Voters need to do their homework before Nov. 15October 29, 2014
Deciding which school trustee candidates deserve to be elected isn’t an easy task and might explain why many voters simply don’t bother.
Few of the candidates are affiliated with political parties with well-known positions, and many promises advanced during election campaigns are similar and vague. (Usual promises include greater accountability, more supports for students, improved communication with parents and lobbying the province for more funding.)
Furthermore, school board elections get little media attention because they’re over-shadowed by the mayoral race. And some say they don’t really matter because school trustees have little power anyway.
But doing a little homework before polls open Nov. 15 might provide a different view.
Katherine Wagner, a former Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows trustee, has posted an “informed voter checklist” on Facebook with some helpful suggestions about questions to consider before the election. Find it here. (She adapted it from a U.S. site, which is credited in her post.)
Here are a few of the hot-button school-board election issues:
In Coquitlam, questions have been raised about whether trustee candidates should live in the community where they are seeking election. Three of the 25 candidates in that district do not, with long-time trustee Gail Alty’s situation being the most unusual. She moved to Sooke in 2009 but has continued to be a Coquitlam trustee, travelling back and forth from the island – on her own dime – to attend meetings. She doesn’t think her residency should be an issue, but the Tri-City News disagrees. “While there is currently no law requiring residence – let us be clear on this: there should be – common sense suggests a politician will do a better job of representing folks who live in the same neighbourhood,” the newspaper said in an editorial. The two other candidates who are seeking election outside their home community are Chris King (who lives in Coquitlam but is running in Port Coquitlam) and Kerri Palmer Isaak (who lives in Port Moody but is running in Anmore/Belcarra). This situation isn’t unique to Coquitlam. (In Langley, for example, candidate Lawrence Chen is from Surrey.)
In Vancouver, one of the issues that’s caused a stir is whether or not the school district should accept donations from Chevron under its Fuel Your School program. The Non-Partisan Association (NPA) says it should, noting that Vancouver schools missed half a million dollars in grant money from the program because of the ideology of the Vision Vancouver-dominated board. But Vision Vancouver says its policy against such donations protects classrooms from corporate influences. (Surrey, Burnaby, Coquitlam, North Vancouver and West Vancouver participate in Chevron’s program, which generates a $1 donation to schools for every customer who purchases 30 L or more of gas in November.)
In New Westminster, much discussion has centred on whether construction will ever commence on a new secondary school. A replacement for New Westminster Secondary School was announced in 2003 and millions of dollars have been spent since then, but sod-turning has yet to occur. It’s become the most complicated school-construction project in B.C., partly because the school site includes an old cemetery. According to the New Westminster News Leader, a new school is expected to cost more than $100 million. Chairwoman Jonina Campbell told the newspaper that a new high school is top of mind for voters. “It’s the one issue that everybody brings up, and rightfully so because we’ve been waiting for more than a decade and our students deserve better.” While the district waits for the province’s go-ahead, a consultant has recommended an archeological dig to determine where the bodies lie.
Another important issue for all voters is how trustee candidates would deal with budget deficits. Since many boards of education face these challenges each year, it would be good to ask each candidate what they would cut to balance the budget (as required by law).