Five individuals ran in the school board trustee election as part of a slate they called Students Count, and despite controversy, three have been elected.
The Students Count group is advocating for more classroom funding, improving math marks, changing report card marking schemes to percentages, establishing an independent ombudsman to ensure student wellness and removing the ability for campaigns to take in corporate and union donations.
The group consisted of Althea Adams (Ward 3 and 4), Lisa Davis (Ward 6 and 7), Sabrina Bartlett (Ward 8 and 9), Mike Bradshaw (Ward 12 and 14) and Sadiq Valliani (Ward 11 and 13). Adams, Davis and Bradshaw were elected, with Barlett only losing by a little under 2,000 votes.
None of the elected members responded to our request for an interview.
The other trustees elected were Trina Hurdman (Ward 1 & 2), Marilyn Dennis (Ward 5 & 10), Richard Hehr (Ward 8 & 9) and Julie Hrglicka (Ward 11 & 13).
Some voiced concerns when they heard the group was running as a coalition.
In an interview with the Calgary Herald before the election, MRU political science professor Lori Williams said running as a group could be a weakness.
“Slates often tend to look too much like parties, and voters like a more direct connection to issues, especially in local elections where voters want individual candidates to be connected to local issues.”
However, Williams also suggested that candidates running together as a group could just mean there are overarching frustrations with the system.
Jodi Nickel, chair and associate professor of Mount Royal’s Department of Education, said she was concerned when she heard a group was running.
“I think it is really important that the trustees aren’t just looking for political power and pushing an agenda, but that they actually care about education and have something to contribute to society,” she said.
The group was endorsed on Twitter by UCP leadership candidate Jason Kenney, but they denied any official links to his campaign.
Although most Calgarians focus their attention largely on the mayoral and councillor races, Nickel said people should also care about the trustees.
“Education is a public trust and the strength of a society really depends largely on how the citizenry is educated,” she said.
In Calgary’s municipal election, while voting for their mayor and city council, citizens also vote on the governing body of either the Calgary Board of Education or the Calgary Catholic School District.
But what does this Board of Trustees even do?
“They are the ones that make sure that the school does their job well and that tax dollars are used well,” said Nickel.
Often, trustees deal with difficult decisions around funding.
“If you have a school with only 100 students in it, as much as it is disappointing for parents to see their neighbourhood school close down, that’s the more fiscally responsible thing to do that will benefit ultimately more of the schools.“
A list of the board’s specific roles can be found here.
However, although 387,306 people voted in the general election, only 232,069 people voted for a public school board trustee and 77,795 people voted for an independant school board trustee.
Nickel said there are a number of factors that could be contributing to the low voter apathy.
“I guess people do see the stakes at being fairly low,” she said.
“There are enough checks and balances in the system that even if a weak trustee was elected that probably the system is going to keep rolling.”
She also suggested Alberta’s good educational system could also lead to voter apathy.
“Canada scores high, but if you isolate Alberta results, we score really really high,” Nickel said speaking of the Programme for International Student Assessment.
“I think people probably have this confidence that we have a great education system and so we are not too worried, where if there was real problems, maybe they would take more of an interest.”
Editor: Jolene Rudisuela | firstname.lastname@example.org