P.E.I. school board elections 'long overdue,' says national association

The P.E.I. Public Schools Branch has been governed by appointees since it was created in 2012. (Steve Bruce/CBC - image credit)
The P.E.I. Public Schools Branch has been governed by appointees since it was created in 2012. (Steve Bruce/CBC - image credit)

P.E.I. will hold school board elections for the first time in more than a decade this month, and that's too long, says the president of the Canadian School Boards Association.

"It is something that is long overdue. Fourteen years is a long time and kudos to people on the ground in Prince Edward Island for continuing to push for that," said Alan Campbell.

"There's a mountain of evidence to support why having school boards in place just works better for parents, and it works better for students and communities in terms of maintaining the tangible connection to that local public school."

The demise of elected school boards began in 2011, when then education minister Doug Currie fired the trustees of the Eastern School District. That followed two years of internal division after the closure of eight schools in 2009.

Currie appointed a single person to take on the responsibilities of the board. The eastern and western boards were merged in 2012, and the P.E.I. Public Schools Branch has been governed by various appointees ever since.

The P.E.I. Home and School Association has been lobbying for a return to elected trustees for years, and has been working to raise awareness of this month's election.

"With it being such a long time it's a learning curve, but we're doing our best to do our part to ensure the general public is aware," said association president Dionne Tuplin.

That has included hosting meet the candidate nights, publishing information on the candidates on its website, and putting out PSAs.

'Something for everyone'

Rather than using the existing provincial registry of voters and setting up polls, the school board election requires voters to register for a mail-in ballot. The deadline to register passed on Saturday. Those who have registered have until Nov. 10 to deliver their ballot to Elections P.E.I.

One of the arguments put forward by the government when it began appointing trustees was that turnout for elections was low.

Jeff Stapleton/CBC
Jeff Stapleton/CBC

In encouraging people to vote, local advocates are not only battling the unusual election process, but also the perception that if you don't have children in school the election is not relevant to you.

"It's really important that everyone understands and recognizes that this is something for everyone," said Tuplin.

Campbell first became a school board trustee five years before his first daughter was born, and said he brought an important perspective to the board as a non-parent.

He said it is important to recognize that schools are more than just places of education, but that they serve as community centres as well.

Public education as an institution is important for everyone, not just for parents, Campbell said.

"It's for those who recognize that a strong public education system is foundational to the local community today, but it's also absolutely vital to ensure that we have a well-educated, employable youth in this country," said Campbell.

Campbell also cautioned voters to be wary of arguments about voter turnout.

"If that's the reason to eliminate local school boards, because there isn't a lot of voter turnout, then at what point does that apply to one's municipality?" he said.

P.E.I. is also voting in municipal elections this month.

Many communities have struggled to put forward a full slate of candidates, and chief electoral officer Tim Garrity said turnout at the first advance poll on Saturday was a little lower than he would have liked.