Little interest in running for school board
Education: Significance of trustees being questioned
By: Bruce Campbell
| Posted: Wednesday, Oct 09, 2013 11:33 am
When residents across the foothills go to the polls on Oct. 21, they will have a variety of choices for councillors, but few choices for school trustees.
There is only one race for trustee in the MD of Foothills/Okotoks area and that’s in the public school system’s Ward 1 — Longview-Black Diamond-Turner Valley — where five-term incumbent Jerry Muelaner is squaring off against Jeannine Tucker.
The other four public wards and the three Christ Redeemer Catholic Schools in the foothills area all have incumbents who are running unopposed in the election.
The chairman of policy studies at Mount Royal University said it might be because the public isn’t sure what a trustee actually does.
“What does a trustee do anymore?” Dr. Duane Bratt said. “A lot of the power has been taken by the provincial government.”
He cites the government’s firing of the Calgary Board of Education in 1999 of an example of the stripping of the power.
He also said since the Province no longer allowed local boards to set tax rates since 1994, it limited boards’ power.
Bratt said there is also a feeling among the public the superintendent of schools makes the decisions rather than the trustees.
That’s news to Christ the Redeemer superintendent of schools Scott Morrison and his counterpart, Denise Rose of Foothills School Division.
“Absolutely we (CRCS administration) listen to the board and it is more than listening,” Morrison said. “We have to go to them with major initiatives, major projects, funding issues and get their opinion on it. The beauty of the board is you get diverse personalities with diverse opinions to help make decisions.”
“Absolutely they (trustees) question and they also deny — that’s their role,” Rose said. “But I have also been able to change their opinions on some things depending on the issue.
“There has to be mutual respect.”
Morrison said he feels one of the reasons the CRCS incumbents in the area, Ron Schreiber in Okotoks, Brian Lyttle in MD of Foothills and Joanne Van Donzel in High River aren’t being challenged is because residents are happy with the job they are doing.
Morrison said he sees the role of trustees as having a fiduciary responsibility to make sure administration is spending money wisely, to analyze the different strategies presented to them by administration, and the most important is generative governance.
“When they are in a generative mode, the board is actively brainstorming and exploring different possibilities of how we do our work and how we can more effectively serve our students,” he said.
Rose said the trustees have a duty to represent the parents of the students in the community.
“They need to be attuned to what the concerns of their constituents are,” Rose said. “They bring those concerns to the education conversations… They hold the administration and the superintendent accountable to looking after the best interest of the kids.”
She said the Foothills board doesn’t do that by swinging a big stick but by asking good questions and offering other options to consider. They also have to advocate to the Province for the division.
Foothills chairwoman Diana Froc has heard the argument trustees have lost power because boards have not negotiated the last two teacher contracts.
“I would say labour (negotiations) does not define the work of the board,” she said. “There is a broad scope outside of that which is more important to create a better learning environment.”
Foothills Ward 1 trustee Jerry Muelaner is being challenged for his seat for the first time since 2007. He said he feels the reason more people aren’t interested in the job is because once their children are out of the school system, they lose interest.
Okotoks trustee Laurie Copland said when she first ran back in 2004, she heard much of the same thing — trustees have no real say in education.
“I was told that this was just Mickey Mouse politics,” Copland said. “People don’t see that you are making a difference. Or they may see the time commitment involved and they are not interested.”
She said being a trustee involves more than the two public meetings a month.
The other trustees in the Foothills School Division are Christine Pretty, Millarville-Priddis and Doug Gardner in High River.