School board elections may be scrapped, says Ghiz

P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz is leaning toward ignoring a key recommendation from the Education Governance Commission report, which was made public last week.

P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz is leaning toward ignoring a key recommendation from the Education Governance Commission report, which was made public last week.

The commission had recommended the government expand voting for school trustee elections, lowering the voting age to 16.

But Ghiz told CBC News he is considering getting rid of trustee elections altogether in favour of an appointed board later this year when the eastern and western boards are merged.

Ghiz said more people might be interested in serving on an appointed board than on an elected one.

"Sometimes, you don't have people that want to put their name forward to run in an election, that would serve if they were appointed," he said.

Ghiz added government would ensure board trustees were distributed regionally.

Education Minister Alan MacIsaac said the appointments would help the new, merged board get established. He also suggested having appointed trustees might be temporary.

"Well, in the interim basis we're going to appoint it," he said. "During that time period we're going to look at the long term."

Requires consultation

Peter Rukavina, secretary of the Prince Edward Island Home and School Federation, which represents Island parents, believes the premier has floated the idea of an appointed board as a trial balloon.

Rukavina contends such a substantial change would require consultation, with consideration given to the education governance report.

"It certainly wasn't a recommendation of the education governance commission," he said.

"We also know that for more than 160 years one vehicle by which parents have been able to participate and be engaged in the education process has been through the school trustee process.

"Trustees tend to be parents or have some involvement in the school system otherwise…So we want to make sure that that gets preserved and the parent voice in education operations, which is essentially what the school boards are responsible for, gets maintained."

The federation will discuss the issue further at its annual meeting on Saturday, Rukavina said.

The western board will meet later this week to discuss the proposed changes and come up with a public response.

Meanwhile, the chair of the board would say only that the changes are coming too quickly and seem to run counter to the recommendations in the governance report.

The report states: "School boards are more than a service delivery arm of the provincial government…They are one of the core institutions of local democracy…(which) bring the potential for a broad external perspective to the education system."

A move to shut down school board elections would put Ghiz a step ahead of the commission. Its report recognized voter turnout is a problem – in the last elections it was 3.8 per cent – but it recommended voters be given two more chances to hit a 20 per cent threshold. It said if that didn't happen the government should move to appointed boards.

This is the second key consideration of the commission in danger of being overruled. Last week the government announced it would merge the province's two English school, despite a warning from the commission that a merger would cost money and potentially make the board less approachable for some parents.

Ghiz said a final decision on the appointment of school board trustees could come this week.