Yellowknife school board elections draw few candidates

·5 min read
Weledeh Catholic School in Yellowknife. The nomination period for Catholic school board trustee candidates has been extended until 3 p.m. on Sept. 26. (Steve Silva/CBC - image credit)
Weledeh Catholic School in Yellowknife. The nomination period for Catholic school board trustee candidates has been extended until 3 p.m. on Sept. 26. (Steve Silva/CBC - image credit)

There may not be a contest for trustee positions on two Yellowknife school boards for the upcoming term.

Nominations for the Yellowknife Catholic Schools (YCS) and Yellowknife Education District No. 1 (YK1) trustees were meant to close Monday, but when the list of nominees was released, the Catholic school board had only five candidates for seven trustee positions.

YK1 eked out a full slate with seven candidates for seven spots.

The nomination period for Catholic school board trustee candidates has been extended until 3 p.m. on Sept. 26.

"In my three terms on the board, this hasn't happened," Tina Schauerte, the current Yellowknife Catholic Schools board chair, said of the candidate deficit.

Schauerte, who is seeking re-election as a Catholic school board trustee, said there have been acclamations in the past.

"I'm hopeful that we will have a few more people come forward with interest by Monday," she said.

The territory's Education Act says that if there are vacancies on a "District Education Authority," or school board, but there are enough members to constitute a quorum, the District Education Authority can appoint people to fill the vacancies, or it can hold an election.

If the number of members is less than a quorum, it must hold an election. A majority of the members of a District Education Authority constitutes a quorum.

The act "states that no decision of a District Education Authority is binding unless it is made at a meeting at which a quorum is present. As there are seven members on YCS … so long as four members are present at a meeting, all decisions made at that meeting are binding," said an N.W.T. education department spokesperson.

"YCS may choose to either appoint eligible candidates to fill the vacant seats or they may choose to hold an election."

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'It's a difficult time right now' 

Miles Welsh is a former Yellowknife Catholic Schools trustee and chair. He said he resigned from the board in 2019 after assuming new responsibilities at his full-time job.

Welsh said he couldn't speak to why so few people are running for the Catholic school board this term, but he doesn't believe "apathy, in terms of commitment to the schools" is the cause. He said parents are passionate about the school system and its success.

"It is a difficult time right now," he added, citing the rising costs of living.

"People just perhaps understand that they can't commit at this time."

According to the Yellowknife Catholic Schools trustee handbook, trustees are responsible for ensuring their schools meet the educational and financial standards of the Northwest Territories government. They're also responsible for ensuring Catholic beliefs and principles are reflected in school policies and programs.

Catholic school board trustees are accountable to both the N.W.T.'s minister of education, and to the bishop of Mackenzie-Fort Smith Roman Catholic Diocese.

Trustees get an $8,829.06 honorarium. The chair gets $11,950.03 and the vice chair gets $10,157.53.

The candidates for the YCS board are:

  • Christine Lewandowski.

  • Tina Schauerte.

  • Steven Voytilla.

  • Susan Waddell.

  • Melanie Williams.

YK1 trustees set to be acclaimed

With seven people running for seven trustee positions this election, the YK1 board of trustees is set to be acclaimed.

"I don't think it's very good. I think they should all be contested so that at least you have a … public forum in which you kind of discuss your views and what your commitment is to the board," said Rajiv Rawat, a YK1 trustee from 2015 to 2021.

Rawat said in past elections, the YK1 board has gotten around 10 candidates.

He also pointed out that this term will be longer than past ones: four years, instead of the usual three, so as to sync up with the municipal election cycle.

As for why there's no competition for the YK1 trustee positions this year, Rawat speculates that COVID-19 is a major factor — that it affected public participation on boards of all kinds.

Rawat said that during the pandemic, board meetings went online and it affected how people interact. And interpersonal relationships, he said, are key to the functioning of a board.

"You have to get along with your fellow members, and all that, to get anything done," he said.

"It was a big loss, definitely, not meeting in person over those couple of years, and it really kind of made the job less fun and less enjoyable."

Donna Lee/CBC
Donna Lee/CBC

According to YK1's trustee handbook, trustees "govern the public education system on behalf of the community." Among their responsibilities, they create policies to help guide administration and staff, and they work to resolve public education issues that matter to Yellowknife students and the community, more broadly.

A trustee, said Rawat, "has quite a bit of responsibility in terms of governance and fiduciary management of the entire board," including over a budget in the tens of millions.

YK1 trustees get an honorarium of $10,220. The chair gets $13,627 and the vice-chairperson gets $11,583.

The candidates for the YK1 school board are:

  • Barbara Bell.

  • Terry Brookes.

  • Tina Drew.

  • Michelle Peters.

  • Allan Shortt.

  • Jason Snaggs.

  • David Wasylciw.

Any voter who believes a trustee candidate isn't eligible to run must notify the returning officer in writing by 3 p.m. on Sept. 22.