Top Stories of 2011: Race for Chilliwack school board draws a crowd
he school trustee election in November was unprecedented for Chilliwack.
Twenty-four people put their hats in the ring, vying for just seven available seats. It was the most amount of school trustee candidates in all of B.C., and a 300 per cent increase from the 2008 election, where there were only eight candidates on the ballot.
Parents, grandparents, teachers, retired principals, representatives from the District Parents’ Advisory Council, a university student, and members of the business community were all aiming for trusteeship.
The only incumbent not running for re-election was John Henry Harter.
In an interview with The Progress prior to the November election, Harter cited ongoing infighting and micromanaging at the board level as one of the main reasons for not seeking re-election.
For several of the new candidates, however, those were the reasons why they were running.
Chilliwack’s last board of education was repeatedly conflicted over what its role was, which often resulted in heated debates around the board table.
Some trustees quoted the school act, which is legislated by the B.C. Education Ministry, that states the role of the board of education is to set and maintain the school district’s budget, create policy to guide the school district, and hire a superintendent. Others, however, believed their role should be more involved.
Last April, trustee Heather Maahs requested the board revise policy 300 to give school trustees more authority in the hiring decisions of all senior executive staff, principals and vice principals.
Multiple requests made by The Progress for a status update on where that policy currently stands were not returned by school district officials prior to press deadline.
The last three years also saw the departure of several senior executive staff. Two assistant superintendents retired; the secretary treasurer took a position in Abbotsford; the director of finance quit; and superintendent Corinne McCabe tendered her resignation last June.
Some of the candidates believed “micromanaging” at the board table was the reason for those departures.
But while there seemed to be a clamoring for change, given the number of candidates on the campaign trail, the polls showed otherwise.
All incumbents running, except for Darlene Wahlstrom, were re-elected.
The incumbents did not gain the most votes though. Newcomer Walt Krahn, a retired school principal, topped the polls with 3,923 votes – nearly 1,500 more votes than the seventh seat. Fellow newcomer, Barry Neufeld, a former school trustee, was second in line with 3,505 votes.
In 2008, trustees Silvia Dyck and Martha Wiens topped the polls, but in this election, they were number three and four respectively.
Less than 14 per cent of Chilliwack’s voting population voted.
Following the election, failed candidate Kirsten Brandreth quit the District Parents’ Advisory Council (DPAC). Not only was she disappointed with the election outcome, coming in 10th of all candidates, she was disgusted that no real change had occurred.
After more than 16 years advocating on behalf of parents, the former DPAC president felt her time in the district had come to an end.
The current DPAC president is Gord Byers.
One of the top priorities of the new board is hiring a new superintendent. Current superintendent Michael Audet was hired on a one-year, temporary contract after McCabe quit.
The board will be searching for a new superintendent in the new year.