A team of four politicians – one incumbent and three newcomers – will have the backing of the two biggest employee groups in the school district as they run for trustee.
Slates have not been common in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows politics. However, trustee Ken Clarkson said it appears to be the best way to uproot an incumbent in local elections, where simple name recognition holds powerful sway over voters.
Clarkson announced Friday that he will be on a “team,” joined by three candidates who would be newcomers to the board – Korleen Carreras in Pitt Meadows, and Lisa Beare and Cherie Delainey in Maple Ridge.
“In order to accomplish what we want to accomplish, we need a majority on the board,” said Clarkson, a former board chairman.
He explained that they want a board that conducts more of its business in the public eye, and one that is willing to stand up to a provincial government that is underfunding education.
“Too much of the conversation takes place behind closed doors,” he said of the current board.
Clarkson clarified that the board is not breaking any rules, but he sees public debate as an important part of the process. He said the existing board discusses controversial issues in private meetings, then “rubber stamps” its decisions at public meetings.
The slate is supported by CUPE and the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association.
MRTA president George Serra said the unions have been working with the candidates in the run up to the Nov. 15. election.
“The only incumbent we would support is Ken Clarkson,” said Serra. “One of the things that has become clear to us and CUPE is we need candidates who are politically astute.”
Serra said there are trustees on the board who are politically aligned with the Liberal government, and others who say they are not political.
“You [trustees] just can’t ignore the larger political picture,” asserts Serra.
Asked whether members of the general public should worry about education system employees effectively hiring their employers, Serra responded that most of the general public sided with teachers during its labour battle with the provincial Liberals.
He said the public wants trustees who will stand up to Victoria and “not worry about offending a friend politically.”
Serra added that the current board has written letters to the education ministry that are critical of the lack of funding, but still they pass “slash and burn” budgets.
Mike Murray, the school board chairman, said the board is frequently critical of the provincial government’s decisions. Most recently, it wrote to Victoria protesting the $40 per day allowance given to parents for daycare during the school strike, saying the money should stay in the education system, and the decision was reached without consulting boards.
“I don’t think we’ve been quiet. We’re publicly standing up,” he said. “What we’ve not been is confrontational.”
Murray said he would rather make change through dialogue, not actions such as leaving the B.C. School Trustees Association, as the Vancouver board did.
He sits on a committee of the BCSTA that is working toward a new co-governance relationships for boards, and agrees that the relationship between boards and Victoria is not working.
“That is a healthy conversation to have,” said Murray.
His approach is to run as an independent, and take no donations.
“I represent all the people in this community,” he said.
He added that the board only decides issues in private where it is required – “land, labour and law” decisions being the rule of thumb.
Sarah Nelson is leaving the board after one term in office, citing a lack of local autonomy. She said the addition of the team will make for an interesting election, but does not like the introduction of slates to local school board elections.
“I would prefer that everyone come in with their own independent voice,” she said.
Nelson said she might be more supportive of the slate if it had broad support of all groups in education, including the District Parent Advisory Council and the principal’s association, rather than just the unions.
The members of the team will advertise together, and promote the same message, said Clarkson.
“Our schools are facing a financial squeeze. This puts our kids’ education at risk. We need school trustees willing to be strong, effective voices in our community,” said Carreras in Friday’s press release.
“Teachers, support staff and the families in our communities do not feel this government values public education,” added Delainey.
They will not be identified on the ballot, other than by the candidate’s name.
Working as a team can be a powerful tool for politicians. A slate of candidates, including a new mayor, was able to win its way to power in the District of Mission during the last municipal elections.
Clarkson agreed that slates have the potential to cause partisan divisions on the board, but said trustees have to conduct themselves professionally.
“After you get elected, you deal with your differences as adults,” he said.