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Byelection for New Vancouver School Board Set for October

A ‘democratically elected school board is in the best interests of kids,’ says education minister.

By Katie Hyslop 3 Aug 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Katie Hyslop is The Tyee’s education and youth reporter. Find her previous stories here.

The Vancouver School District will have a democratically elected school board again in just a few short months, British Columbia’s Education Minister Rob Fleming announced today.

The Oct. 14 election will take place one year after previous education minister Mike Bernier fired the elected school board on Oct. 16, 2016, and one year before voters return to the polls for province-wide school board elections on Oct. 20, 2018.

“I’ve made this decision because our government believes that a democratically elected school board is in the best interests of kids, in the best interest of fairness and legitimacy for Vancouver residents, and it’s going to better serve students,” Fleming told reporters this afternoon, citing seismic upgrading as an issue he hopes to speed up with help from a newly elected board.

“Re-establishing a board, I believe, will enhance discussion and debate, will make for better decision making, and was also part of our broader commitment to improve B.C.’s education system.”

For nearly a year the Vancouver School Board has made do with one trustee, Dianne Turner, who was appointed by then-minister Bernier the same day he fired the democratically elected board for refusing to pass a balanced budget that required $21 million in cuts.

Fleming said Turner will stay on past the election as a special advisor to the newly elected board.

But when questioned by Patti Bacchus, former chair of the fired Vancouver School Board and current education editor for the Vancouver Observer, on whether the NDP government would follow the previous Liberal government’s model of paying for the special advisors’ salaries, Fleming wasn’t sure whether the ministry or the school board would cover Turner’s salary.

Pairing elections saves money: minister

The VSB election will happen in conjunction with the City of Vancouver byelection to fill the council position left vacant by Geoff Meggs, who took a job as Premier John Horgan’s chief of staff earlier this summer.

Fleming said pairing the two elections together meant that direct costs to the Vancouver School Board would be reduced to approximately $50,000 from the $1.5 million it would cost to hold its own byelection.

However, the next provincial school board elections are already scheduled for Oct. 20, 2018, meaning that Vancouver will have three different board configurations in four years.

Prior to the board’s firing last October, the entire senior staff team, including the superintendent and secretary-treasurer, went on leave and did not return for several months. Then-superintendent Scott Robinson, who took on the role in 2015, resigned this past June.

Fleming said he believes the byelection will improve the health of the district. “One of [the elected board’s] key responsibilities is to hire a superintendent. The superintendent, and Ms. Turner as a special advisor, will be able to help the new board fill vacancies in additional senior management positions,” he said.

In an email to The Tyee, Rob Peregoodoff, chair of the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council, said his group has full faith in Turner’s abilities as sole trustee. Nevertheless, the council welcomes the byelection announcement.

“We encourage all parents, and members of the public, to participate in this crucial process as we begin the process of re-establishing credibility in a public school system that is ready to take on the challenges of the future for all children of Vancouver,” he said.  [Tyee]

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