Parents Deserve School Trustee By-Elections
Did you know that, not only do both Calgary and Edmonton’s Catholic school boards have vacancies right now, they plan to just leave these seats empty until late 2025?
A vacancy on the Calgary board occurred late last year after a trustee resigned on December 14th.
But just last week we found out that the school board is refusing to hold a by-election to fill the vacancy, claiming that doing so would cost about $500,000.
The same is true in Edmonton where, incredibly, the school board also refused to hold a by-election, despite the vacancy occurring just one week after the 2021 election!
At the time, the Chair of the Edmonton board said that a by-election would go ahead.
But the Edmonton Catholic Schools' website now says that the Board “has decided not to hold a byelection to fill the vacancy” - they also blame this on the cost of holding the by-election.
For starters, one might have some questions about how a simple by-election could possibly cost half a million dollars.
But, even putting that aside, these decisions leave tens of thousands of parents in both Calgary and Edmonton completely unrepresented for three-quarters or more of a four-year electoral cycle.
What price should we put on democracy and representation?
This isn’t just a Calgary or Edmonton issue either.
The Lakeland Catholic School Division also refused to hold a by-election after a vacancy occurred just eleven months into their four-year term.
Again, the claim is that the cost of doing so is too high.
Now, we are not, of course, suggesting that school boards go and waste money on by-elections!
Clearly, at some point, the cost and time of a by-election must outweigh the benefit.
No one is suggesting school boards be forced to hold a by-election if a vacancy occurs just a few weeks, or even a few months, before the next general election, for example.
But to suggest that a large number of parents should go unrepresented for three-quarters or more of a four-year cycle is ridiculous.
Equally, we presume that school boards would agree that - while it would be cheaper - it would not be a good idea to just skip elections entirely and provide lifetime appointments instead.
(Actually, you know what... let’s move on before we give them any ideas!)
The point is, the whole idea of having elections is that representatives of the people are in charge, making the decisions.
Trustees are accountable to the public who elected them to serve, while bureaucrats - who aren’t elected - are there to provide advice and help implement the elected officials' ideas.
In practice, it doesn’t seem to work that way anymore.
One of the biggest concerns we’ve heard, school board after school board, parent story after parent story, is that school boards seem to be run more and more by the administration and bureaucrats, while trustees offer little to no direction, pushback, or accountability.
In Edmonton and Calgary, the bureaucrats advised that it would be too expensive to hold by-elections, and as a result, the bureaucrats can now breathe a little easier as they have one fewer elected trustee to hold them accountable.
We need a system where trustees are responsible for more, not less.
We need a system where parents and taxpayers have more representation, not less.
We need a system where trustees are more able to hold administration to account, not less.
We need a system where vacancies are filled, not left empty.
That’s why we’re calling on these three school boards (and any others who face vacancies) to hold by-elections as soon as possible.
If they refuse, then we are calling on Alberta's Education Minister, Adriana LaGrange, to amend the Education Act to require them to do so, so long as there is more than a reasonable period of time remaining until the next general election.
Parents find it hard enough to make our voices heard with a full complement of elected trustees in place, let alone when school boards are short-staffed.
School boards need to hold by-elections to ensure parents are represented.
If they won’t, then it’s time to amend the Education Act!
If you agree, please sign our petition calling for School Trustee By-Elections!
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