years) and Don Rae (a one-time incumbent whose website is filled with stock photos of smiling kids), lost their seats.

Commission scolaire de Montréal

List of winners (PDF)

Wow. You can’t go wrong with a 100% victory, but that’s exactly what the MEMO group did here, picking up 13 acclamations and winning all eight contested elections against independents. Even Dominique Cousineau, whose campaign apparently consisted of pointing out that her opponent was named Mostafa, won her board seat. I can’t find a list of the vote totals (though with a turnout of less than 4%, maybe they’re embarrassed to show them).

Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys

List of winners (PDF, apparently scanned from an old fax machine)

With 20 of 21 seats contested, this board’s election was the most active. Diane Lamarche-Venne was the big winner, picking up 14 seats of the 19 her candidates ran in (including herself and one candidate who was elected through acclamation). Jocelyne Bénard-Rochon, who ran 17 candidates, only saw three victories, and lost her own seat to a Lamarche-Venne candidate.

Surprisingly, four independent candidates, three of whom ran against at least one of the parties, also picked up seats: Guylain Desnoyers, Jean-Guy D’Amour, Sonia Gagné-Lalonde and Sarita Benchimol (the latter ran in Cote-St.-Hamp-West, which didn’t see any party candidates).

The turnout was also abysmal here, at just over 3%.

TWIM: Kids, money

Bryce Durafourt

This week, I talked with Bryce Durafourt (above), who’s running in the school board elections for the English Montreal School Board in TMR/Saint-Laurent. He’s 20, a McGill microbiology student, curler, and ran for city councillor the 2005 municipal election in Saint-Laurent, only to come dead-last as the only independent candidate.

So I asked him: What’s up with that?

Also this week (though not online) is an explainer about the status of the Canadian dollar, which is constantly hitting new highs compared to the U.S. dollar. It also mentions the situation in Zimbabwe, home of the least-valued currency in the world and one of the worst examples of hyperinflation since the 1940s.

Media don’t take quizzes seriously

First CBC’s Test the Nation had a small problem with its algebra, then a Cyberpresse quiz was riddled with grammatical errors. Now comes news that a TVA spelling quiz had errors of its own.

The blog post points out that the test was developed by a French teacher and that this teacher made the errors. It also gives some complete B.S. about how the media is thorough in its research, which it clearly isn’t.

Having a professional create the test was a good move for TVA. But not having the test verified by another professional was where they failed. It’s relying on a single source to verify that something is accurate. This is one of the first things they tell you in journalism school not to do.

But TVA wasn’t concerned too much with accuracy, because they didn’t take it seriously. Just like the other tests given in the media, it was nothing more than a gimmick to fill air time and possibly generate ratings. Infotainment that had nothing to do with quality journalism.

Until the media start taking these kinds of tests seriously and having them properly verified, the public can put about as much faith in them as they have in the spelling accuracy on this blog: not mcuh.

OMG they’ll outsource our students too!

Apparently realizing that there are no real issues in this school board election, Commission scolaire de Montréal candidate Michel Bédard has decided to invent a scandal. Bédard is running as an independent against incumbent Paul Trottier of the establishment party MEMO in Division 15, which is the area around the Gay Village in southeast downtown.

Bédard is complaining that the school board had Canada Post print some of its election material, and they did so in Toronto. Apparently this blatant outsourcing is taking jobs away from Montrealers willing to print flyers.



Everything you couldn’t care less about school board elections

If you’ve been wondering what those election-style signs are doing up around town, you’ve missed the fact that there’s a school board election going on. Four boards on the Island of Montreal (two English, two French) are electing 54 of 86 commissioners on Nov. 4 to vote on important school board matters, not that I have any idea what important school board matters are.

Continue reading

Universities are cesspools of cronyism

Le Devoir has an op/ed today about university governance. In it, an executive at the university teachers’ association talks about how university governing boards aren’t representative of the teachers and students involved in the universities. Instead, they’re filled with rich, connected businesspeople who buy their way onto them through donations to the universities.

The problem isn’t so bad on paper. Universities reserve more than half the seats on their governing boards for members of the community. This can mean businesspeople, community leaders, people at other educational institutions, retired educational industry professionals, doctors, lawyers, etc.

