Since the Sept. 10 deadline for nominations for the upcoming civic election, I've seen precious little in terms of any media coverage on the slates of trustees facing voters this fall. Trustees at 72 publicly funded school boards in this province will be elected on Oct. 25, along with the various members of council at the over 400 municipalities in Ontario.
While most every news alert I've seen in the past week has touched on the slate of municipal candidates and the last-minute filings or changes of heart, I've seen little to nothing of the sort when it comes to the races for trustees. A weekend tweet asked me if I would be doing any coverage of trustee elections through the blog. The harsh reality on my part is that it's far too time consuming for me to review the races in 72 different school boards -- each of which has between half a dozen and several dozen trustees -- and speak to it in any intelligent manner. Before leaving the office, I was up to speed on the races in my coverage area, but even since I've started here at Massey there have been some interesting twists and turns that have gone unreported. Both my local English-language public and Catholic boards will be quite different when the new term of trustees takes their oaths of office in December.
I suspect the same may be true across the province. Outside of the usual cycle of renewal we see in elected bodies, there are a few other things at play.
Many existing trustees were freaked right out by the government's Bill 177. While I've opined in this space several times that I don't think it's as massive of a deal as many trustees believed it to be, combined with the previous elements from Bill 78 there's an impressive power to legislate through regulation. The first draft of the provincial-interest regulations wasn't at all well received in the trustee community, but we've not seen another draft (to my knowledge).
I've also been left wondering what impact, if any, school closures will have on this election. It's this current term of trustees that has made the vast majority of closure decisions. At the beginning of the term the province was still under former minister Gerard Kennedy's requested moratorium on school closures. The new guidelines were released in Oct. 2006, in the last months of the previous term. The development of local policies and procedures consistent with the guidelines (both the 2006 and this past year's) has fallen to this group of trustees to bring into existence. The first school-closure reviews under the guidelines have been completed, with the ensuing closures/consolidations, etc. now a reality for the second or third school year.
Throughout these difficult decisions, trustees from east to west and north to south were derided for their decisions. Many were criticized for ignoring / not listening / not representing their constituents. Again, in my own coverage area, these decisions have drawn at least two candidates out of the woodwork.
Are there plenty of these protest candidates out there?
Needless to say there have also been plenty of acclamations in trustee races across the province-- even in boards whose management abilities were severely criticized (looking at you, Bluewater).
So here's my challenge. Read up on your trustee candidates. Fellow journalists, ask yourselves and your bosses why you've not yet covered your local school-board races (or for the few of you this applies to, pat yourselves on the back for doing so).
We can do better.