As April 13 byelection looms, potential trustees encourage engagement

With a public school board byelection coming up on Monday, trustee candidates are concerned that not enough people will cast their ballots.

The last Calgary Board of Education byelection was in 2003, and had just over a three per cent voter turnout. Julie Hrdlicka, one of five candidates for Wards 11 and 13, said that number isn’t good enough. But she doesn’t expect much improvement this year.

“It saddens me when people say that they don’t vote,” she said. “You’re sending the message that you don’t care, and that the school board doesn’t matter.”

The CBE has a provincially funded budget of over $1 billion, and manages more than 114,000 students. There are 36 schools in Wards 11 and 13 alone, which cover most of southwest Calgary.

Producd by Madison Farkas

Hrdlicka added that part of the difficulty in engaging people in government, especially at the school board level, is its inherent bureaucracy. “That’s part of the trustees’ jobs, to help parents to be able to navigate through that system,” she said.

In a video produced by the pro-democracy organization the Springtide Collective, Mayor Naheed Nenshi expressed similar concerns about the disconnect between governments and theirAlong with members of her volunteer team, potential trustee Julie Hrdlicka plans door-knocking routes at a coffee shop in Braeside. She has been campaigning door-to-door almost every Saturday since mid-January.

Photo by Madison Farkas citizens.

“I don’t think there is such a thing as an apathetic person,” Nenshi said. “I don’t think there is such a thing as a person who doesn’t care about their future, who doesn’t care about their family, who doesn’t care about their community. The challenge is that we’ve created government institutions that are, by their nature, alienating.”

Candidate Karen Lloyd suggested that a big part of the problem is that many people don’t understand what the school board’s responsibilities are. When she spoke to parents at a March 7 open house prior to the election, she said their responses weren’t encouraging.

“I asked them, ‘What do you think a school board trustee does?’” Lloyd recalled. “Most didn’t know. And that again shows that in the community, the awareness of the school system and the importance that it has, the impact that it has, is very low.”

“It saddens me when people say that they don’t vote.”

– Julie Hrdlicka, one of five candidates for Wards 11 and 13Along with distributing the budget, the board of trustees is also responsible for liaising with parents and school administrators, creating governance policies and advocating for students.

There was debate over whether to even call a byelection after former trustee Sheila Taylor resigned her position last fall to run for the provincial Wildrose Party. A CBE poll found that 57 per cent of respondents were in favour of waiting until the next general election in 2017. Julie Hrdlicka said that would have left thousands of students and parents in Wards 11 and 13 without direct representation for too long.

Another suggestion, according to some of the responses to the CBE poll, was to do away withCandidate Karen Lloyd (right) discusses her campaign with Yolanda Chan outside Nellie McClung School in the southwest community of Palliser. Part of Lloyd’s strategy is to approach parents like Chan as they pick their kids up from school.

Photo by Madison Farkas the board of trustees altogether and merge their responsibilities with those of provincial MLAs, but Hrdlicka said she doesn’t think that would be effective.

“I get concerned when that conversation comes up,” she said. “If you throw education on the portfolio of an MLA who’s already got five or six other things that they’re focusing on, it’s going to fall through the cracks. We need local, on-the-ground representation for our kids.”

Alongside Julie Hrdlicka and Karen Lloyd, the five candidates competing to fill Sheila Taylor’s vacated seat include retired teacher Wilf Phillips, school council executive Victoria Morgan, and former real estate agent Sean McAsey.

mfarkas@cjournal.ca

The editors responsible for this story are Jordan Kroschinsky jkroschinsky@cjournal.ca and Evan Manconi emanconi@cjournal.ca