The B.C. government has reversed course and decided to hold a byelection next year to replace the Cowichan Valley school trustees fired for refusing to pass a balanced budget.
Education Minister Don McRae said Thursday that an election would be held in November 2013.
Theres 60 school districts across the province, he said. They have the ability to elect their trustees, and I want Cowichan Valley to be in the same position.
McRae departed from the stance taken by his predecessor, George Abbott, who fired the nine-member board on July 1 for submitting a budget that was more than $3.7 million in the red. Five trustees supported the deficit budget because they felt it was impossible to make further cuts and still provide students with a quality education.
Abbott replaced the board with Surrey school superintendent Mike McKay and rejected calls for a byelection, arguing that the trustees who passed the deficit budget would just run again and pick another fight with the government.
Abbott said he expected McKay to run the district until the next round of municipal elections in 2014.
McRae said that was too long a delay.
I just thought it was important that we have a democratically elected school board in the Cowichan Valley, and I didnt want to wait until 2014, he said.
If candidates put their names forward and choose to run on a policy of breaking the law we have a law that they have to put forward a balanced budget thats up to the individual candidates and the electorate to decide, he said. But thats what democracy is all about.
Former board vice-chairwoman Hannah Seymour, who voted in favour of the deficit budget, had a mixed reaction.
Its positive in the sense that this minister has said that Cowichan has a right to vote thats positive, she said. However, it really worries me that theyre stalling it for a year.
She noted the aboriginal community has stated that it will only work with an elected board not an appointed trustee.
Its very unfortunate that the minister wont call a byelection sooner, knowing that the aboriginal voice within our district will be silenced now for a year.
McRae said he decided to leave McKay in the job for now in order to bring stability to the district.
I want to have a chance for Trustee McKay to work through this budget cycle and allow the school district to have as few disruptions as possible, he said.
McRae also said that municipal elections are traditionally held in November, and he wanted to give plenty of warning to potential candidates.
Seymour plans to run again and will continue to highlight the gaps in public education.
The cuts weve made in Cowichan have directly impacted our most vulnerable learners a lot of them aboriginal as well, she said. So I will continue to advocate for more money for public education. That will be obviously something that you dont just abandon because the minister fired you for your beliefs.
But Seymour said she will have to talk to community members and elders about how to best highlight those issues.
Does that mean that, if I was elected again, immediately I would put in another restoration [deficit] budget? That would have to be a community decision.
© Copyright 2013