Statements issued by the New Frontiers School Board last week announcing the retirement of director general Rob Buttars and the appointment of his successor, Michael Helm, are evidence of positive strategic thinking and planning on the part of the NFSB council of commissioners. Rather than rock the boat, the council chose to hold steady. It’s a good thing too, as after the last few years of riding out wave after pandemic wave, the waters ahead could still be choppy for school boards in Quebec.
The NFSB, along with all other English boards, is waiting on a Quebec Superior Court ruling on the constitutionality of Bill 40. The law, adopted in February 2020, abolished school boards in favour of educational service centres. Both the Superior Court and the Quebec Court of Appeal suspended the Bill for the English sector, allowing school boards to continue to operate; but many believe the case for English boards will be argued all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Add to that uncertainty the following: school boards are having to implement Bill 21 (which restricts teachers from wearing visible religious symbols while on the job), as well as Bill 96, and a strengthened Charter of the French Language. Most recently, Premier François Legault has been talking about centralizing more power in terms of governing the education system. In an article published by La Presse, Legault is quoted as saying he would like to appoint the director generals of school service centres (and presumably school boards). If this happens, school boards will lose even more of their control at the local level. The article reports that Education Minister Bernard Drainville is preparing a plan, suggesting a bill may be tabled in the National Assembly in the next few months.
Legault has also signaled he would like to see more “flexibility” from the unions representing public sector employees, including teachers and school staff, whose collective agreements expire at the end of March. This will, no doubt, add another layer of complexity, as the unions do not seem entirely willing to acquiesce to this rather bullish request.
All this to say the NFSB is clearly looking ahead in appointing a DG to the helm who has broad experience and who is firmly rooted in the school community. Navigating through uncertain times is never easy, but let’s hope for smooth sailing.