A group of parents in the North Okanagan-Shuswap School District are not supporting calls for a byelection to replace the school board before the regularly scheduled municipal election in November 2018.
The District Parents Advisory Council for School District #83 has repeatedly stated opposition to an early election of a new school board, instead calling for the continuation of the appointed official trustee until the next local government election.
But members of the BC School Trustees Association (BCSTA) are raising questions about the length of time an official trustee is appointed, citing concerns it erodes the democratic process. They are advocating for an election to be called this fall.
The request is detailed in a letter sent by BCSTA president Gordon Swan to Education Minister Rob Fleming earlier this month.
“On behalf of the BCSTA, and our membership, we call on you to set a date for by-elections in the North Okanagan-Shuswap district so that we may see parity across the province… We firmly believe that communities are best served by democratically elected, local boards of education, and request that you act on this imbalance as soon as possible.”
The School District #83 board was dismissed in June 2016 and replaced with Official Trustee Mike McKay.
Not long afterwards, the Vancouver School board was also dismissed and replaced with an official trustee. There was a recent move made to re-elect an new school board in Vancouver, which would run with an already scheduled by-election in that city — thus saving approximately $150,000 in election costs.
The North Okanagan-Shuswap region does not have another by-election planned, so running an entirely new election for a school board would cost taxpayers a similar amount. If the election was run at the usual time in 2018, the costs would be part of the already scheduled, and budgeted, process.
Kari Wilkinson, President of the District Parents Advisory Council, says the new education minister has asked them about the possibility of holding a by-election, but the DPAC remains against it.
Wilkinson says the DPCA supports the principle of a democratically elected board of education but the firm in their support of continuing with the appointed trustee until the next regular election cycle.
“With all due respect, it was a democratically elected board (who had attended the Trustee Workshops for Best Practices in Governance multiple times) who got us into the mess we are in,” writes Wilkinson, referring to the transfer of $10.5 million in surplus funds for the construction of new school district administrative offices at the same time programs for students were being cut.
“Mr. McKay has proven himself to be a highly effective leader, and our communities have a high level of trust in him. Through Mr. McKay’s leadership, we are in the process of implementing several key initiatives that will help build and establish a healthy, positive learning and working environment for all stakeholders.”
The DPAC is also says an election should not take place until the school district addresses recommendations in a special advisor’s report dealing with board composition, size and geographic representation.
“We can’t afford to go down this road again,” writes Wilkinson.