Candidates debate role of school trustee

Chilliwack, school district 33, trustee election, role and responsibility school trustee

The role and responsibility of a school trustee has been a contentious issue amongst the current board of trustees.

For three years, Chilliwack’s trustees have struggled to agree on what their role was, whether it was to pass a budget and create policy to guide the district or to take on larger responsibilities within district operations.

When asked by The Progress what trustee candidates believed their roles and responsibilities would be as trustees, several cited community advocacy in their responses, but many also addressed a need for more respect at the board table.

These are the full responses of trustees who answered the question:

Neil Whitley:

Clearly, the role of the individual trustee is to work as part of the corporate board in governing through policy and monitoring progress towards established educational goals.

Vern Tompke:

I believe that the role and responsibilities of the school board are to represent the community in helping shape the policies and vision of the school district. Unfortunately, we have confused this broad mandate with micromanaging our hardworking trained professionals.  Let’s let them do the job that we hired them for.

Nicki Redekop:

My responsibility as a School Trustee is to know my job is to be the connection between the community and the school board, and to realize that I am only an information gatherer until seated at the board table with the rest of the school board team. I am responsible directly to the students, parents and teachers to be their advocate and  their voice.

Barry Neufeld:

The primary role of a Trustee is to promote healthy relationships: first among fellow trustees, but also senior administration, then the partner groups: parents, staff, and other public and private agencies. A trustee must remember that they cannot do or say anything as an individual: According to the School Act, It is the BOARD AS A WHOLE THAT HAS LEGAL AUTHORITY, not any one individual trustee or the board chair. Once an issue has been debated and a decision has been made, it is extremely unethical for a board member to undermine the Board by publicly saying: “I don’t agree with that decision.” So a trustee must be primarily a TEAM PLAYER. 2. A trustee should attend ALL board meetings (on time and well prepared). 3. Set policy for school operations (the board lays the track, they DON’T play with the trains). 3. The WHOLE BOARD act as employers for school district employees, (BUT the only person they actually hire is the Superintendent who is delegated to oversee human resources activities) 4. The WHOLE BOARD gives direction to their Collective bargaining agents at the local and provincial level.  5. The WHOLE BOARD prepares and approves the budget and capital plans. 6. The WHOLE BOARD hears appeals from parents. 7. The WHOLE BOARD approves local courses and resource materials. 8. The WHOLE BOARD approves district literacy plans, achievement contracts and local school plans. I have spelled out very extensively my approach to Board of Education governance on my website:

Heather Maahs:

If re elected, I would continue to believe that my role as a trustee is to represent the entire community at the board table. This would include being responsible for both student achievement and the dissemination of the approximate $100,000,000 budget to the community as indicated in the school act.

Our student achievement levels are not what they should be, and our graduation rate is equally low. Trustees need to be proactive and take responsibility which also means being accountable on behalf of the students and community. The definition of the word trustee is: “an individual person or member of a board given control or powers of administration.”

This is not a check-your-brain-at-the-door job. Trustees need to be engaged and willing to roll up their sleeves for the benefit of the students and staff who are depending on them to supply them with the resources and support they need to benefit the students.

Jack Bass:

In three words Leadership, Vision and Teamwork.

Leadership: The classes I teach on leadership focus on taking accountability for the direction and effective working conduct of the organization. It does not mean micro-managing the teacher or principal but setting the overall direction and then monitoring and evaluation of the progress towards the goals – paradigms of action.

I am campaigning for the School board to be in open dialogue with the parents, educators and taxpayers to have community/public input into the direction of public education. Only when the vision is not being followed does the Board enter into a discussion to get the system “back on the rails”.

Vision: Vision is the creation of a focus. Leaders are results focused and the vision should compel us to the effective use of all our resources.

Where the work of defining a vision is sidetracked or not even thought of because of  internal disputes an organization may lose the focus and each part of the organization becomes less coordinated in obtaining maximum results . In addition, the resources aren’t maximized meaning we aren’t effectively using our people or our budget.

Teamwork: In the past two years I taught 24 different organizations how to utilize teamwork to build their effectiveness. In participating and contributing as a team rather than as individuals we accomplish more by joining our efforts. This does mean seeking credit for the team not ourselves.

