May 25, 2022 May 25, 2022

Chinook Board of Education reverses previous decision about vacant trustee position

Posted on 18 April 2022 by Matthew Liebenberg

The Chinook Board of Education has reviewed a previous decision about a vacant trustee position and there will now be a by-election for Subdivision 1 on Aug. 10.

Board members approved a motion at a regular Chinook School Division board meeting on April 11 to set the date for the by-election in Subdivision 1, which includes the communities of Burstall, Fox Valley and Leader in the northwest part of the school division.

The board’s original intention was to keep this trustee position vacant until the next general election for trustees takes place in 2024, but legal advice on this matter resulted in the decision to proceed with a by-election to elect a new trustee for the remainder of the board’s current term.

“So when we looked to legal for just some clarification on how to proceed with not having a by-election and some of the things, we discovered that we were required to have one,” Chinook Board Chair Kimberly Pridmore said after the meeting.

The trustee position became vacant in February after long-time school board trustee Dr. Shane Andrus submitted his resignation from the board due to his relocation. He served for nine years as trustee for Subdivision 1.

The Chinook Board of Education approved a motion at its regular monthly meeting on March 14 to request the Minister of Education to reduce the number of trustees from 10 to nine for the remainder of the current term ending November 2024.

However, the board obtained legal clarification before proceeding with this request to the Minister of Education and the advice was that such an arrangement is not possible.

“We could not request the reduction of a trustee without also reducing the subdivision, and that was never the intention of the board,” she explained. “At the time we thought the trustees that lived closer to that subdivision can support those schools for the two years of the term. … We will continue to do that anyway, because a new trustee is going to need some support. So we’ll continue to do that, but the intention was never to permanently reduce that subdivision, and when we became aware of that fact, we just weren’t comfortable with leaving the subdivision vacant.”

Pridmore attended a meeting in Fox Valley on March 31 with school community council members and municipal leaders from Subdivision 1, where concerns were raised about the board’s intention to keep the trustee position vacant. A petition was started in early April in which eligible voters in Subdivision 1 requested the Chinook School Division to immediately arrange a by-election to elect a trustee for the area.

The Chinook Board of Education did not receive this petition before their April 11 meeting, where they approved the motion to proceed with a by-election for Subdivision 1. Pridmore said the board was aware of the petition and the concerns, but their latest decision was due to the legal information.

“The decision was based strictly on information we learned from legal advice,” she said. “We certainly brought the concerns back to the board, for sure, and had some discussion.”

Sean Checkley, the mayor of the Village of Fox Valley and a parent, was present at the March 31 meeting. He was also involved with the petition process in Subdivision 1. He told the Prairie Post the petition was submitted to the Chinook School Division later in the day on April 11.

“It’s a welcome decision for the communities in the Subdivision 1 area to have local representation on the school board,” he said in reaction to the board decision about a by-election. “It’s what the communities advocated and asked the division to do. It would have been nice that they would have consulted us at the beginning when the resignation came in back in February, but we’re glad to see that they’ve changed their mind and went back to hosting a by-election, which is very much needed.”

He felt there was a good response to the petition. It was available at various local municipal offices as well as at some businesses in the area, where eligible voters could sign it.

“Most communities went door to door for signatures,” he said. “In our community of Fox Valley for example, there would have been 148 signatures out of the 150 or so residents, pretty much a 100 per cent compliance in signing the petition. There was a couple of people that weren’t home, but the ones that were home signed it with no issues at all, because whether you’re a homeowner or a grandparent or a parent or anyone living in the community, it was important that the school division heard the priorities of the ratepayers.”

He felt the concerns expressed in Subdivision 1 about the idea to keep the trustee position vacant had an influence on the board’s decision to reverse their position.

“The board was very much aware of it,” he said. “When we met with them back on March 31 and had our discussions with them, we told them that was the route we’re taking and forwarding that on to the education minister as well as themselves, and we followed through with it. It’s definitely something that I think they heard in the meetings that we had with them and they would have known that the community would have stepped forward and had the support of the ratepayers in the communities.”

According to Checkley there is a clear feeling in Subdivision 1 that the area needs its own elected representative around the board table to represent their interests and this cannot be done by other trustees currently elected to a board position. There was also no community consultation before the board made the previous decision about keeping the trustee position vacant.

The nine board members deciding what’s best for our communities isn’t how a democratic process works,” he said. “We ultimately have a right under the electoral process to elect the person to sit on that seat and represent our communities.”

He noted it was especially important to have a trustee for Subdivision 1 at the board table due to the Chinook Board of Education’s intention to do a subdivision review before the next trustee election in 2024. A trustee is also needed for Subdivision 1 for other important discussions such as the school division’s budget.

“If a community or board organization is going through a governance review or a review in change, you have to bring all the stakeholders to the table,” he said. “Ultimately, when changes are being made, you need to have your representation at the table and you need your trustee elected.”

Pridmore said the review of the subdivisions will still go ahead, because it has not been done for a long time.

“It is in our policy that we review the subdivisions every five years and it hasn’t been done for a very long time,” she mentioned. “We thought that it was a bit of timing consideration with a vacancy that we just take the time to use these last two years of the term to look at those subdivisions. So we’ll still do that, but it will just be with a new trustee.”

She noted the intention has been to have consultations as part of the process to review the current subdivisions.

“We had not even begun discussion on the subdivision review,” she said. “We just knew that our board obligated us to doing it, and so we hadn’t even gotten to that point, but we will consult at whatever level we need to through that process.”

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