The problem mainly lies in the fact that these seats are self-selecting. They’re the highest governing bodies at their institutions, answerable only to the government, and so the boards basically control themselves. Nominations as members of the community are dealt with by a nominating committee of the board.

This causes two related problems: the people who are nominated tend to be friends or business associates of people already on the boards, and dissenting views get actively or passively shut out.

When I was at Concordia, I wrote a piece about the corporate connections of the members of Concordia’s Board of Governors. A little bit of Google searching found a lot of associations between most of the members’ companies. One acted as a lawyer for another. One serves on the board of the company whose CEO is the wife of another member. And so on.

In some cases, these associations are perfectly reasonable, having been formed after the two were appointed to the board together. But the chronology doesn’t solve the problem that the fat cats are friends and do things together.

There’s also other problems: These connected rich people tend to be more likely to receive honourary degrees, have buildings and academic programs named after them, or receive other official praise from the universities they’re connected to, in exchange for their generous donations. (Technically, board memebrs can’t receive honourary degrees while they’re on the board, and paying for such degrees isn’t allowed either. So we see a lot of anonymous donations, or PR people stressing that donations aren’t made with strings attached. And degrees are handed out after people retire from the board.)

The government needs to step in and solve this problem with new rules. Representation from academics and students needs to be increased. More non-business types need to be brought in. Academic decisions need to be deferred to academic bodies. And tough conflict-of-interest rules need to be established.

Business leaders should be on boards of universities. They have experience running large organizations, and have a lot of expertise they’re willing to share. But the power this gives them is very big, and it needs to be kept in check.

Uprising 2?

The folks at the McGill chapter Quebec Public Interest Research Group (read: hippie anarchists) have produced an “alternative” student agenda with activist propaganda.

Called “School Schmool” (education is a tool of the proletariat!), it commemorates the invention of the pipe bomb and encourages vandalism of advertisements.

Those of us with long memories might remember “Uprising“, the 2001 Concordia student agenda, which had a similar ultra-activist slant, titles in Broken Typewriter font for that extra edge, the same “alternative” calendar anniversary notes, and encouraged people to vandalize advertisements, dismantle the capitalist system by firing their “bo$$e$” (l33t!), squat in abandoned buildings, steal expensive cars to take for joy rides and then crash into other expensive cars and setup pirate radio stations.

It also, of course, demonized Israel, the U.S., the media, the university, police, heterosexuals, capitalism and just about any large company.

Unfortunately for Concordia’s student handbook, it was released in September 2001, which was pretty horrible timing. It eventually helped lead to an unprecedented student revolt that took the student union’s executive out of office. (This one probably won’t generate a reaction on the same level, if only because it wasn’t the official student union agenda.)

Like all stupid student ideas, after five years when everyone’s graduated, they start repeating themselves. Embezzlement of student funds, patronage appointments, election fraud, all tend to come and go on a five-year cycle. As do all the election promises that later turn out to be too complicated to accomplish or too impractical to be worth the time.

Students will seek junk food

When I was in high school, a 250ml carton of milk could be bought for $0.20 in the school cafeteria ($0.25 out of the vending machine), thanks to heavy government subsidies. Soft drinks, candy bars and other junk food were also freely available, for a price.

Last week, the Quebec government announced that they would no longer allow junk food to be sold in public schools, in an effort to get kids to be healthier. It’s a sensible move: if you want kids to eat better, don’t dangle sweets in front of their faces.

This morning, La Presse reports that a special STM shuttle bus is being used to take kids to and from Mount Royal High School to the Plaza Côte-des-Neiges mall during lunch – ostensibly because they want to gorge on high-calorie foods. And the Marguerite-Bourgeois school board is trying to get them to stop.

The STM’s response is simple: They’re there to provide transit service to paying customers, not to second-guess their motives. “School extras”, the extra student-only shuttles that usually start mid-route at the school to take students home, aren’t there because the STM wants to be nice. They’re there to avoid dozens or even hundreds of students suddenly trying to get on the same bus after the bell rings.

