'I encourage people to pay attention': Saskatoon school trustee seats up for grabs alongside mayor, councillors
SASKATOON -- Amid more high-profile civic election races, another decision facing voters can often get lost in the shuffle — choosing a school board trustee.
While Saskatoon voters mark ballots for mayor and ward councillor, they will also be selecting who will serve as public and Catholic school board trustees.
"The roles we play in corporate governance involve things like establishing our strategic directions, establishing priorities for the year, setting our budget for the year, ensuring that the school division is in compliance with provincial legislation," said Colleen MacPherson, who represents Ward 5 on the Saskatoon Public Schools Board of Education.
MacPherson is acclaimed as Ward 5 trustee as she was unopposed in the 2020 trustee election. MacPherson is the current board chair as well.
She said while much attention on the civic election is on the mayoral and councillor races, the election for trustees is vital, considering the public school division alone has 26,000 students.
The school board looks after the number of teachers hired, the programs offered, maintenance projects on schools and all of the decisions flow from the annual operating budget, MacPherson said.
“If you have a child in our system, I think it behooves you to understand how the system is governed and who is doing that work,” she said.
Saskatoon Public Schools held a series of online forums this week giving the trustee candidates a platform to share their vision as well as interact and answer questions from the public.
MacPherson said while mayoral forums are held in-person, candidates vying for trustee positions tend to reach voters through online campaigning.
“I encourage people to pay attention to trustee elections like they do to electing their councillor or their mayor. It is an important level of elected governance in our province.”
Along with MacPherson, Michael Pidwerbeski (Ward 1 public), Donna Banks (Ward 3 public) and Ross Tait (Ward 7 public) have been acclaimed to the board of trustees, leaving six public trustee positions up for grabs and seven Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools board trustees.
Also seeking re-election in the Prairie South School Division, Shawn Davidson, president of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA), said the province sees about 30 per cent turnover in school division trustees, and for newly elected trustees on Monday, the learning curve might be a little steeper given the pandemic.
“They’re important jobs and yes it will be challenging for new folks coming on it always is, maybe a little bit more this time than traditionally,” Davidson said.
But the importance of these trustee positions cannot be overemphasized, according to Davidson.
“Boards play a very important role in accountability,” he said, adding taxpayer spending oversight is another big component.
“Boards look through division financial statements, they ask questions around how students are achieving. It’s important for trustees to hold the system accountable.”
Davidson has been a trustee for 11 years, he’s also seeking re-election as president for the SSBA.
On Nov. 9, board trustees across 27 school divisions in the province will be elected.