School board considers increasing Haida representation

  • Nov. 28, 2003 11:00 a.m.

School board trustees have been talking about something called “trustee variation”, but they don’t want to discuss the issue in public at the moment, Alex Rinfret writes.
At last Tuesday’s school board meeting in Masset (Nov. 25), the board reported that “trustee variation” had been discussed at two closed meetings in November, and vice-chair Wayne Wilson said he had also discussed it recently at an aboriginal education conference.
However, at the meeting, the board wanted to keep mum, at least for the moment, about what trustee variation is. In response to a question, Mr. Wilson, the acting chair, said he did not want to say anything further about it, and that the board would be sending out more information explaining the phrase in a couple of weeks.
“We will have a press release coming out,” he said. “We want to make sure it doesn’t get twisted.”
According to the Ministry of Education, trustee variation is the process of changing the number of trustees in a school district, or of changing electoral areas.
A school board – or any interested individual – can ask the Ministry of Education to change the number of trustees or their electoral areas after coming up with a rationale for the request and consulting the public. The decision is then up to the Minister of Education.
So why does the school board here want to keep the idea under wraps? Because the change the board is considering, the Observer has learned, is increasing Haida representation substantially, probably to as much as 50-percent, something requested by both Skidegate and Old Massett as long as five years ago.
Trustees are silent on the idea in public, although they have discussed it at past board meetings, which were open to the public. They may be worried about reaction and want to be sure islanders get a complete package of information when the time comes for consultation.
Right now, the school district has seven trustees, representing Old Massett, Masset, Port Clements, Tlell, Skidegate, Queen Charlotte and Sandspit. This means the two Haida communities, Old Massett and Skidegate, are guaranteed two out of seven votes on the board (although nothing prevents a Haida person from running in another electoral area).
The Skidegate Band Council told the school board more than five years ago that both it and the Old Massett Village Council wanted to see the school board change so that half the seats would be held by Haida communities. One of the reasons is that more than half the students in the school district are Haida, according to the school district’s own figures.
When the school board briefly discussed Haida representation in public back in 1999, then-Skidegate trustee Heather DuDoward said the issue was a serious one that was not going to go away. Queen Charlotte trustee Shirley Hawse suggested getting feedback from the public.
“I don’t think that many of the public are aware of what the proposal is,” Ms Hawse said, in December 1999.
The school board meets next Dec. 16 in Skidegate. Trustee elections, possibly with new representation areas, will be held in November 2005.