Our present board is illustrative of the “dysfunction” that occurs when teamwork and respect for the individual members is not present. As the recent newspaper article outlines the lack of teamwork leads to a lack of progress in the mandate and this means additional costs and/or work not being effectively carried out.

Superintendent: Hiring a superintendent is very important and at our Board this has already been accomplished. Mandates and decision making belonging to the Board cannot be delegated to staff.

Budget: Budget setting and maintaining the boundaries are vital. Annual surpluses or deficits result when the monthly reviews and evaluations don’t result in necessary adjustments through the year. Each taxpayer and parent has an expectation that the Board must meet- to be vigilant and thoughtful in allocating monies amongst competing issues.

Les Mitchell:

If elected as trustee my responsibilities are first of all to the people that elected me to listen to their needs to get their children the best education as our children are our finest resources for the future

Kirsten Brandreth:

As I’ve attended School Board meetings for well over 5 years, on a consistent basis, I’ve seen the changes to the Trustee’s roles and responsibilities that convinced me that it’s time for a change. I could give you the ‘textbook answer’ as provided in my Trustee candidate packet for the formal roles and responsibilities but feel there’s more to the Trustee’s role than approving plans, policies and budgets.

The Senior Administrative team work very hard in creating those achievement contracts, annual budgets and district policies.  I think it’s imperative that it’s the Trustee’s responsibility to analyze the information provided to them and ask questions from the Superintendent before they go to a public Board meeting for a vote. If the Board of Education come to the table with a clear understanding of the Agenda items then they are far more efficient and effective.

The Trustee’s role is also to make themselves available to seek opinions from the community & schools.  This can be done by attending public forums (i.e. District Budget Forums, Transportation forums and Parent Advisory Council meetings).

Moving forward, I think it’s vital that the Trustees work together and concentrate on the needs of the staff and students. If the team of Trustees is cohesive then they are far more productive and stronger which can only lead to higher student achievement.

I’m hoping that come Nov. 19th I am elected as one of those Trustees and would work very hard to bringing positive change to the Chilliwack School Board of Education.

Joey Hagerman:

Besides the normal roles of a school trustee I believe that my role on council would be to work with the district in making sure that at risk students are getting the most help that they need to be successful.

David Russell:

I believe that the board should not expand it’s role and responsibilities beyond that of strategic management. An effective board looks long term and at the big picture. If trustees are micro-managing the operations of the district staff, they are losing focus on the overall, long term performance of the district as a whole, as well as undermining the executive staff’s authority. We, as a board, need to keep our focus on the results of the district and support our staff in their efforts to achieve those results.

Brett Lawrason:

The role and responsibilities of the School Board is to be “the public’s voice in public education”. Their job is to connect with their communities and ensure that the people they represent  local values and priorities are reflected in their schools. The Board makes decisions to support all district students in reaching their educational goals. The Board is accountable to the public for achieving these goals and meeting the diverse needs of their students.

The School Act gives the Board of Education specific duties such as being involved/hands on in the hiring of all staff necessary for school district operations, preparing and approving operating budgets and capital plans, establishing conditions of employment for employees and setting policy for the effective operation of schools are but a few.

As a trustee, I must take an active role in my duties and responsibilities. I will need to ask tough questions and work collaboratively with my fellow Board members to make important decisions  that focus on improving the quality of education for our students.

We as a cohesive Board will need to ensure that we make decisions that use common sense and shared praticallity. We must involve our partners in education when making budgetary and other major decisions. Our main purpose should be to meet the needs of  the central focus of the education system, our students, not just what is convienient to the Board Office and senior management.

Louise Piper:

• Be an advocate for students and public education

• Boards are responsible for carrying out their obligations as set out in the School Act, regulations and ministerial orders

• Decisions are made by way of majority vote; therefore the power lies with the board as a corporate body, not with individual trustees which means that individual trustees can’t exercise the power of the board on their own

• Support the outcome of a majority vote regardless of whether or not you supported the motion during debate

• Work as a team

• Policy governance, a board of trustees governs a school district; they don’t manage a school district.

• Prepare and approve the budget and capital projects

• Co-governance between board and Ministry of Education

• Hire superintendent and secretary/treasurer when vacancies occur

• Develop a strategic plan and conduct regular planning sessions

• Be accountable

• Committee work

• Consultation with all partner groups and community members

• Build relationships within the community and get to know how things work and understand issues and challenges.

