North Okanagan-Shuswap official trustee Mike McKay is recommending a new elected school board be comprised of five trustees.
The previous board was made up of nine trustees.
McKay will make this recommendation to the minister of education, who will make a final determination and set the number of trustees and the electoral boundaries in early 2018, with the election of a new board planned for October 2018.
McKay’s recommendation continues with the ward system, where trustees will continue to be elected from a specific geographic area.
In an interview with the Observer, McKay said he rejected the idea of proportional representation, as the board population is heavily weighted in favour of Salmon Arm and this could result in an elected board made up of trustees entirely from one community.
“Salmon Arm has half the student population, but that doesn’t mean it should have half the trustees. The rural areas do need to have their interests at the table,” he says. “There is no silver bullet or one right answer here.”
Once elected, however, trustees are charged with representing interests of the entire board region, not just their specific ward.
The option McKay has selected, after hearing input from education partner groups and the public, will see: one trustee to represent the North Shuswap, Carlin and Sorrento area; one trustee to represent Sicamous, Malakwa, Enderby and Grindrod; two trustees to represent Salmon Arm and one trustee to represent Armstrong, Spallumcheen, Falkland, Silver Creek and Ranchero. This would be a total of five trustees on the board.
At the time they were dismissed by the minister of education in 2016, the board had nine trustees: one from the North Shuswap; one for Sicamous/Malakwa; one for Enderby/Grindrod; one for Sorrento/Carlin; two for Salmon Arm; two for Armstrong and Spallumcheen and one for Falkland, Silver Creek and Ranchero.
The reduction to five trustees will also equate to approximately $60,000 in cost savings due to reduced compensation and expenses for trustees.
As part of restructuring after the school board was dismissed, a report from Liz Watson, an appointed special advisor, recommended the number of trustees be reduced from nine to either five or seven.
The minimum number of trustees for a board is three.
The previous board was criticized for mismanagement and infighting – part of which revolved around trustees advocating solely for their own area, rather than putting the best interests of all the students in the North Okanagan-Shuswap as the primary objective.
“The role of the trustee needs to be clearly understood in advance of the election. Once elected, trustees are mandated to represent the interests of the entire district… and make the best possible decision for all the kids in this community, not just the specific ward they represent,” says McKay.
He also adds that the role of the board is not to get involved with individual issues or disputes, but to allow staff to deal with them in keeping with board policy. If an issue were to reach an appeal stage, that is when the board would be asked to provide direction.
“It is not for trustees to be attending so many community events that they are running on fumes and cannot address the highest priorities of the school district – which is student learning and good governance. The board is charged with setting good policies.”
McKay notes the effectiveness of the revised board composition and size should be reviewed once the new elected board is functional. The number of trustees could then be amended for future elections.
McKay’s recommendation will now be forwarded to Rob Fleming, the Minister of Education, for a final determination. He may decide to accept McKay’s recommendation or could set up a different model.
McKay’s appointment as the sole appointed official trustee is planned to end with the induction of a democratically elected board following the October 2018 regularly scheduled municipal election.