Quebec’s junk food plan will help a bit, if only morally, to help control junk food intake. But students will go out to get what they want, even if that means they’ll have to take a bus to get there.

Expect a lot of weekday-only fast-food restaurants to start opening up near schools as a result of this policy.

UPDATE: Le professeur masqué has some thoughts on this issue as well. Another blogger asks if we’ve all gone crazy.

UPDATE (Sept. 26): The STM caves, vowing to only run shuttles to bring students back to school, a compromise about as stupid as the entire controversy.

YASTGB: Year One – A freshman diary

For the second time in as many days, a new blog has appeared on the Gazette radar. Year One, by new university students Michelle Wong and Nori Evoy, chronicles the two girls’ first year.

Evoy introduces herself in the blog’s first post. She’s from Hudson and is somewhat of a celebrity in the tiny island of Anguilla as the webmaster of Anguilla-Beaches.com. The story of her online venture and the profits they made her is all over every “how to make a fortune online” website, including her father’s. (The site uses her as a case study)

UPDATE (Sept. 10): Michelle Wong introduces herself.

Student lobby groups need a reality check

You gotta love student politics in Quebec. We have the lowest tuition fees in Canada, the highest taxes, and Montreal has the highest number of students per capita.

Yet this province seems to be the largest battleground for student protests in North America. They protest tuition fees, which are too high because they’re above zero (some protests involve CEGEP students, whose tuition fees actually are zero). They protest government cuts to loans and bursaries. They protest the colonial capitalist imperialistic racist empire bent on … evil of some sort.

And, of course, they protest each other.

Five student associations from Concordia, McGill and Dawson are suing each other over control of the Quebec chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students. Concordia’s graduate association is planning to pull out of the organization over this dispute which has seen two competing executives appointed. (UPDATE Sept. 13: The Concordian — yeah, I know — has a detailed story on what’s going on)

“Regional” (read: not Montreal or Quebec City) groups at UQTR, UQO and UQAR are threatening to leave the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) over their concerns the group is too Montreal-centric, and create their own lobby group to represent just their interests.

Currently there are three post-secondary lobby groups in Quebec. In addition to FEUQ (considerd the grown-up group because they sit down and negotiate with the government) and CFS-Q (considered almost renegade by its parent national organization and with little weight in Quebec because it only represents the two anglophone universities and an anglophone CEGEP), there’s ASSÉ, the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, which is a newer, more militant group that accepts nothing short of free education for all.

To give an example, the Concordia Student Union has been a member of all three organizations over the past few years, paying student money to three redundant organizations. They recently dropped ASSÉ (which was the cheapest of the three but also the most ineffective), and now pay money only to two.

And yet despite this, Jean Charest was returned to power with the clear intention of raising tuition, and fees are going up. FEUQ is threatening strikes, but they’ve already lost the battle. The public voted for tuition increases, and a few hundred students choosing to waste their money by not going to class isn’t going to get anyone to change their mind.

All three groups need to take a moment to figure out why they’re losing (even many students don’t support their positions — though I don’t see too many of them lining up to donate money to the universities), and change their strategy before they become even more irrelevant than they already are. Once that happens, student unions will start pulling their funding and the Quebec student activist movement will implode.

UPDATE (Sept. 25): A judge decides to keep the offices off-limits to both groups until the issue can be reviewed further. The SSMU is happy, while the CSU is not.

Familiar story in the Globe (UPDATED)

An email on the CAJ listserv pointed me to a Globe & Mail Facts and Arguments piece called “The English Assignment“. It’s by freelancer Sharon Melnicer of Winnipeg, who’s written for dozens of publications.

The story is about an assignment she says was handed to students in her class in the 1990s to have them write a story together, each alternatively writing a paragraph. The result is a story that radically changes direction in each paragraph as the two writers attempt to wrestle control from each other, and it eventually degenerates into profane name-calling.

The problem: This story has been circulating around the Internet for a decade. That story has the names changed (including the name of the teacher who assigned it), but the story is otherwise exactly the same.

