Central Okanagan Public Schools administrative building in Kelowna. Photo Credit: Barry Gerding/Black Press

Do we need more trustees on school board?

Request sparks school board representation debate about Kelowna, West Kelowna representation

The City of West Kelowna wants a larger voice around the Central Okanagan school board table.

The city council has sent a letter to the provincial education minister and Central Okanagan Board of Education calling for two trustees at large to be elected for the Westside, representing an area that would include West Kelowna, Peachland, Westbank First Nation and the rural Electoral Area West.

Currently, West Kelowna has one elected trustee, Julia Fraser, while school board chair Moyra Baxter represents Peachland, the WFN Reserves #9 and #10 and Electoral Area A.

West Kelowna made the request under the guise of seeking more equitable representation on the board of education for the Westside.

But the request led to revisiting past debates about the distribution of school trustee representation, as trustee Rollie Cacchioni took West Kelowna’s request one step further, suggesting both the Westside and Kelowna deserve another elected trustee on the board, then bringing up the idea of electing all seven trustees at large rather than the current community-divided system, which he called outdated.

Cacchioni argued that in this era of proportional representation, trustees in Lake Country and the Westside represent fewer voters yet vote on decisions that impact Kelowna-specific education decisions. Kelowna voters currently elect four trustees.

He cited the example of middle schools being approved for the school district. Lake Country and Westside each were granted new middle school proposals, while Rutland Middle School, a priority for replacement, was initially going to get a $12 million “second rate” upgrade.

Related: Seeking to move Rutland Middle School

“That’s why I voted against the original Rutland Middle School proposal,” said Cacchioni. The board has since embarked on seeking approval for a $35.9 million upgrade of Quigley Elementary to replace the existing RMS.

“It’s about voter parity. If I can be a Lake Country trustee and vote on something that affects Kelowna, residents of Kelowna should be able to vote for me or not.”

Cacchioni said West Kelowna’s request is a step in the right direction, acknowledging his seven-at-large concept likely doesn’t have majority support on the board.

“Nobody supports that. Everyone is looking after their own bailiwick. If this request just gets kicked down the road, it won’t be addressed until the next election in 2022, if it’s done at all. And by that point West Kelowna will have 50,000 people and still only have one seat on the board.”

Moyra Baxter, school board chair, and trustee Fraser disagreed with Cacchioni’s assessment, saying all trustees act in the best interests of the entire school district, regardless of what area elected them.

Related: Trustees feel parents not being heard

Baxter noted Surrey is the largest populated school district in the province and has seven trustees on the board, one of which is elected from White Rock.

“Surrey has six trustees and White Rock has one on their board. But you never hear them having this debate. We seem to go through this meeting after meeting, and term after term,” Baxter said.

Fraser questioned the fiscal responsibility of such a move.

“We are supposed to be purveyors of the purse strings for taxpayers, yet I feel this is just a waste of money now to go through this process,” Fraser said.

For his part, Cacchioni said any increase in administrative costs by increasing from seven to nine trustees could be addressed by reducing trustee honorariums.

Cacchioni said he plans to bring forward a motion at the next school board meeting to address West Kelowna’s request and to add another trustee for Kelowna.

To report a typo, email: edit@kelownacapnews.com.


@BarryGerding
barry.gerding@blackpress.ca

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