Trustee numbers tell a story

North Okanagan-Shuswap trustees insist there’s a need to consider how many of them sit at the board table

North Okanagan-Shuswap trustees insist there’s a need to consider how many of them sit at the board table, but you can tell they just aren’t into it.

As soon as it was announced the district may possibly go from nine to seven trustees, statements were being made as to why the proposal isn’t viable.

“Asking seven people to do what we are currently doing with nine people without a pay raise is not fair,” said Larissa Lutjen, North Shuswap trustee.

“It’s a large time commitment on one person,” added Kelly Rowe, Armstrong-Spallumcheen trustee.

And certainly chopping two trustees would put additional workload on the remaining seven, but many school districts in the province have seven-member boards.

One just has to look at the Vernon district where seven trustees are responsible for 19 schools and four educational programs compared to 23 schools and four programs in North Okanagan-Shuswap.

Even the Central Okanagan School District only has seven trustees and they oversee 43 schools in Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland and Lake Country.

Obviously North Okanagan-Shuswap is geographically vast, covering from the North Shuswap to Armstrong and from Falkland to Sicamous. But there’s also a fair distance from Okanagan Landing in the western part of the Vernon district to Cherryville in the east.

Central Okanagan may be more urbanized but seven trustees trying to attend parent advisory committee meetings at 43 schools also means a lot of time on the road.

If North Okanagan-Shuswap is reduced by two trustees, some representation will be lost.

“If Armstrong-Spallumcheen was trimmed to one trustee from two, it will be an enormous undertaking,” said Rowe.

Obviously life wouldn’t be the same but combined, Armstrong and Spallumcheen have a total population of 10,158 with four schools, while Coldstream, with one trustee, has 10,821 people and four schools. Lake Country has 14,035 and one trustee to cover four schools.

And while the gap between schools in Coldstream and Lake Country isn’t huge, they are farther apart than the four-minute drive between Highland Park Elementary and Pleasant Valley Secondary School.

Rowe goes on to say that, “The cost between one and two trustees is like tossing a deck chair off of the Titanic. It’s minor in the entire budget.”

True $25,000 isn’t much when there is a $1.3 million shortfall, but reducing trustees is a symbolic gesture that shows no aspect of the district is untouchable, particularly when communities may lose schools or programs.

Of course it should be pointed out that trustees earn $17,539 in Central Okanagan and  $13,424 in Vernon compared to $11,710 in North Okanagan-Shuswap. With two fewer trustees, compensation could possibly climb for the remaining seven, meaning potential savings would narrow.

Now none of this is to undermine the work done by North Okanagan-Shuswap trustees. They have a thankless task of trying to meet the needs of our kids, especially when it’s the provincial government that controls the purse strings. They deserve our praise for stepping up to the plate.

But there are trustees across our region and province doing the same admirable work and with two less bodies at the table.

– Richard Rolke is a reporter with the Vernon Morning Star.