No change to school district trustees despite growing trend to review numbers

While other school boards across the province are considering trustee cuts, Kootenay-Columbia is sticking with its representation.

While other school boards across the province are considering cutting their own numbers of trustees, Kootenay-Columbia is sticking with its representation as it moves into the next election.

Not to say the discussion hasn’t come up time and time again.

Trustees in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith and North Okanagan-Shuswap school districts are reviewing the number of elected officials at this time.

But School District 20 (SD20) board chair Darrel Ganzert said by this point it’s too late to host a public consultation process required to examine the board’s current structure of nine wards within the district.

“We debated it and the decision was not to do that,” he said.

The thought of moving away from a ward system, the subdivided system currently in place, to an open or partial ward/open system had some trustees worried about the redistribution of seats. Currently, each ward is divided based on population with representation across the entire district but an open system would do away borders and officials would be elected at large.

“There would be all sorts of possible strange reconfigurations and in the end you would save about $30,000, which you know is a sum of money and there’s no question that we’re looking for little bits and pieces now, but we thought the value of having the extra voices on the board is more important than the $30,000 that you might possibly save,” Ganzert explained.

Vice chair Lorraine Manning said this issue has come up pretty well every term in the 30 years total she’s acted as a trustee.

“For several years we had community committees – employees, community members and trustees – sitting on a committee to look at that,” she explained.

“But it comes back to the board and they make the vote. There are always members who don’t want to change it so of course it gets defeated.”

Last year trustees voted in favour of setting up an ad hoc committee to explore the possible reduction in trustee numbers, electoral areas, and the Ministry of Education requirements surrounding each.

Prior to that, in 2010, a request that the board strike a committee to review trustee numbers and areas of representation did not pass.

This has drawn backlash over the years as trustees sit tight while difficult decisions have been made to balance budgets.

Last year, SD20 decided to sell MacLean Elementary School and move K-9 students into the former Rossland Secondary School (now known as Rossland Summit School), sending secondary Rossland kids down to Crowe, as well as amalgamate Twin Rivers and Castlegar elementary schools to save the district nearly half of a $750,000 shortfall. The board office was also moved into the Kootenay-Columbia Learning Centre as a cost-saving measure.

During 2014/2015 budget deliberations this year, the board voted to cut four teaching positions, rid one less accountant and one less electrician along with other smaller saving measures to eliminate over $860,000 of a projected deficit.

“I actually feel that we’ve crossed a barrier, that we’ve dealt with a lot of issues that really divided the previous board and we’ve dealt with them I think in a very upfront way,” said Ganzert.

“Of course not everybody agrees with the decisions we’ve made.

“But a lot of tough ones are out of the way and now we have a chance to look forward and, if the government were to fund us properly, we can do some really exciting things with education.”

Despite the heavy decisions made over this past term, Ganzert (who represents the Beaver Valley: Fruitvale, Montrose and Electoral Area A) plans on running again in the upcoming November election, where residents will be casting their votes on a newly reformed four-year cycle.

Though he’s made his decision, he has no idea whether his colleagues will do the same.

Manning, a Trail representative, said she’s about 80 per cent positive she will continue her commitment to the board.

“I think that it’s such a worth while place to be. Yes there are some frustrations but I’ve had those ever since I first got on,” she admitted. “Budgets have been no different in all the years I’ve been there; there’s always been a problem at budget time – it doesn’t matter what government has been in.”

Though contract negotiations (such as the current teacher dispute underway that piggy backed last year’s) tend to by trying when it comes to building relationships, Manning holds SD20 as one of the top districts in the province.

“I think outside of that (bargaining) we’ve come along way in this district and I know there is lots to be done yet to make some schools better than they are but I think we do offer a really good education plan for kids in our district.”