Why You Should Care Who is a School Trustee

Last round of municipal elections I had a four month old baby and while we made it to the polls, I remember vaguely choosing a mayoral candidate, and a few councillors I knew and liked, and that’s it. I didn’t select any school trustees because in my mind, there was no point. My child wasRead More

Last round of municipal elections I had a four month old baby and while we made it to the polls, I remember vaguely choosing a mayoral candidate, and a few councillors I knew and liked, and that’s it. I didn’t select any school trustees because in my mind, there was no point. My child was a mere four months old and I didn’t think that a school trustee would have an impact on me. At least not until he made it to school, right? And even then we were considering homeschooling and private school and I felt like if my kid wasn’t in public school then it wasn’t going to matter.

This election I have a remarkably different opinion. I now firmly believe that the position of school trustee is every bit as important as councillors – perhaps even more important – regardless of whether you have children.

Why? Well, first let’s look at what the school trustees even do. The BC School Trustee Association (admittedly, a group who serves the trustees it represents) has a relatively succinct description of what a trustee does:

Trustees engage their communities in building and maintaining a school system that reflects local priorities, values and expectations. School trustees listen to their communities; guide the work of their school district; and set plans, policies and the annual budget. Reflecting the strength of local representation, boards report back to their communities on how students are doing: boards are directly accountable to the people they serve.

Essentially, trustees determine how, who, and at what price the assets (schools and other school district owned buildings) are used as well as in depth policies for how everyone must behave while doing so. And while most of us automatically think this refers only to the children in the community who attend public school, it actually represents a glut of other groups: sports groups (both adult and children), service groups, clubs like Girl Guides or Cub Scouts, the proprietors of craft or plant sales, as well as other groups who may rent the facilities for events.

Additionally, the School District themselves identifies these as the functions of trustees:

  • Policy, Planning and Evaluation
  • Action on Legal Requirements
  • Selection of Senior Personnel
  • Public Relations
  • Final Appeal
But why does this matter to everyone, even those who don’t have kids in the system or even have kids at all? It’s simple: if you have healthy and happy kids in your community, your community is better for it. Let’s not forget that the assets and policies the trustees govern are paid for in part by your tax dollars. Don’t you want them to do a good job with your investment?


And finally, there is a giant body of science based knowledge out there that shows children thrive most when they are given all the right building blocks, and some of those blocks don’t come from their immediate families. (Just Google “healthy kids research” – over 49 million hits). Teachers, neighbours, community role models, and the community at large all have an impact on the children in our community. The New Westminster Children’s Charter, endorsed by both the City of New Westminster and the School District, sets out what kids need to thrive.

In short, if you’re on the fence about why you should be voting for a school trustee, I urge you to consider that these are the people that will help further the growth of children in our community who are going to grow up and hopefully stay in our community and become us – voters, taxpayers, and hopefully deeply engaged citizens. I’d prefer kids who want to contribute and who care about what happens, don’t you?

* * *

Here’s a list of what candidates said in our survey when we asked “Why should residents who don’t have children care about school board issues?” (arranged alphabetically by last name with a link to their full questionnaire responses published earlier this week.)

Jonina Campbell: Education matters to everyone. How we educate and raise youth affects all society. Furthermore, there are issues relating to schools that affect local neighbourhoods such as traffic planning, playground space, and space for community use. Already our schools are open for recreation and the arts (ie. Massey Theatre). I’d like to explore ways we can continue to expand the use of our schools. For example, because New Westminster has limited space available to build new recreation facilities, our schools could be used for recreational opportunities on the weekends. This might include something like a yoga class or open gym for children.

Casey Cook: Everyone should care about education and School Board issues. A healthy school system is a great contributor to a healthy community. Furthermore, today’s children are tomorrow’s leaders. They are tomorrow’s decision makers. On a practical level, residents are taxpayers and should have a level of interest as to how effectively their taxes are being spent.

Michael Ewen: Beyond the democratic and economic argument about a well educated work force being more able to contribute to the development and hopefully evolution of our economy, residents should care that our schools are more fully utilized for the community. Due to budgetary constraints we are looking at a new policy that will see us charging our community user groups. We should be continuing the practice of keeping these facilities open and available to our community, at little or no cost.

