Most trustees on the local public school board said they don’t plan to seek re-election in November.
Out of the 14 trustees on the board, only one person was thinking of running again while another was undecided. The other 12 had answers which ranged from “not likely" to a very definite "no.”
Board chairwoman Wilma Sletmoen is one of those trustees. She said yesterday she never planned to serve beyond this term, adding it was time from some fresh blood to come on board.
But what chased any lingering thoughts about possibly seeking a third term were the school board reforms ushered in by the Harris government.
“What really is an issue is the amount of provincial control,” Sletmoen stressed, saying Queen’s Park was taking away too much power from the local authority.
“I don’t agree with the direction the ministry is going,” she added.
Sletmoen isn’t alone in her opinion. Trustee Roy McTaggart also cited the province’s school board reforms as one of the main reasons he was willing to bow out of the election this fall.
“The whole restructuring initiative for Northern and Northwestern Ontario doesn’t seem to be well thought out,” he argued, adding the new trustee boundaries were enormous.
“People were concerned before they didn’t have a voice," he said. "They’re going to have less of a voice now unless they fund school councils properly.”
“I have no interest with this government’s scenario," echoed trustee Ralph Soderholm. "The way it’s being handled, the distances involved, [running] probably isn’t going attract too many people.”
Soderholm added the lack of concrete guidelines from the government also has left a lot of people in the dark as to what the new school board’s function will be.
“I’m very disappointed with the way the government has handled it,” he said.
McTaggart also noted the frustration over the school closure committee and the “multi-use” facility at Westfort left a bad taste in his mouth for seeking another term.
“It’s sort of a thankless job,” agreed Soderholm.
Time is another big factor for many trustees. Marilyn McKinnon, who has served 12 years on the Fort Frances-Rainy River Board of Education, said being a trustee takes up a lot of time—time which she no longer has.
“The reason I started at the school board was I thought we strongly needed a new school in Devlin, which opened last fall,” she said.
“It was a real learning experience for me," she added. "I’ve been there for 12 years—that’s an awful long time. I really haven’t made a decision but I think it’s time I stepped down.”
Linda Pruys, who’s position as a separate school rep on the public board stands to be deleted when it merges with the Atikokan Board of Education on Jan. 1, said she plans to opt out of the school board race for much of the same reason.
“I’ve had six very, very busy years," she said. "[The new trustees] will have to be people who have a lot of time to commit to it because it does take a lot of time.”
A familiar name may be on the ballot for Fort Frances, though, with Gordon McBride thinking of seeking another term as trustee.
“We’re going to be one of the small boards. I want to make sure our people are looked after,” he explained.
“Also, I’d like to see the new high school," he added. "I was chair when it started five years ago.”
McBride, who’s been a trustee on the local school board for about 20 years, said he could understand why many of his fellow trustees decided not to run again, especially in the current political climate.
“The province still has not given a job description for the new school board," he said. "[Trustees] are discouraged [and] disillusioned because they won’t know what they’re job will be.”