Public school boards matters, at least I think so, but I wonder if some in the public would be supportive of rolling them into the Department of Education supplemented by regional education councils picked from school council members.
Keep in mind, school councils are democratically elected. Their composition is entrenched in legislation ensuring a balance of parents, the public and teachers. They are local, productive, informed, efficient and cost next to nothing to operate - a Christmas social, an end of school BBQ and a scattered coffee. School councils are as grassroots as it gets.
I have been opposed to the amalgamation of local public school boards. The process of rationalization has led to the demise of local decision making. We now have 17 positions elected from “local zones” that do not even have to publicly display how they vote. Accountability to the public under such a system is, well, less than transparent.
The zones are geographically challenging for trustees to travel, let alone get the real pulse of education stakeholders. What is even more frustrating as a candidate in Zone 16 - which has something like 17,000 eligible voters. (yes if you are eligible to vote for a MP, MHA, or council you can vote) and nearly 8,000 school aged children – is that a very small percentage of the public seem to know the elections are ongoing.
Do me a favor, pick 10 names from the phone book or call ten acquaintances. Ask them if they intend to vote in the school board elections? How many will say yes? How many will say what elections or be surprised that they can vote if they do not currently have children in the system? How many know where to vote or the zone they are in?
The Chief Electoral Officer for the elections responded to my concerns about public relations surrounding the election by saying “Of course there is the website with ample information. Besides this each school was forwarded the polling stations and advised to post in schools. We are also planning a message to go home through our synervoice message to get out to parents reminding them of the election. Besides this there is ads I have heard on the radio etc.”
Ballot box locations do not even reflect our, and government’s, commitment too local and neighborhood schools. Instead of making it as easy as possible for all voters to get to a voting station, entire regions and neighborhood have been disenfranchised.
Let us keep in mind that these positions are volunteer positions, is it the candidate’s role to expend financial resources to inform the public of their right to vote and where to vote? What is really going on, by design or fiscal short-shortsightedness, is a self-fulfilling exercise in voter suppression with the excuse that democracy is just too expensive to inform voters of their right to participate. A low turnout makes it easier to justify taking grass roots democracy out of public education.
More information on where to vote, who can vote and more voting locations would go a long way towards increasing voter turnout. We were told that these elections were delayed to ensure they were done correctly, to increase awareness and participation. That now appears to have been just another hollow commitment.
Don’t let this become a retro-active referendum about the relevance of public school boards. Please, vote – show that education matters and that public education matters even more.