The swinging axe of school district cuts could be turned on itself through a process to consider reducing its number of trustees.
The board of trustees for School District 20 (Kootenay Columbia) 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.
Trail trustee Mark Wilson said the motion that passed Monday night is yet another attempt at reducing the nine-member board, something the district has been trying to do for 15 years.
“We are in a district that is losing enrolment … and we have to keep cutting as a result,” he said. “I think we can advocate for lower numbers and still run a very efficient board,”
Wilson called the committee a proactive approach to reduce the number of trustees, since it needed ministry approval to do so.
Castlegar rural trustee Mickey Kinakin spoke against the motion.
“Although it seems innocuous, I have stated it several times, this is a highly charged political action in its intent,” he said.
He pointed to the potential closure of two district schools—in Castlegar and Rossland—as matters that could divide the region and alienate the board in those communities.
“Put this aside. This is not the time to be dealing with this. Let’s deal with what is going to happen within our communities (with closures),” he said. “We need to deal with this at a more appropriate time.”
Wilson called for a reduction in the number of trustees—from nine to seven or less—as well as a limit on the number of terms a trustee can serve, up to a maximum of three.
The ward system could also be replaced by an “at large” format.
Trail trustee Lorraine Manning said the issue has been revisited over the years and does require a fair bit of time and public consultation.
In January 2010, a request that the board strike a committee to review trustee numbers and areas of representation did not pass.
Castlegar trustee Jen Carter said the move to reduce trustees was a bad one.
“We need representation form every part of this district,” she said. “We have such a large, far flung area … that we need representation on this board from every area.”
“But we can’t go and ask people to take cuts and cuts to services when we aren’t prepared to do that ourselves,” Wilson said.
Carter said the move to cut two trustees would only save the board around $20,000 out of a $42.6 million budget.
The committee should have an answer coming back to the board for final approval and voting by October.
Wilson wanted the board to be reduced to five trustees, elected at large, and suggested that system of education governance be ready to go in time for the next election.
The current system includes representation from nine wards within the district, although candidates need not be residents of the wards they opt to run in.