PORT HARDY—The School District 85 Board of Trustees could not find agreement on the borders of new electoral areas during last week’s board meeting.
The battle lines at the table were clearly defined however, as the contentious issue drew spirited debate.
The current composition of trustees reflects areas defined in 1989, with the seven members made up of two representatives for Port Hardy and one each for Port McNeill, Port Alice, Alert Bay, Western Zone and Eastern Zone.
In the years since the boundaries were defined the population on the North Island has declined and the dispersal of residents across the region is markedly different.
As a result, the distribution of representatives no longer mirrors the distribution of the population, with Port Hardy and Port McNeill underrepresented by population and the other areas comparatively overrepresented.
Following a series of public consultations, the issue came before the Board of Education for discussion at last week’s meeting.
An initial consensus was the agreement that the board should maintain its current seven seats. A reduction to five seats was one option presented in public hearings but the board agreed with public sentiment that a reduction in seats would present extra problems in terms of representation.
Trustee Werner Manke, representing Port McNeill, opened the discussion on how the seven seats should be apportioned by reading from a statement. In his address Menke said that while he recognized that all areas valued access to a trustee, and that smaller communities did not want to be represented by a trustee from a larger community, “It behooves the board to make a decision that fairly and democratically represents the North Island.”
Manke’s opening was echoed in sentiment by Port Hardy’s Jeff Field, who suggested a zonal system as a potential solution, adding such a system would be the most easily amended should the board move to five trustees in the future.
“I believe we have a moral and legal obligation to make the necessary changes to provide a fair distribution of seats,” said Field.
Trustee Danita Schmidt, representing the Western Zone, expressed concerns over centralization.
“I’m concerned about losing the rural voice. I don’t think any option works perfectly,” she said.
Port Alice’s Carol Prescott also saw the value of rural representation at the table, although her suggestion of a weighted voting system failed to gain traction and its applicability to a board of trustees was called into question.
Status quo was also discounted as a viable option, with letters from the District of Port Hardy and the Town of Port McNeill supporting a change to the board’s makeup. It was pointed out that, should the board fail to make any changes, its decision could by appealed by a municipality.
An extended and forthright discussion among the trustees saw two camps emerge along predictable lines. Menke and Field argued for a move to boost urban representation while the trustees from the more rural areas argued the value of wider representation, pointing out that their students fed into the North Island’s two high schools. Port Hardy’s Leightan Wishart, chair of the board, kept relative counsel, save to point out that some of the options for new areas were, if not unworkable, at least problematic.
Field put forward the first motion on the subject, asking for a move to a north/south zonal system with elections at large in each zone. He received a seconder in Manke but the motion was not backed by the four rural representatives. “See how undemocratic this is?” said a frustrated Manke. “At the minute, 30 per cent of the population can outvote 70 per cent.”
Alert Bay’s Eric Hunter said that he would like more time to consider the “complex” issue, with Prescott saying that while Field’s suggestion had its merits she could not support it without consultation with those she represents.
Hunter proposed a motion to table the subject and return to it at the next meeting. Although pressed by Field and Menke, Hunter declined to amend the motion to include a definitive statement that the issue would have to be resolved at the next meeting. In order for changes to be in place for the next trustee election, a decision would have to be reached by late June to allow ministerial approval for any proposed changes.
Hunter’s motion was seconded by trustee Lawrie Garrett, Eastern Zone, and passed with votes from Schmidt and Prescott, with Menke and Field opposed.
The trustees will reconvene and continue their discussion on May 13 in Port McNeill.
Kaleb Child appeared before the Board of Education last week to inform trustees of a planned rededication ceremony for the cedar canoe begun in 1998.
Work came to a halt on the project before Mervyn Child got approval two years ago to resume work on the canoe.
Now, with work completed on the 50-foot vessel, a rededication ceremony is planned for May 9 in Port Hardy to unveil the canoe. PHSS students will have a chance to man the oars in the canoe after it is launched following the Carrot Park rededication.
“At fifty feet it’s one of, if not the, biggest in our region,” Child told the board. He explained that the canoe had been dedicated previously, hence the planned rededication, and that he and others were seeking the original name, which is no longer visible on the prow.
Between now and the launch a curriculum around the vessel is being formalized.
School Superintendent Scott Benwell was pleased to relate the “amazing level of response” that the board received for its strategic plan enquiry.
The trustees got their first look at the feedback from the public in response to a set of four questions posed by the school district. The questions were designed to highlight what were seen as the current positives in the school system and to develop priorities moving forward.
“This is coming from our communities,” said Benwell. “It’s our job to make sense of it and come up with a system of values.”
The public feedback will help shape the strategic direction of the board, informing future decisions by trustees and administrators.
Trustees will examine the results and return for a meeting in May to continue the process.
The trustees spoke highly of several visits to local schools.
Trustee Carol Prescott told the board about the new crop of entrepreneurs coming up in Port Alice who had a chance to pitch ideas during the inaugural Cougar’s Den— a North Island version of the Dragon’s Den t.v. show — event at Sea View School. (See related article in Midweek)
“As a judge I was really impressed by the quality of the work,” she told the board.
Several trustees praised Eagle View Elementary after a visit last week, trustee Jeff Field calling the learning centre in particular “something to be really proud of.”
The quality of the offerings at school science fairs last week also drew comment from the board, with trustees praising the quality and variety of the students’ projects.