Who Runs Your School Board?
Who really runs your school board?
Elected trustees, or unelected school division bureaucrats?
Today's email is a bit technical, but we think it's really important that someone is paying attention to these details, and shows just how important our mission here at the Alberta Parents' Union is.
Thankfully, there are tonnes of parents like you helping us keep a close eye on what's coming up on school board meeting agendas.
And after some digging into a concern they brought to us, here's what we found out.
The Board of Trustees of Elk Island Public Schools (EIPS) convened on Thursday, November 30, 2023, to deliberate on the resignation of Trustee Jim Seutter.
The Board recommended accepting Seutter's resignation, citing his relocation outside of the ward he was elected in as grounds for disqualification.
However, upon closer examination, it appears that EIPS is operating under some faulty reasoning.
According to the official statement posted by the Board, Section 21 (1) (b) of the Local Authorities Election Act (LAEA) and Section 87 (1) of the Education Act determine a trustee's eligibility and disqualification based on residency criteria within a ward, and it was based on these two sections that he was disqualified.
The cited section of the LAEA mandates that a person may be nominated if they have been a resident of a ward for the six months preceding the election.
But nomination day is more than six months away - how can someone be deemed ineligible or disqualified before the stipulated timeframe for residency determination, especially when the possibility of relocating back into the ward exists?
Secondly, even if this language would make a trustee ineligible for reelection, there is no clear language anywhere in the LAEA, the Education Act, or the bylaws of Elk Island Public Schools that would make a trustee disqualified for a seat they already hold.
Most troublingly, just a bit later, in 21 (3), the LAEA specifically says that the requirement for a trustee to live in their ward (either six months out, or not), only applies if the school district doesn't lie wholly or partially in a city.
When we pointed this out to the school board, they responded that Strathcona County, where Seutter's ward is situated, is a specialized municipality, not a city.
But, we were already aware of this - Elk Island Public Schools also covers Fort Saskatchewan, which definitely is a cty.
So, either the Elk Island bureaucrats forgot that Fort Saskatchewan is a city, or they're taking the position that the determination of whether a Trustee is disqualified or not is based on whether the Trustee's particular ward is in a city or not, rather than whether any portion of the School Division is in a city or not.
That’s not how we read it.
Here's the clause in its entirety:
(3) Notwithstanding subsection (1), a candidate for trustee of a board of a school division that is wholly or partly within the boundaries of a city is not required to be a resident of the ward in either a general election or a by-election, but must be a resident of the school division.
This subsection exists precisely because, in and around cities especially, ward boundaries can be completely arbitrary, as in this case, where Trustee Seutter didn't have any reason to believe his move would compromise his ability to represent his constituents.
If EIPS' interpretation is correct, ward boundaries could be carved in an intentionally irrational manner by a board of trustees to deliberately disqualify a sitting trustee.
In this case, though, it's not even the elected trustees making such a decision, but the unelected administration forcing the resignation of an elected trustee with a very questionable reading of the relevant law.
When we called on EIPS to provide the legal advice they received, or to clarify their position, they would not.
Instead, they simply pointed us to the statement on their website.
Of course, it's also the Board's fault for not pushing back on their staff's claims.
But administration running amok over passive school trustees is, unfortunately, more the rule than the exception in Alberta.
That's why we need more parents, in particular - but also grandparents, business leaders, and others with an interest in education that extends beyond making things easier for the adults employed by the school division - to run for school trustee.
That's why we need more people to volunteer for these like-minded trustee candidates.
That's why we need more people to have the information they need to vote for trustees who share their values.
And that's why the Alberta Parents' Union exists.
But we need your help.
If you want to see our voice, our reach, and our ability to inform Albertans grow, send this email to your friends, family, and colleagues who may not already be hearing from us and encourage them to join as members of the Alberta Parents' Union today:
We found out about this because a mom in Elk Island Public School Division read the agenda for her Trustee Meeting and thought we would be interested.
We love it when parents help us this way and welcome your alerts about your school division!
Because Our Kids Deserve Better.
Jeff and the Alberta Parents' Union Team
P.S. To do more research, we need more resources. So, if you want to see us cover your school division on a more frequent basis, please consider making a donation of $10, $25, $50, or even $100 today!