School trustees remain deadlocked

The School District 85 Board of Trustees remained deadlocked Monday on a solution to the matter of trustee composition.

PORT McNEILL—The School District 85 Board of Trustees remained deadlocked Monday on a solution to the matter of trustee representation for North Island Communities. But they agree on one thing — time is running out.

“We have until the end of June to make a decision,” board chair Leightan Wishart said after a pair of proposals were voted down during the board’s regular May meeting at North Island Secondary School. “I, like everyone else, feel we need to do this sooner than later.”

To that end, the board will return to the NISS library to try again next Tuesday, May 21, in a special public meeting starting at 5:30 p.m.

The board is currently made up of two trustees from Port Hardy, one each from Port Alice, Port McNeill, Alert Bay, and another each from the Western Zone (Coal Harbour, Holberg, Quatsino, Winter Harbour) and the Eastern Zone (Malcolm Island and outer island communities.)

Trustee Werner Manke of Port McNeill argues that the board’s makeup is patently undemocratic and will not stand up to Ministry of Education scrutiny. He notes that Port McNeill contains 29 per cent of the North Island’s population and hosts 44 per cent of its students, but has just a 14 per cent representation on the board. The smaller, less-populous rural communities, meanwhile, combine for four of the seven seats — an imbalance magnified by Wishart, one of Port Hardy’s two trustees — unable as chair to vote except in the case of a tie.

After a lively round of discussion, Manke offered up the first motion, calling for a seven-member board consisting of three trustees for Port Hardy, Coal Harbour and the Tri-Bands (Kwakiutl, Quatsino and Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw nations), two for Port McNeill, one for a West Zone including Port Alice, Quatsino and Winter Harbour, and one for an East Zone including both Alert Bay and Malcolm Island.

Manke and trustee Jeff Field of Port Hardy cast the only yes votes. Port Alice’s Carol Prescott, Alert Bay’s Eric Hunter, Sointula’s Lawrie Garrett and Coal Harbour’s Danita Schmidt voting no, causing Manke to throw up his hands in frustration.

“You see what I mean?” he said, turning to Schmidt and Hunter at his left. “You see what we’re up against?”

Field followed with a motion to establish a board with three trustees in the North and four in the South. Schmidt seconded the motion but noted that boundary lines would need to be re-drawn to create an approximate population breakdown of 45 per cent for the North and 55 per cent for the South.

Both Garrett and Wishart pointed out the current alignment is set at three trustees in the North and four in the South, so the motion without a corresponding shift in boundaries changes nothing.

“Fine,” Field replied. “Vote no. We’ll come back after the boundaries are re-drawn.”

Wishart obliged, casting the tiebreaking “no” vote after Field, Manke and Schmidt voted yes and Hunter, Prescott and Garrett voted no.

Schmidt said the board’s options are too limited.

“I think we need to pull this thing apart and find a unique solution,” she said. “I’m not done with this.”

And Garrett said he believed the board would eventually get to three trustees in the North and four in the South alignment, but was not ready to do it until there were structural assurances that Port McNeill could not sweep three or four of the South’s trustee count.

But Manke pointed out sitting back and waiting was no longer an option, ominously noting he had been contacted by Port McNeill’s council to meet and discuss the stalled trustee negotiations.

“We have the first crack at this, but one of the town councils could apply to the Ministry of Education for a variance, too,” Manke noted.

Wishart agreed that something would need to be decided by the end of June so a proposal could be forwarded to the Ministry in time for a review to be completed before the next election. School District officials and trustees then settled on Tuesday for a return engagement.

“In order for us to get somewhere,” said Field, “I respectfully suggest my brothers and sisters on the board come with some specific proposals.”