It looks like the school board will be going ahead with a plan to reduce the number of trustees to five from seven, despite protests from the community of Sandspit.
Several Sandspit residents, who are the most affected by the proposed change, attended a public meeting at Queen Charlotte Secondary Tuesday (June 14) to voice their concerns.
“We will never have a representative again, it’s obvious,” said Carol Wagner. “You are ostracizing Sandspit by making this decision.”
Ms Wagner said if the decision were being made to save money, she personally would pay any expenses required to keep a Sandspit trustee.
But as school board chair Andreas Uttendorfer said several times, the change is not being made only to save money, although that may be a welcome side effect. The main reason is to increase the percentage of trustees representing Haida communities, which are growing while non-Haida communities continue to see their populations drop.
While Sandspit currently elects one trustee to the seven-member board, under the new plan Sandspit and Queen Charlotte will together elect a single trustee. The other four trustees will come from Old Massett, the Masset area, Central Graham Island between Port Clements and Miller Creek, and Skidegate.
Under the new plan, two out of five trustees will be elected by Haida communities, compared to two out of seven right now. This is less than the 50 percent representation that the Haida Nation was seeking, said school board chair Andreas Uttendorfer, and is a significant compromise on their part.
Evan Putterill, president of the Queen Charlotte Secondary student council, said it seemed strange that the board had decided to combine Sandspit (2001 census population 435) with Queen Charlotte, which already had the biggest population of any community (1,045).
Queen Charlotte trustee Shirley Hawse said the board had considered lumping Sandspit with Central Graham Island (which has almost exactly the same population as Queen Charlotte) but decided that since Sandspit residents already come to Charlotte for banking, hospital and other services, that combination made more sense.
Although nothing in the plan prevents a Sandspit resident from running for election, many felt that Sandspit would always be outvoted by Queen Charlotte, and that therefore a Sandspit resident would have no hope of ever being elected.
“It is absolutely not a given that Sandspit will not have a representative,” Mr. Uttendorfer countered, adding that it is also not a given, as some residents seem to think, that the Sandspit school’s existence is threatened by the change.
Gord Usher, a member of the Moresby Island Management Committee, said the Port school, currently the smallest in the district, may close in the future. If it does, he suggested redrawing the trustee map to give Sandspit its trustee back, and combining Port with Masset, and the rest of Central Graham Island with Queen Charlotte.
However, Port trustee Maggie Bell Brown told him that how the trustee seats are divided has more to do with population than whether or not there is a school in a certain area.
Queen Charlotte resident Duncan White told the board he would be concerned if he lived in Sandspit, and that six trustees might work better than the proposed five. He said he understands that provincial legislation dictates school boards must have an odd number of trustees, but they should lobby the government for six because this is a special case.
Sandspit resident Linda Clark said she was very disappointed in the decision, and suggested it might eventually lead to Sandspit residents taking their children out of the public school system and forming their own independent school, like the one which exists in Queen Charlotte.
“Sandspit needs to do what Sandspit needs to do,” Mr. Uttendorfer replied, adding that the school board welcomes and appreciates the students from that community.
Tlell resident Elizabeth Condrotte was disappointed for a different reason. In a letter which Mr. Uttendorfer read out loud, Ms Condrotte said she was hoping to see five trustees elected at large, to represent everyone on the islands. This system, she said, could result in even more Haida trustees than the model chosen by the board, and would automatically adjust to the growing proportion of Haida voters.
Others thanked the board for what they said must have been a difficult decision. The number of students is dropping, and reducing the number of trustees makes sense, said Christine Martynuik. “Let’s just make it work,” she said.
Skidegate trustee Wayne Wilson said the Haida Nation originally wanted four out of the seven trustees to represent Haida communities. The fact they agreed to two out of five is “a big compromise on the Haida side,” he said.
Queen Charlotte resident Leslie Johnson agreed. Many bands can run their own schools, she said, but the Haida people for the most part have chosen to be part of the public school system and that has enriched the system for all students.
“I want to acknowledge that and appreciate that and value it,” she said. She also thanked trustees for struggling with the decision.
Masset trustee Sharon Matthews told the Sandspit residents the decision had been difficult. Yet her own story, she said, should give them hope. She is the anomaly on the board, a Haida citizen who represents not Old Massett, where she grew up, but the predominantly non-Haida community of Masset. She described Masset as “two communities in one” which she is able to represent, and said the same could happen with the Queen Charlotte-Sandspit seat.
Sandspit residents did not leave the meeting any happier than when they arrived, with Ms Wagner telling the board that “you’re killing another part of our community” and Mr. Putterill saying trustees’ explanations had not convinced him. The change seems to be happening for political and cultural reasons, he said, not educational ones.
“Thank you for your hard work,” he added. “I know you guys work hard and have tough decisions.”
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