The Central Okanagan Board of Education rejected separate proposals Wednesday to expand the direct representation of West Kelowna and Kelowna on the board.
Trustees Rolli Cacchioni and Chris Gorman were the lone supporters of both resolutions, which Cacchioni had initially brought up at the last school board meeting in response to a letter from West Kelowna council requesting all of the Westside be merged into one zone and West Kelowna be given a second trustee at large.
Julia Fraser, the current lone West Kelowna trustee, spoke against the idea of including Peachland, Westbank First Nation and rural electoral area within the West Kelowna zone, saying Kelowna already holds a majority vote on the school board and the existing electoral system provides better accountability of the trustees to those who elect them.
Fraser says Peachland, West Kelowna and Lake Country residents know who their trustee representatives are.
“I think if you asked people in Kelowna who their representatives are on the school board they would have a hard time answering. Perhaps what Kelowna needs is some sort of ward system so there is more accountability,” Fraser said.
“Otherwise, this would be I fear the start of a slippery slope that would put Lake Country’s elected trustee representative at risk and moving ultimately to an at-large system where Kelowna’s population determines who sits on the board.”
Board chair Moyra Baxter said she doesn’t feel there is a need to re-invent the wheel, saying this issue came to a resolution after considerable debate seven years ago.
Back then, a proposal to add two West Kelowna trustees was rejected by the minister of education, followed by a consultant’s review which led to recommendations for the current board alignment adopted in 2011.
Baxter said Kelowna has a majority vote on the board with four locally elected trustees, saying she has no problem with that.
“If they vote in a block they can get whatever they want but I would hope all trustees make decisions that are in the best interests of all students in the school district and not just those from their particular communities,” Baxter said.
“It’s not about where you come from, it’s what is best for our students. I think if you eventually go to a seven at large elected system, which I think is behind all this, accountability goes down the drain.”
Cacchioni said his argument was not seeking proportional but fair representation on the school board given Kelowna’s population.
He also acknowledged Baxter’s comment that all trustees do what is in the best interests of all students regardless of what area you might represent.
“As for the cost, I think you can reduce travel allowance or reduce the honorariums that trustees receive to have nine trustees on the board without adding any additional cost,” he added. “Again, my point was just about fair representation.”
David Grabavac, a Lake Country resident, wrote a 6-page response opposing changes to the current trustee electoral format.
He said electing trustees from zones increases accountability to their constituents, allows for better personal direct communication between trustee and local voters, presents a more sensitive viewpoint to issues facing a particular community or zone, has the potential to increase participation interest in school district activities and ultimately more public inclusion in the education decision-making process.
“Trustees, like all politicians, are accountable to the people who vote them into office,” Grabavac said in his letter.
“There is nothing wrong with this—it is simply politics. Having seven trustees elected at large could lead to decisions being made which only benefit Kelowna and do not benefit Lake Country, West Kelowna or Peachland. That would be wrong.”
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