Race for local school trustee spots limited to Trail

Despite school closures and teachers’ dispute, few step up for role
on school board

Decisions impacting the region’s schools are made around the trustee table every month, but, it appears, in the upcoming municipal elections there aren’t many people who want to help make those decisions.

Everyone, at one time or another, has had a vested interest in schools, yet only Trail, Castlegar and Robson will be holding elections for trustee spots in School District 20 (SD20).

Only one candidate put their name up for election respectively in Rossland, Warfield and the district encompassing Fruitvale, Montrose and Area A.

So voters won’t even have to choose a school representative in those areas, it has already been decided. The only local race will be in Trail with three candidates vying for two spots on the board.

Gord Smith, acclaimed trustee candidate for Rossland, says he believes there aren’t more names under the school trustee column because the role of trustee is less than desirable.

“You are often put in a very difficult position between the province and continual cutbacks to education,” he explained.

“Earlier in this term, there were reconfiguration decisions made and Rossland was a big one. Those were very challenging times and that is going to continue. Why doesn’t it translate to the ballot?

“Perhaps, and I am only speculating, it is because people don’t have control over the budget because it is a grant system. You’re ability to effect change is compromised. You are kind of standing on one leg and you try to do the best dance possible.”

School board chair, Darrel Ganzert, acclaimed candidate for Fruitvale, Montrose and Area A, agrees that making tough decisions with only a little wiggle room is one deterrent for potential candidates in the upcoming election.

“One of the problems faced by anyone interested in running for trustee is the fact that annually cuts have to be made to the SD20 budget,” he said in an email reply.

“A large portion of the job trustees do is to balance the budget which may affect peoples lives in negative ways. With the provincial government’s mandate to keep education costs from rising, pressure to cut at the district level increases. Many people might see little chance to do good in local education and only see the negative cutting that take place.”

Toni Driutti, acclaimed candidate for Warfield, Area B and Area J, says she believes the time commitment that comes along with the trustee position may be what is preventing potential candidates from entering the race.

“Many are involved in their work (12 hour shifts) and spare time is limited,” she said in an email reply. “Taking on a position in the political field requires a commitment of attending meetings and quite often a last-minute requirement of your time for urgent matters. I think that the many parents are doing a great job taking on committee work, for example PAC, reading programs in schools, helping with activities and fund raising as time permits. It would be wonderful to have different voices and ages at the table, as this would balance the opinions.”

Ganzert also believes that there aren’t more names on the trustee ballot because the current trustees are fulfilling their duties to the public’s satisfaction.

“I believe that in some areas of SD20 the citizens are presently content with the actions of the trustee that represents them and see no need for change,” he said.

He added that there are a few reasons that would compel a potential future trustee to throw their name in the hat.

“If you look at municipal election activity in those same communities, there is much interest with multiple candidates for most positions. At times people choose to run because they feel they can do a better job, the incumbent is not representing the people of the area they are from or a person has an agenda they wish to pursue.”

Signs seen around the region advertise candidates for the various mayoral seats and councillor positions, but it isn’t common to see a campaign sign for a trustee.

Ganzert says that may be because incumbent candidates are allowing their trustee voting record to speak for itself, while challengers immerse themselves in the community.

“They may spend a great deal of time talking to members of their community, visiting schools etc.,” he said. “Others rely on their voting record to speak for them. Others work hard for the board as a trustee by sitting on committees, being well prepared for meetings, participating at meetings in constructive ways etc…

“This is done in hopes that the public becomes aware of their efforts and reward them at election time.”

In some cases, it may be laws that prevent someone who wants to run for a trustee spot from entering their name in the race.

Sections 32 to 34 of the provincial School Act outline the restrictions placed on candidates, namely that employees of a school district cannot run for trustee for the same district.

“No employee of SD20 (Kootenay Columbia Teachers Union nor Canadian Union of Public Employees) can run as a trustee in our district,” he said, adding that an SD20 employee would be able to run in a different school district.