An arrangement in which the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) shares some of its spaces with its overcrowded French counterpart would be an acceptable way for it to avoid losing some of its schools altogether, Quebec's education minister said Saturday.
Jean-François Roberge, in Montreal for the Coalition Avenir Québec's general council meeting, told journalists that he's open to cohabitation — in which one or more EMSB schools would accommodate students from both boards.
"We are really open minded and we hope maybe some cohabitation, francophones with anglophones, could be a short term solution," Roberge said. "Short term, for me, this is an acceptable solution."
But he said that the EMSB and the French-language Commission scolaire de Pointe-de-l'Île (CSPI) need to agree on the details by June 10 — the deadline he established previously — or else he will follow through on his plan to transfer three EMSB schools to the CSPI.
"I'm not allowed to impose cohabitation," Roberge said, citing provincial laws. "I can only impose transfers. If cohabitation between the school boards isn't signed and agreed, I will make the transfer."
The three EMSB schools Roberge has identified are General Vanier and Gerald McShane elementary schools and John Paul I Junior High.
Roberge said that the EMSB should listen to its parents, who want a solution that doesn't mean a loss of schools, and who in recent days have contacted his offices directly.
"[The parents] are saying that they understand that we need to take action if the school boards don't come to an agreement," Roberge said. "They hope that the school boards will come to an agreement and they want to collaborate with us. They're searching for a solution."
The EMSB council voted unanimously on Wednesday to officially look into the possibility of cohabitation with the French board.
On Saturday EMSB chair Angela Mancini said a formal letter requesting a conversation will be sent to the CSPI by Monday.
If the two boards can agree to an arrangement, Mancini said making it the EMSB's official proposal to Quebec should be "a formality," in spite of the rancorous disputes on the subject that have dominated the board's meetings in recent months.
Parents have recently endorsed the cohabitation idea at general assemblies, Mancini said, which will reassure the commissioners.
"We had originally had word from the governing boards at these schools" supporting cohabitation, Mancini said, but the recent support has come from the broader community of parents.
"If parents are willing to go forward with cohabitation, I don't see council having a problem," she said.
On Tuesday, EMSB members voted to approve a plan to move the Galileo Adult Education Centre in Montreal North to give space to the CSPI, even though Roberge had previously dismissed that plan as inadequate..
At this point, the Galileo move will still happen, and it could become part of a proposal that also includes cohabitation, Mancini said. But if Galileo isn't part of the future CSPI arrangement, however it turns out, Mancini said the EMSB council could decide to rescind the plan to move it.