Faced with overcrowding, French school board looks to English counterpart for help

Montreal’s largest French-language school board is eyeing under-capacity English schools to help solve issues with overcrowding, a plan its counterpart would be open to — with conditions.

According to the Commission scolaire de Montréal (CSDM), 59 per cent of its elementary schools are overpopulated, while 65 per cent of English Montreal School Board (EMSB) schools are under-capacity.

At one CSDM school in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood, library books have been moved into hallways and the music class will be converted into a normal classroom to help deal with the space issues.

At école Sainte-Bernadette-Soubirous, a French elementary school in Rosemont, classes take place in three different buildings that are a kilometre away from each other.

Meanwhile, the occupancy rate at nearby Rosemount High School, which is under the EMSB, is 56 per cent.

Parents demo

A small group of parents of students at école Sainte-Bernadette-Soubirous gathered outside the school Tuesday to show their concern about the overcrowding. (Mélissa François/Radio-Canada)

Given how in some of the city’s neighbourhoods, schools from the two boards are near each other, the CSDM says it would be interested in sharing space with nearby English schools.

Angela Mancini, EMSB chair, said while the board won’t be handing over entire buildings to the French board, the EMSB is open to sharing space with its French counterparts.

In fact, an agreement to share space is already in place at St. Dorothy School in Saint-Michel, she said.

“We have to have requests that come from our French counterparts, and once we’re solid on understanding where and in what areas of the city they would need space … if our schools have the space, because some of our schools are full, at that point we would be able to start a process of consultation with the parents in order to see how they feel about it,” she said.

More government money needed

Although EMSB schools have extra space, that doesn’t mean it’s not being used, Mancini said.

Some establishments are home to alternative schools and adult education and vocational classes.

Catherine Harel Bourdon, CDSM president, said any lasting solution to the overcrowding has to include building new schools or adding on to existing ones.

CSDM president Catherine Harel Bourdon

CSDM president Catherine Harel Bourdon says her school board needs more classrooms, and for that, they need more money from the government. (Radio-Canada)

With an increasing number of students enrolling and the fact that six schools have been closed recently because they were poorly maintained, she estimated the board will be 60 to 75 more classes every year for the next five years.

For that, they need money.

“We obtained, for six projects, $59 million. We had asked for almost double that,” she said.

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