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School trustees at centre of controversy re-elected in Greater Victoria district

A summary of school board election results

School districts across the South Island will welcome an influx of news trustees to their boards following Saturday’s civic elections.

Greater Victoria School District

Incumbents Diane McNally and Rob Paynter, who were at the centre of a months-long controversy, have been re-elected to the school board.

The two were suspended in February over allegations of misconduct including bullying and harassment of staff.

They have been supported by the Victoria Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils, union locals and the GVTA — all of which questioned the integrity of the board.

In September, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled in favour of the two trustees, saying the board didn’t have the authority to suspend them from their duties, particularly at the end of their terms.

VCPAC president Tracy Humphreys said she was not surprised that McNally and Paynter were re-elected.

“I think a lot of people felt that it was very unjust that they were suspended,” she said. “General consensus from parents is that those trustees represent them at the table and they speak about the needs of their kids.”

Each of the nine trustees elected to the Greater Victoria School Board were endorsed by the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, including McNally, Paynter and fellow incumbent Nicole Duncan.

Of the 30 total candidates in the race, none from the VIVA Victoria slate received seats at the board table.

Elected newcomers are Angela Carmichael, Mavis David, Natalie Baillaut, Derek Gagnon, Emily Mahbobi and Karin Kwan, who received 20,230 votes — the most of any candidate.

“I was a bit shocked. Usually as a first time candidate you don’t expect to have that many votes,” Kwan said the day after the election.

“The rhetoric that’s been going around is that the teachers spoke, and most people agree with the teachers.”

Both Kwan and Carmichael were also endorsed by the Victoria Labour Council, one of the oldest labour organizations in the province.

Kwan said the endorsements likely helped, as did her previous advocacy work to save the elementary level strings program in the school district. She said the budget process will likely be a focus for the new board members when they’re sworn in. She previously sat on the district’s budget advisory committee.

“Moving forward, how can we bring public voices closer to trustees, and how can we be connected to parents and students and really listen to them?”

Incumbents Jordan Watters and Ann Whiteaker — neither of whom received a GVTA endorsement — were not re-elected.

GVTA first vice-president Winona Waldron said it was gratifying to have all of the endorsed candidates elected, including retired teacher McNally, former teacher Kwan and current Saanich School District teacher Baillaut.

“It really, I think, shows the faith that people in Victoria have in teachers,” she said of the group elected. “I really appreciate that.”

Humphreys said she got to know many of the candidates during all-candidate forums her organization put on and is happy with those who were chosen.

“I think it’s going to be great,” she said. “It gives me a really good feeling to see it’s a group that will be able to get along together and work together.”

There promises to be more collaboration than in the previous term, she said.

Sooke School District

Voters in the Sooke School District elected a school board incumbent for each of its two zones: Board chairman Ravi Parmar will be returning in the Belmont area and Allison Watson to Milnes Landing.

They were the only two incumbents running for the seven-person board.

Watson was elected for Milnes Landing alongside Amanda Dowhy and Ebony Logins. Parmar will represent Belmont with new arrivals Trudy Spiller, Russ Chipps and Cendra Beaton.

Parmar, who was first elected in 2014 at the age of 20, has served eight years on the school board. He said he’s looking forward to working with so many new trustees.

“The school district is in a really good position,” he said. “I don’t think, by any means, the individuals elected are looking for massive change. I think they are interested in being a part of the success we’ve had here.”

Parmar said adjusting to the West Shore’s population growth remains a top concern for the district.

“Building new schools for our community will continue to be a priority for me, and I hope will be a priority for our board,” he said.

Saanich School District

In the Saanich School District, only two school board trustees were chosen on election night, both in the North Saanich school zone: Keven Elder and Elise McMurphy.

The rest of the trustees in the Central Saanich, Sidney and District of Saanich zones were acclaimed.

Incumbent and board chairman Tim Dunford will work with newcomer Susan Hickman to represent Central Saanich, and incumbent Teri VanWell will represent Saanich alongside Joyce Vandall.

Sidney representative Nola Silzer, also an incumbent, was acclaimed to the board.

Dunford said that there are four returning trustees for continuity and three new faces bringing fresh perspectives. The new trustees are former district superintendent Elder, former teacher Vandall and local parent Hickman.

Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District

The new nine-person board for the Nanaimo Ladysmith School District will feature a mix of seasoned trustees and new faces.

Incumbent Naomi Bailey topped the polls on Saturday with 10,395 votes. Also elected were Charlene McKay, current board chairperson, and fellow incumbents Tania Brzovic and Greg Keller.

Newcomers Leana Pellegrin, Leanne Lee, Mark Robinson, Chantelle Morvay and Tom Rokeby were elected, as well.

Twelve candidates competed for the seats.

Tanner Scott took 11th place with 5,407 votes. RCMP were called last week when he refused to leave a meeting on Gabriola Island called for candidates to meet with local residents.

Meeting participants were offended because Scott showed graphic images of a female who had undergone gender affirmation surgery, after being asked for his position on sexual orientation and gender identity policies, developed to make students feel accepted and supported, in schools.

He was escorted out of the meeting.

Gulf Islands School District

The Gulf Islands School District has four incumbents back on what will be a seven-person board, but remains a trustee short because no candidates from Mayne Island stepped up before the registration deadline.

A trustee will be chosen through an alternate process now that the election is over.

Jeannine Georgeson, Greg Lucas and Chaya Katrensky were acclaimed for Galiano, Pender and Saturna, respectively, while Rob Pingle, Nancy Macdonald and Tisha Boulter were elected on Salt Spring.

Cowichan Valley School District

There was a big field of 18 candidates running for seven available seats on the school board, with three of four incumbents getting through. Fourteen-year board member and current chairwoman Candace Spilsbury — who served in the one-year position of board chair 10 times — did not run.

Elected incumbents are Joe Thorne, Elizabeth Croft and Randy Doman. They’ll be joined by Jennifer Strachan, Cathy Schmidt, Eduardo Sousa and Cindy Lise.

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— With files from Carla Wilson and Jeff Bell

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