Jim Goring: Public Education has an impact on the quality of life in our community in ways that benefit all, creating good citizens, supporting democracy, providing employees some who become employers.

Lisa Graham: On average, children are ‘in the public education system’ for a relatively short 13 years but are ‘in the community’ for their lifetime. This is particularly true in the Royal City — in fact, some families have called New Westminster ‘home’ for multiple generations! Unfortunately, too many residents do not realize that they are already vested stakeholders in school board issues because it is their tax dollars that fund the public education system. Schools are a microcosm of the larger society; as such, it is important to hear from yet-to-be engaged constituent groups, not only because they have a right to be heard, but because their contribution/input on school board matters can help shape outcomes that will impact the larger community. Active collaboration amongst all stakeholders can create a better community for all of us. The best consultation outcomes are the ones that sort through the most input; it’s in everybody’s best interest to participate in public matters.

James Janzen: Because we are all going to be relying on these kids to be the citizens of the future.

Brenda McEachern-Keen: Empowered students = empowered citizens. The social skills students learn as children will be the social skills they take into adulthood. The values our schools instill will be the values they live.

MaryAnn Mortensen: A healthy school community is vital to the community as a whole. We have roughly 6,000 students in New Westminster and we know that while some residents are transient, most stay and raise families here. One of the roles trustees play is to ensure that through sound policy making, we provide the best learning environment and safe buildings in which students can learn and teachers and staff can teach and support students and staff. Trustees are also charged with the duty of distributing a budget. This money is all our tax dollars at work. Part of good governance also means that we communicate with services/agencies/organizations in the community that encourage, support and engage children in their learning and lives while they are in our school system. The cost to society is enormous when we do not pay heed to our school communities. The seven trustees you elect oversee the management of our school district. Many have only to think about the concerns around the Massey Theatre’s future or how the lack of planning for new schools has impacted not only our students but also the community around where to site the elementary, middle and high school. Our schools are called community schools because they are shared hubs for all community members. Resident Associations were impacted by a decision to charge insurance fees for their meetings, extra-curricular activities and activities for children and adults are impacted by the decisions of our Board of Education. Too often, people do not realize the impact a school board has on its community and they vote only for council and Mayor. It is my hope that the community is awakened to the reality that your seven-member school board does matter to you whether or not you have children, whether or not you have children in the system or whether your children are grown. Your tax dollars pay for public education and our school buildings. You have a right and obligation to ensure that you vote for individuals who you believe will spend our $60 + million dollar budget responsibly and equitably and manage the schools in your community with good governance.

James Pepa: Children are our future and we should all be active in their education.

David Phelan: Our schools have strong connections to our community. The community uses our schools for a variety of social, community and athletic events. Community support and involvement is strong for many school programs, such as Hyack Football and the spectacular performances put on by NWSS students at Massey Theater. The Neighbourhoods of Learning areas in the new schools will provide a varied number of programs that residents will be able to access. We also have the opportunity to create connections to our environment in our new schools. This can be building relationships between our schools and community gardens, local farmer’s markets and Farm to School Programs. These connections can be used to promote healthy eating patterns in our children.

Glen Richmond: Because our students are the future citizens of our community and, as products of their environment, their experiences will affect others in the fullness of time.

Jen Arbo

Jen Arbo is the editor and co-publisher of Tenth to the Fraser. She's been writing for the site since 2007 and lives in Sapperton with her family. A project manager at heart, she also operates Hyack Interactive, a digital communications company. Find her on Twitter or Instagram.

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  1. Great post Jen! I am also guilty of not paying as much attention as I should to school board candidates in previous elections.

  2. Look at the Lawn Signs though! I am thinking there are more trustee candidate signs on display in New Westminster than the council and Mayor candidates combined. People really seem engaged this year!.

  3. Public Education is the great equalizer, regardless of background a child can connect with a trusted adult and an environment which can make a huge difference in what that childs future will be.

  4. Thanks for such a great post, Jen. We absolutely need the right people taking care of our investment (tax dollars), and we owe it to those who came before us who worked so hard to give us the kind of city we are proud to live in today.

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