Unless there’s talk about school closures, School District 69 and its board of trustees seem to fly under the radar of the public and media.
Much attention is paid by all to the councils and staff that run the Town of Qualicum Beach and City of Parksville. The public galleries can be packed for meetings of those august bodies. A school board meeting? You could offer to buy a round for everyone in the audience and pay with the change in your pocket. Or you might have to drink alone.
(The NEWS staffs school board meetings. It is rare to see any other media outlet represented at these monthly gatherings. As the paper of record for this region, we believe coverage of the school board meetings is our responsibility.)
When one considers some facts and figures related to these governing bodies, this lack of attention for the school board is curious at best.
School District 69 is the largest employer in the region. It has a $47 million budget. It spends roughly $35 million on salaries alone.
The City of Parksville has a $17 million budget; the Town of Qualicum Beach, $11 million.
The numbers don’t tell the whole story, however. We can understand why people who seem to have a lot of time for municipal issues want nothing to do with the school board.
The town and city — staff and politicians — are empowered to make real decisions and have real debate. Yes, they have to balance their budgets and yes, they have to deal with increased downloading from senior governments, but they have some power to make decisions on what roads get paved, what roundabout will be constructed next or which community group will get a few bucks in aid. They have the power to increase taxes to fund projects, or not.
The poor school board has none of these powers. The provincial government (using taxpayer money, it should always be noted) provided SD 69 with 93 per cent of its $47 million in revenue.
School boards have little or no power. The provincial government, regardless of the party in power, dictates most everything related to our schools. Its hands tied, trustees only get to enjoy the flak from parents and unions. Nice set-up for the provincial government.
Which gets us back to our original point. It’s understandable why people don’t invest more time and interest in the meetings and affairs of the local school board: under the current rules of engagement, it’s not like the trustees can effect any meaningful change.
— Editorial by John Harding