The way I see it, there are three explanations for this:

  1. Sharon Melnicer is the original source of the Internet legend, and the names were changed before the story was disseminated online. I find this unlikely because the Globe story says students were supposed to communicate exclusively via email, and email simply wasn’t in widespread use in 1997. (UPDATE: The Snopes page has been updated to reflect Melnicer’s claim as the source of the story, based exclusively on the article.)
  2. Sharon Melnicer’s students read the story on the Internet and decided to plagiarize it. That doesn’t really make sense either (and would you send your teacher profanity like that if you wanted her to grade the story and forget about it?). But if true, she should have caught it and certainly not given these students full marks.
  3. Sharon Melnicer’s students never submitted this story, and she simply rewrote one she found online claiming it happened to her. I’ve read a couple of other stories she’s written and none are obviously plagiarized from other sources. I find it hard to believe a seasoned freelancer would throw her career away over a Globe Facts & Arguments piece.

I’ve emailed Ms. Melnicer to ask her about the story. I’ll update this post when I hear back from her.

I’m sure it’s all just a misunderstanding.

UPDATE: The Globe apparently is saying it’s #1, and that she just sat on the story for 10 years after presenting it at a workshop for teachers in 1997. Plausible, but still strange.

UPDATE: Her response:

Yes, it is indeed a coincidence and not one I’m very pleased with. This is the fourth time I have “met myself” on the Internet after penning and submitting an original piece. I didn’t realize my essay had been posted on <snopes.com> until it was published in ‘Facts & Arguments’ on Tuesday and generated a response like yours.

The following response to your comment is being given to readers like you who wonder why they’ve seen the piece before and how it’s come to be so widely circulated.

Sharon Melnicer

Dear F&A reader,

Thank you for your e-mail re the essay of Sept. 5.

The essay writer, Sharon Melnicer, tells me she first presented this article at a province-wide workshop for Manitoba English teachers in 1997. She says she had found the idea ( ‘Writing a Tandem Story’) as explained in the essay, in a professional journal . The first part of a sample tandem story (the “Outer Space” theme) as well as the teacher’s instructions for students were provided in the article. Ms. Melnicer says she tried it out with Grade XI and XII students, as her essay describes, then wrote up what happened and presented it at the workshop. Copies of that paper were distributed to the 50 or so participants who attended. Nothing further happened regarding publication of the piece until she picked it up again after retiring, did some revisions, and submitted it to F&A.

Ms Melnicer says she knows plagiarism is a serious offence, and not one she would commit. I have no reason to doubt her.

Moira Dann


Tuition increase just the tip of the iceberg

As the fall semester fast approaches from the horizon for students, some will be getting a wake-up call when they go to pay their tuition.

You see, in addition to the $100 a year tuition increase (which works out to $50 a semester, $10 a course or $3 a credit), universities are continuing to pack on administrative fees — taxes on tuition to pay for things that used to be included free.

At my alma mater, Concordia University, some of the new fees include a “Copyright fee” and a “Technology Infrastructure Fee”, even though the latter, at $4 per credit or $60 a semester, doesn’t include access to things like the formerly-free campus-wide wireless network — now they make you pay for that, which is pissing off some students.

Concordia’s list of “miscellaneous fees” is always good for a laugh, and was the butt of jokes at the Concordia Student Union back when it was controlled by the radical left. There’s a fee to apply, a fee to confirm attendance, a fee for the required student ID card, a fee to graduate, and a fee to mail your degree, among many others.

But while students make fun of these fees and protest against them, the number of student association fees (which the students themselves approve) has gone up considerably in the past few years. In 2000, there were 10 of these fees. Now the number has doubled. The newest fee, to be added in the winter, will support the “Sustainability Action Fund”. This isn’t to be confused with the entirely separate fee to run Sustainable Concordia, or for groups like the CSU or the Quebec Public Interest Research Group. In all, these student-managed fees account for between $8 and $12 per credit, which works out to $240 to $360 per year. (And that doesn’t include the student-managed health and dental plan, which is another $200 per year)

While some of these fees are opt-outable (most notably the health plan), most aren’t.

So before student groups start complaining about how their constituents are being nickel-and-dimed to death, perhaps they should start looking in their own backyard.