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School board elections: Critical but ignored

After the uproar of the federal and US elections, B.C.’s municipal vote on November 15 will cause scarcely a ripple. In North Vancouver District, for example, voter turnout in 2005 was 30 per cent. In the City of North Van, it was 22 per cent.

For North Van School Board chair Chris Dorais, the impending election is full of potential for change. But with no mayoral contests in the City and District, he expects voter turnout to be even lower than usual. A small minority of the electorate will decide on change.

“There are only three incumbents running in this election for seven positions,” Dorais said. “Three trustees will be elected in the City and four elected in the District. Any way it shakes out, there will be quite a few new faces on the board.”

Trustees will have to hit the ground running, and prepare for changes. Dorais expects the provincial government to mandate full-day kindergarten and maybe even programs for 3- and 4-year-olds. If the board doesn't get more money to cover those new programs, some other programs may have to be cut.

“A new board,” he said, “could also be faced with consideration of school closures and continued pressures to sell properties to finance necessary capital initiatives in the school district.”

What's more, “Declining enrollment and competition with private schools and other school districts will be an ongoing challenge over the next term that a new board must be completely aware of.”

New trustees should also be aware that private schools received no provincial funding until the mid-1980s. Now those schools enjoy substantial tax support, making them more affordable -- and more competitive with the public schools.

Another modern drawback: Today’s boards can’t tax their residents and businesses. They get provincial funding based on a complex formula. It provides much more equal education for students across the province. But if the formula doesn’t cover everything, trustees have to cut programs or sell properties, or recruit more foreign students.

That’s why Dorais has another item on his agenda: “Our board must be prepared for a provincial election on May 12, 2009 and have a plan to advocate” for greater board authority and increased funding.

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