I have lived on the North Island for almost 40 years; for 18 of those years I was a trustee with School District 85. I was elected seven times, three terms in Port Hardy, four terms in the Western Zone, with the last term ending November 2011.
I follow SD reports in the Gazette with interest as my passion for public education is alive and well. I had committed to hold my tongue about the electoral boundary changes until I read last week’s Gazette (13th June) and Werner Manke’s comment about the change process — “I think it’s taken away from important work we should be doing.”
As it has been evident that this process was largely driven by Werner, I find it ironic that he would make this comment at this time.
The board has spent close to three years arguing about boundary change when all the evidence indicates that the North Island public preferred and still would prefer no changes to be made.
In spite of no public agitation about the status quo, the issue was kept on the table even when an apparent majority of the trustees did not want change either.
In 18 years I heard not a single complaint from anyone, from Port McNeill or otherwise, about representation until the matter was brought up at the board table by Werner.
It is my experience that the status quo worked and worked well for more than 20 years. I do acknowledge the boundaries and population figures were/are uneven. This is true in every level of government in our country. Our parliamentary system is based on the idea of “of one person, one vote” – you go to the polls and you may vote once, for one person. That person is then your direct representative. The same applies to the elected trustees: once at the table, it does not matter how many people voted for you and how few voted for your colleague. Once elected, all trustees are equal and have an equal responsibility to represent the entire school district to the best of their ability. This is democracy.
In response to Jeff Field’s comment, “We have a legal and moral obligation to make this change.”
The first responsibility — never mind the legal and moral obligation — of a board of education is this, the safety of all students, in the classroom, on the playground and on the bus and to provide the greatest educational opportunity and instruction to all students regardless of where they live in the district. It is not to quibble about who represents whom or to angle for more power and influence. If students are not at the heart of your board decisions, I say you should not be at the table.
My understanding is that all the public consultations in North Island communities had the same result, there was no public desire to change. In fact the overwhelming consensus among the consulted public was for maintaining the status quo. The one exception to this was the Port McNeill meeting when not one member of the public arrived to state their concern with their representation.
Rearranging the boundaries has not resulted in equity. It has shifted the focus of the school district into two municipalities out of a misguided sense of fairness to those towns. It will make it much more difficult for rural parents and children to voice their concerns to a locally informed trustee from their community. In fact, if your trustee is only a face from the newspaper some concerns may never be brought forward at all.
Lumping together three communities as diverse and distinct from each other as Alert Bay, Sointula and Port Alice will do nothing to improve education or student achievement.
Finally, a reminder that it is the rural areas that, generally speaking, generate the tax dollars on the North Island. Companies may have offices in the municipalities but the work takes place in Holberg, Quatsino and Woss, among others. It is to our mutual benefit that we keep these communities as healthy and involved in the North Island as possible.
To disenfranchise the rural voice through these boundary changes is particularly shameful when it is the rural funding formula that goes a long way to keeping SD85 in business providing instruction to all of its students. I have yet to hear an educational rationale for this change that it is in some way advantageous to students.