Though they say there isn’t a problem with the way things are currently done, local municipalities are asking School District 57 (SD57) for change.
The administrations of Mackenzie, McBride and Valemount have sent letters to SD57, stating the need for local representation on the school board, and making the request.
“Generally a person who spends their time in a specific area will have a better understanding of the people, the land and the issues than a person who resides potentially 300 KM west,” says Valemount’s Mayor, Jeannette Townsend.
SD57 trustees can live anywhere in the school district, as every trustee currently represents the entire area, and they are elected by voters in the entire district.
Other school districts have wards, where trustees represent a specific region in the school district – what the local administrations are proposing.
The position would continue to be an elected one, Townsend says, and would take place at the same time as the municipal elections, which occur in 2018, or in 2022.
The involved administrations have been adamant about this idea not being a criticism of the way things are currently done, rather a change to the way the system operates.
“The school district always makes an effort to come out here, and this latest school board is perhaps more conscious of it than previous ones,” says Townsend.
“The local people out here are at least getting the opportunity to speak with their representatives,” she says.
The local administrations also have the full support of the local Parent Advisory Committees (PAC), according to McBride’s PAC Chair, Karen Dube, as she says over and over again, rural schools are underrepresented and not communicated with.
“It’s great to see local government taking action,” says Dube.
However, six of the seven current SD57 trustees live in Prince George, which has sparked the conversation once more, according to the school board.
The board has received the local administrations’ request, according to SD57 Trustee, Tim Bennett, and he says the board has advised them regarding the correct process to follow.
“It’s a hot-topic issue… but there is work to do at the community level,” says Bennett, referring back to the process.
It starts with an application — which Bennett says can be made by anyone, even an individual — to the Minister of Education, according to Bennett. Then the application comes back to the school board for consultation, and Bennett says the board has advised both the local municipalities as well as the regional district on how to proceed.
The application for local representation and subsequent changes would have to be made by the 2018 municipal election, Bennett notes, otherwise the municipalities would be unable to try for local representation again until 2022.
Council of The Village of Valemount voted in favour of drafting a letter to the Minister of Education at its Nov. 8 meeting.
Ultimately, Bennett says it’s something the board has looked at in the past, and will continue to look at.
“We have 52,000 square kilometers in this school district, so we want to make sure we’re representing the entire valley and providing the best possible education for students across the second largest geographical district in the province,” says Bennett.
The local administrations are of the opinion that local representation would be more beneficial for the valley, says Townsend, and it’s easier to call a local trustee down the road than it is to call someone you don’t know.
“It makes it more open,” she says.