More than half of N.B.'s district education council seats to be filled by acclamation

·5 min read
Elections NB says there are fewer contested seats in this year's district education council election, with more than half of them set to be filled by acclamation. (Gary Moore/CBC - image credit)
Elections NB says there are fewer contested seats in this year's district education council election, with more than half of them set to be filled by acclamation. (Gary Moore/CBC - image credit)

Elections New Brunswick has seen a drop in the number of people putting their name down to run in the upcoming district education council elections, and one outgoing member says the high workload of the role is a possible reason.

There are 68 seats on district eduction councils, or DECs, divided among the province's seven school districts, but contested elections will only be held for 18 of them.

Meanwhile, 39 seats will be filled by acclamation, while another 11 are set to remain vacant following the May 10 elections, which are being held along with the province's municipal and regional health board elections.

Kimberley Douglass has served as a member of Anglophone School District West's district eduction council for two terms now — most recently as the council's chair — and isn't running again because of health reasons.

She thinks the pandemic has discouraged some people from running, she said, noting the need to gather 10 nominations from within the community, and the challenges around doing so given the restrictions on gatherings and meetings.

Kimberley Douglass, outgoing chair of the Anglophone West district education council, said the workload of a council member is likely the reason for the lack of candidates.
Kimberley Douglass, outgoing chair of the Anglophone West district education council, said the workload of a council member is likely the reason for the lack of candidates.(Gary Moore/CBC)

More likely to be the reason for the lack of candidates, however, is the amount of work that's expected of DEC members, she said. They're paid about $3,000 annually for work that involves meeting with parent-school support committees, drafting policy for the district, and analyzing budgets and infrastructure needs.

"The first challenge that I would say is that anyone who has a job — who is not retired — has difficulty putting the time in," said Douglass, noting the members are expected to attend monthly meetings and sometimes travel long distances to do so.

"So we're asking people to do a lot for very little. You know, $3,000 a year… as a taxable income is not a great income and people say they don't do it for the money … but when it comes to the fact that they have to use holiday time, or they have to be away from their families more, then that's a factor that makes them think twice about reoffering."

Elections NB's role in attracting candidates

Douglass said she's not sure what the solution is for encouraging more people to run but believes Elections NB could play a bigger role in getting the word out for prospective candidates.

"We think it's as much Election New Brunswick's responsibility to get interest in the DECs as it is to to get interest in mayoralty contests or in the health board contests," she said.

Kim Poffenroth, chief electoral officer at Elections New Brunswick, said while it's "concerning" there are far fewer people running in this year's DEC elections than in 2016, it's not Elections NB's responsibility to encourage people to run.

Chief electoral officer Kim Poffenroth said it's not Elections NB's role to entice candidates to run in elections.
Chief electoral officer Kim Poffenroth said it's not Elections NB's role to entice candidates to run in elections.(Roger Cosman/CBC)

"Our mandate is set out in legislation and [persuading candidates to run] is not part of our mandate," she said.

Poffenroth said that in 2008, her agency took it upon itself to ramp up advertising for elections, and for this one, publicized the positions on social media and in newspapers.

Elections NB advertised for candidates to run in the upcoming district education council elections on social media and in print media, said Poffenroth.
Elections NB advertised for candidates to run in the upcoming district education council elections on social media and in print media, said Poffenroth.(Submitted by Elections NB)

As for candidate engagement for municipal and health board elections, she said, there has been an increase in the number of contested seats in this election over the last one held in 2016.

The opposite was observed for DEC elections, said Poffenroth, noting that 29 seats were contested in 2016, compared with the 18 this year.

"So that to me would be an indication that perhaps there's other factors that are in play with regard to the district education councils, other than whether people are aware of the the elections and the positions that are available."

Taking a look at the DEC model

Education Minister Dominic Cardy said the candidate turnout for this year's elections enforces a need to look at modifying the governance model around DECs.

"I think that we've got to talk about the governance model to make it more appealing, because … a lot of people don't necessarily understand the role of the DECs and the powers that go along with the position," he said.

Education Minister Dominic Cardy said he plans to look at the role of district education council members and possibly reforming the governance structure to make the job more attractive.
Education Minister Dominic Cardy said he plans to look at the role of district education council members and possibly reforming the governance structure to make the job more attractive.(Ed Hunter/CBC)

"And for some of those that do that, look at that amount of work and the number of different schools that have to be covered and they question whether that's what they want to do."

Cardy said it's too early to say what changes might be made, but he plans on looking at the responsibilities of DEC members, as well as the geographic areas they're expected to cover.

"So I've heard from people who say that the districts are too large. Others say that the amount of work involved is too great and a huge range of perspectives.

"I want to listen to those and see what we can do to come up with a model that works better."