What's a trustee anyway? Everything you wanted to know about school board elections

·3 min read
School board trustees are responsible for overseeing boards in Ontario. Voters go to the polls to choose trustees and other municipal officials on Oct. 24. (Stacey Janzer/CBC - image credit)
School board trustees are responsible for overseeing boards in Ontario. Voters go to the polls to choose trustees and other municipal officials on Oct. 24. (Stacey Janzer/CBC - image credit)

When Ontarians head to the polls on Oct. 24, they won't just be choosing their next batch of municipal representatives — they'll also be voting on school board trustees.

School trustees serve on Ontario's 72 school boards. They keep administration accountable and shape policy that affects the educational lives of some two million students in the province.

While trustees may share a ballot with municipal politicians, the work they do doesn't share the same high public profile.

Ahead of the election, you may have questions about what exactly a trustee does and why it matters — especially if you don't have school-aged children.

Here's a trusty guide to all things trustee:

What do trustees do?

Like municipal politicians, school board trustees are elected to four-year terms.

Those terms wrap up in November following elections held in October every four years, in line with council members.

In Ontario, there are English public and Catholic school boards, as well as French Catholic and public boards.

The English public board in Windsor-Essex, the Greater Essex County District School Board, has 10 trustees from the community representing different geographical areas.

  • LISTEN| Outgoing school board chair joins CBC's Windsor Morning 

Alicia Higgison, the outgoing chair of the Greater Essex County board, said trustees provide governance and oversight for the board and represent the local electorate.

For example, she said, a few years ago, action from the board spurred the hiring of a new communications officer and the creation of a new website.

"What we'd heard from families over and over is that they sort of felt that communication was a sore point," she said.

Michael Evans/CBC
Michael Evans/CBC

Trustee Alan Halberstadt said they make important decisions such as the closing and opening of schools and the passing of the school board's budget.

"[Trustees] get the experience of working with children, working with the education system, the educators, from the [GECDSB] CEO Erin Kelly on down," said Halberstadt, who has served as a trustee for about 15 years in total, but is not seeking re-election.

"And it's a very important role. We have thousands of kids in the Windsor-Essex public system."

Katerina Georgieva/CBC
Katerina Georgieva/CBC

Voting for trustee

Residents vote for trustees at the same time they choose their councillors and mayoral candidates.

But before that, there's the matter of which board election you can vote in among the types of school boards.

By default, you will be what's known as a "supporter" of the English public board, meaning that's the election you can vote in.

You can only be a supporter of a French or Catholic board if you are of the Catholic faith or speak French as a first language.

But regardless, there's a chance to modify your status if necessary ahead of the election, either through the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, which keeps a preliminary voters' list, or through your municipality closer to election time.

According to Terri Knight Lepain, elections manager for the City of Windsor, most large municipalities also allow residents to change on election day at the polls.

Do school board trustees get paid? Who can run?

You don't need to have children in the school system to run as a trustee.

According to the Ontario Education Services Corporation (OESC), which has set up a website on trustee elections, you have to live in the board's jurisdiction, be a Canadian citizen 18 or older, a supporter of the board and legally allowed to vote.

You also have to be Roman Catholic in order to serve on a Catholic school board. Some people, such as school board employees, are disqualified from running for trustee.

Trustees do get paid. The honorarium limit in Ontario ranges from $7,500 to $29,500, depending on various factors, including the board itself, according to the OESC.

Who is running in my area?

The nomination period for trustees has already wrapped up for the fall vote.

Your municipality will have the local candidates listed on its website along with the other candidates for office.

The OESC has also published a list of the candidates.