SD85 seeks public input

School Board pushes on after disappointing start to community consultations.

The School District vowed to keep pushing on after its series of Community Consultations got off to a disappointing start in Port McNeill last Wednesday. The District is seeking public input on two potentially far-reaching issues: strategic planning and trustee composition.

On the first issue, by answering five key questions on our schools and our education goals, participants will kick start a thoughtstream process which identifies common themes and ideas, eventually providing the Board of Trustees with priorities that each community values.

This information will be used as a decision-making tool by the School Board, for example in defining budgets.

NISS held the first of five scheduled meetings across the North Island last week, but failed to draw in the public. The presentation and meeting were adjourned after a half hour when it became apparent that public engagement was not on the cards that night, something several Board members described as “disappointing”.

“It’s about moving the District along in a transparent way,” said School District 85 Superintendent Scott Benwell. He explained that, by getting a sense of the public’s expectations and priorities, the board will be better equipped to create a tailored vision for education in the coming years, and a plan of action to deliver the mutual vision.

Interested community members can either attend one of the other scheduled meetings or contact their local school for more information on how to get involved.

The second item up for discussion is potentially more divisive. The composition of the Board of Trustees itself is up for review, and with it the levels of representation each community has at the board tables.

Treasurer John Martin explained that the issue is somewhat overdue for consideration — the current make-up was established 23 years ago — and with the 2011 census providing recent, accurate population figures, the topic is ripe for discussion. “We’re just trying to ensure we have fair representation,” explained Martin.

The underlying factors are complex. In the years since the current configuration was established the North Island has undergone many changes, and some once-populous areas have lost inhabitants as industries have moved or slumped. An overarching theme, not only locally but globally, has been one of urban migration, as people move from smaller rural areas to comparatively urban centres.

With the representation based on outdated numbers, some areas are now disproportionally over- or under-represented at the table. The District is asking if the public wants to see a change.

All options are available for discussion, from maintaining the status quo to redrawing boundaries or holding elections at large.

Another possibility includes changing the number of trustees on the Board. By reducing the number of seats from seven to five, the District could save $25,000 each year, but fewer trustees makes equitable representation more challenging.

After gathering the public’s input, the board will make a recommendation to the Minister of Education, who has the final say in any legislative change. Any changes could then be in place for the next election in Oct/Nov 2014.

The next meeting is slated for tonight, Dec 12, in the Alert Bay Elementary Gym, with Port Alice and Port Hardy scheduled for Jan 16 and 23, respectively. A meeting took place last night in Sointula, after this issue of the Gazette went to press. Alternatively, parents who wish their voices heard on the electoral issue can pen a letter to the School Board.