Foothills School Division approves adding trustee for Okotoks

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Foothills School Division trustees voted unanimously to add another Okotoks trustee at their public meeting Feb. 15 in High River.

The vote was 4-0 and if approved by Alberta Education Minister David Eggen, residents in Okotoks will vote for two trustees on the ballot for the Oct. 16 municipal election.

“Administration feels this will be a better balance for representation based on the population of Okotoks reaching 30,000,” division assistant superintendent corporate services Drew Chipman told trustees. “It was to the point that it was significantly under represented from an electorate standpoint.”

Under the proposal, the two winning candidates for Okotoks trustee would be the two top vote getters in the election. They would share duties in the community and there would not be and North Okotoks or South Okotoks trustee, for example.

Okotoks has had five trustees since realignment under the Klein provincial government in 1995.

Since that time, Okotoks has boomed.

The present structure has Okotoks represented by one trustee on the five-person board. That trustee represents 41 per cent of the population in the public school division jurisdiction according to the 2015 census. The Okotoks ward had 28,016 people while the entire division was 68,793.

The proposal would make Foothills a six-person board and the two Okotoks trustees sharing the duties in the community, and both would have one vote at the table.

The provincial government wishes to get ward or trustee representation to be plus or minus 25 per cent of the average population for they represent.

Using the 2015 municipal census, the average is 13,752 people. Using the 25 per cent rule wards should have a population between 10,314 and 17,190. Okotoks is at 28,016.

If a second Okotoks trustee were added the average among the six trustees representing the five wards would fall to 11,461 people. The two Okotoks trustees would have an average of 14,008, just falling under the 25 per cent maximum (14,236).

The division held an open house concerning the issue on Feb. 9 at Okotoks Junior High School, which was attended by a handful of people.

Chipman said the Province informally suggested the division look at making changes in the past. If changes were not made, it is possible the government could step in at some time in the future.

High River trustee Doug Gardner said the change is needed.

“The numbers indicate to us that we had to do something,” Gardner said.

At present, Okotoks does not have a sitting trustee as Laurie Copland has taken a personal leave.

The division can reexamine ward boundaries or trustee structure again in 2020, before the 2021 election.

The division’s request to add a trustee must be sent to the Education Minister by March 1 in order to be on the Oct. 16 ballot.

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