Studying up on School Trustees

18 Oct 2013

Picture the scene. You arrive at the polling station on October 21. You know which candidate you like for mayor and who’s getting your vote for City Council. You’re ready. But then … a curveball.

The person at the table just inside the door asks which ballot you want for school board trustee. Now you have three choices: the public board, the Catholic board or decline the ballot.

What to do? School board trustee isn’t exactly top of mind for many of us. Who are these people? What do they do? And why are we being asked to vote for them?

Calgary has 14 school board trustees, seven for the Calgary Board of Education and seven for the Calgary Separate School District. For each of the two school boards, one trustee represents two wards (three of the CSSD trustees also represent Cochrane, Chestermere and Airdrie).

The job description says school board trustees are elected to represent their communities on decisions that shape how Calgary’s students are educated. The role covers a lot of ground — developing policies, lobbying government on behalf of education, hearing appeals — but a few of the biggest decisions school boards make are worth singling out.

School board trustees are in charge of hiring (and potentially firing) the Chief Superintendent of schools. Superintendents then hire principals, who hire teachers, and so on. Trustees also approve two budgets each year. An operating budget, which covers the daily needs of Calgary’s schools — teacher salaries, maintenance costs, classroom resources — and a capital budget, which deals with longer term spending such as school renovations, new equipment or upgrades to buildings.

Beginning with this October’s vote trustees will now serve a four-year term. It’s a part-time commitment that comes with annual compensation of approximately $45,000 to $55,000.

In the weeks before an election how do you find out more about who’s running for school board trustee in your ward? Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as learning about the candidates for mayor or City Council. Many candidates have web sites, you’ll see some lawn signs, and they also take part in forums and debates. You might also talk to friends or neighbours to see what they think of the candidates.

In reality, it takes more effort to learn about who is running for school board trustee than it does for the higher profile jobs on the ballot. Is it worth spending the extra time to find out more about the candidates, particularly if you don’t have any kids in school? An argument in favour of taking some time to check into the candidates in your ward comes back to the idea of community. Schools and kids are a big part of Calgary whether you’re directly involved with the system or not.

A list of candidates for each ward, as well as event details for forums and debates, can be found at Calgarydemocracy.ca.

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