With the deadline to declare candidacy for the upcoming municipal election now past, the campaigns are ramping up. So too is the news coverage surrounding city council and mayoral candidates. There is however one other position that you will have the opportunity to cast your ballot for: school board trustee. This position is frequently overlooked by many during the campaign and at the ballot box but it is important that we recognize the impact that trustees can have on their community. For example, if your community has been affected by the closure of a local school, then you have been affected by an elected school board trustee.
The Ontario Education Act outlines the responsibilities of the school boards and by extension the elected trustees. Among these responsibilities, trustees are expected to ensure appropriate policies and structures are in place to ensure academic achievement; maintain positive school environments including bullying prevention and promoting inclusiveness; acting as stewards of the board’s resources; and creating and monitoring a long-term plan to achieve these goals.
School board trustees are people that we are supposed to elect to ensure that the children in our communities receive a quality education, feel safe and supported when they go to school, and are equipped to become successful members of society. Trustees are elected to ensure that education dollars are being spent wisely and efficiently. Because of the responsibilities of the school board, it is not uncommon for aspiring councilors, MPPs and MPs to use a position a school board trustee as a proving ground for their political careers.
Consider for a moment the amount of funding that goes towards the 72 school boards across Ontario. The Thames Valley District School Board’s budget for 2014-2015 was over $845 million dollars. For 2012-2013, the provincial government projected education spending of $21 billion. That is $21 billion of tax dollars that are overseen by elected officials that the majority of voters ignore during the campaign at on election day.
Part of the problem is of course the general disinterest in local politics and in particular a position that many voters do not see as affecting them because they do not have students in the school system. However, another part of the problem may be a lack of engagement on the part of school board trustee candidates. Of the 23 candidates running for the TVDSB, only two have a website. How many trustees have sent you a flier or knocked on your door? How many signs have you seen?
I encourage you to take the time to learn more about your local school board candidates. In order to help facilitate this process, I am sending an email to each of the TVDSB candidates after publishing this post. I will be asking them to answer some questions about why they want to be trustees, what skills they can bring to the table, and what issues they feel are important for the board to address over the next term. I will publish the responses here on my blog as I receive them.