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Council approves construction projects and swears in newest commissioner

By Jack Wilson

Local Journalism Initiative

The Eastern Townships School Board's (ETSB) Council of Commissioners met May 24, discussing legal battles against the provincial government and approving a list of construction projects. The council swore in a new commissioner, Richard Gosselin, and praised a number of school initiatives.

ETSB chair Michael Murray told council he expects a decision soon on the Quebec English School Board Association’s (QESBA) challenge of Bill 40, which sought to dissolve school boards. Though a court injunction temporarily preserved English-language school boards, their ultimate survival remains in limbo two years after court proceedings concluded in 2021.

Now, the judge “has indicated that he intends to render judgement on our challenge to Bill 40 before the end of June,” Murray said, adding that an appeal from the QESBA or the province is likely.

In response to Bill 23, the latest proposed education shakeup, Murray said the QESBA told the province it “would see no option except to contest the bill should it be adopted in present form.” The bill would give Quebec more control over school boards, including the ability to hire and fire directors general, which Murray and the QESBA charge is a violation of English school boards’ right to self-govern. “The supreme court has defined appointing a director general as one of the most fundamental rights of a minority education system,” he said.

“It’s both a discouraging thing that the laws come thick and fast and very encouraging that our lawyers are telling us that we do in fact have opportunities to drive the system in the other direction,” Murray said.

Commissioners unanimously approved a slew of renovations, including a $3.4 million heating system replacement and roof renovation at Richmond Regional High School. They authorized a renovation for the washrooms and cafeteria at Sawyerville Elementary School for $459,700. “It’s high time that some of our circa 1950 bathrooms in that school joined us in the 21st century,” Ward 11 commissioner Mary-Ellen Kirby said.

The ETSB will also renovate the parking at Butler Elementary School for $839,100 and upgrade Waterloo Elementary School’s electrical network for $67,200.

To comply with the provincial requirement of electrifying school buses, the council approved a $1.9 million expenditure on a charging system to be installed at the Marguerite Knapp Building in Lennoxville. The funding comes out of a special envelope provided by the province and will buy 14 charging stations. “The charging stations are getting quite expensive,” Murray said.

ETSB secretary general Éric Campbell said there was no timeline for completing the project.

Council swore in Richard Gosselin as the new commissioner for Ward 4. Gosselin didn’t stand for election but was acclaimed when no other candidates put their names forward.

Campbell said the province was allowing the board to maintain its 11 wards for the 2024 election, despite only being entitled to eight given its population. For the upcoming election, “we have maintained the exact same boundaries that we used to have in previous elections,” Campbell said. The sole change will be the renaming of Ward 9 now that Asbestos has become Val-des-Sources.

Council adopted the boundaries, though it will have to make a final decision in December, once residents have had a chance to contest them. “This is for all intents and purposes the status quo we’re recommending be continued,” Murray said.

The commissioners confirmed Tara McCully as the incoming principal at Lennoxville Elementary School. She will replace Dawn Irving, who retires at the end of the school year.

Ward 1 commissioner and vice-chair Joy Humenuik congratulated Farnham Elementary for a $1,500 donation to its sister school in Kenya, which will pay for a water pump. “Farnham Elementary, you are changing lives near and far,” she said.

Kirby announced Matteo Jarquin’s triumph at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Edmonton. The grade 10 student at Alexander Galt Regional High School won a silver medal and scholarships at the Alberta and Western universities for his robotic hand creation.

Ward 6 commissioner Claire Beaubien gave Sunnyside Elementary a shoutout for its plan to add a greenhouse and outdoor kitchen to its Sunnyside Garden. “It was great to see all of what is happening at Sunnyside with their garden expansion,” she said.

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