Jan. 4 was the first day in Ontario that one could file his/her nomination papers and run for trustee within a publicly funded school board. The nomination period closes at 2 p.m. on Sept. 10 and voting day across the province for civic politicians and school board trustees is set for Oct. 25.
While there was a plethora of coverage across Ontario on the early birds filing for municipal office, there was scant if any on those who might be filing for trustee. No big surprise, even though some of these trustees oversee budgets that are larger than any of the municipalities within their district. For example, the public school board I cover, with a annual budget of over $700 million easily outweighs any local council I cover-- the County of Oxford would have the largest budget in my coverage area and it sits at approx $150 million. I don't know the City of London's total budget (including all federal and provincial transfers, not just the taxpayer levy) but if it's over $700 million it's not by much. Yes, yes... I am well aware trustees don't have all the supposed flexibility that councils do in determining budgets, but it's still one of the things they are responsible for and held to account over.
With the changes in Bill 177 and the pending provincial-interest regulations, those elected in this vote will be a cohort of trustees that have a lot of work ahead of them in terms of governing directors of education and board staff members through the process of planning, setting and being held accountable for all sorts of targets. Will the passage of the bill weed out trustees?
In many districts, this year's election is also the first opportunity for those communities still angry about school-closure decisions to enforce a consequence on trustees-- particularly in cases where the trustee(s) elected from the area supported a controversial closure. Will there be a slate of anti-closure trustees elected across the province? This vote will come in the middle of reviews at a number of boards and could -- might -- change the direction / flavour / outcome of those reviews. I've already noticed one trustee who's started abstaining from any vote relating to an accommodation review. The same trustee who, in the first round of reviews before her board, voted in favour of some closures (urban and rural) and voted against others (rural). I was struck with interest by her sudden decision to abstain from a series of votes relating to two reviews in December 2009.
Further, in those boards that seem to have courted controversy this past term -- ie: Bluewater, Toronto District Catholic -- which incumbents will run again and who will rise above the fray to challenge them?
Coverage can be key in trustee elections since very rarely to never are opportunities created for public all-candidate trustee debates. Outside of any promotion / advertising / campaigning a particular candidate might decide to take on, media often offer the only wide-scale, accessible platform for voters to get to know their candidates. We can also seriously impact outcomes-- the first trustee vote I covered saw an opportunity to call a candidate on a statement he made regarding his attendance at board meetings. On election night, he subsequently commented on the impact of newspaper headlines on his loss. In the 2006 vote, the London Free Press did some routine background checking on a Catholic school board trustee candidate and uncovered a less-than-glamorous past that led to that candidate's loss.
The election will add some additional, er, spice, to the coming 10 months of K-12 education in this province. I look forward to it.