Don Davis:

The role of a Trustee on the Chilliwack Board of Education has been a hot topic.  A School District is a corporate entity that exists to organize a public good – public education.  Trustees act much like directors on a corporate board with the significant difference being that unlike directors who are responsible to their shareholders, Trustees are responsible to students, parents, the public at large and the provincial government.

According to the School Act, Trustees are responsible for the education of each student in the School District. This responsibility is neither simple nor easy and requires the services of highly skilled personnel.  The key role facing a Board of Education is managing the employment relationships of these personnel, namely the Superintendent and the Secretary-Treasurer.

It is through these individuals that the Board of Education fulfills its statutory roles. The Board of Education may choose to involve itself, either directly or indirectly, in a myriad of more specific roles.  These often include participating in various committees, representing the School District at ceremonies, functions and events.

As a Trustee, my role is governance and not management of the day to day operations of the School District.  My role is to set, amend and approve policies, not to implement them.  My role is to collaborate with all “Partners in Learning” and ensure that their views are taken into consideration when making decisions.

As a Trustee, I believe that my role includes a “Triple P” of responsibilities: Parents, Pupils and Public.

Parents – Trustees need to meet and engage Parents at every available opportunity.  As a Trustee I will advocate for the inclusion of Parents on School District Committees and support a stronger role for the District Parent Advisory Council to ensure that Parents have an effective voice to go along with their vote.

Pupils – Trustees need to collaborate with our students – after all, we are here to support their education.  As a Trustee, I will advocate for the creation of a “Council of Students” that will bring together student leaders from our middle and secondary schools to share and discuss issues that are important to this significant “Partner in Learning”.  Trustees need to always keep our Students’ interests in mind when making decisions.  Today’s Students are tomorrow’s leaders and they deserve a voice even if they rarely get a vote.

Public – The School District has a significant footprint in our community.  Trustees are responsible for a significant organization that employees over 1,200 full time equivalent staff, manages an annual budget of well over $100 million and owns a large real estate portfolio of land and buildings.  As a Trustee I will ensure that the vital public interest is considered when making decisions.

Harold Schmidt:

• As a school trustee, I and the board (as directed by the BC School Act Section 65.1) are responsible for the improvement of student achievement.

• As outlined by the BCSTA, those duties include: preparing accountability contracts on improving student achievement, approving annual school plans, preparing and approving the district’s operating budgets and capital plans, setting local policy for the effective and efficient operation of schools.

• Employing the staff necessary for the school district operations such as teachers, principals, senior staff, clerical staff, custodians, bus drivers, etc.

• Establish conditions of employment for employees

• Approving local courses and resource materials for use in the school district

• Hearing appeals from parents and students where a staff decision significantly affects a student.

Martha Wiens:

The Roles and Responsibilities of a Trustee is clearly defined in the School Act.  To me it means Leadership with accountability, honesty and respect for the community that has elected me. When I commit to stand for election I am responsible  to the electorate.  The role is important.  Our  school district is growing. We have more then 12,000 students.  We are responsible to hire staff to teach our students, with all resources in place. We make sure our schools are  safe and maintained.  We are responsible for  funding and balancing the budget. There are numerous other duties that  are part of the  position.. The  role and responsibility is huge. It requires strong leadership as directed by the Ministry of Education.

At one time we  met with all the partner groups in learning,  our community clubs and our political leaders.  We had informal meetings to seek advice and answer questions.  This was valuable in helping the board  to make decisions  They were the true “experts”  making great contributions at the joint meetings  This has not continued in the last term . ( A great loss.)

Perception  of  the question asked, varies with  members.  The new board may do well to review  the interpretation.  After serving  7 terms, it is clear to me.  .

Karen Jarvis:

Working as a team member is important in the role of a trustee. Having participated in mediation in the past has provided me with skills to work through matters when not all parties are in agreeance. We must be able to debate, share ideas and vote on policy issues in the best interest of all students and employees of the school district. As trustees we are responsible for hiring the superintendant, governing the budget and capital plans with due diligence, setting policies in place, overseeing but not micromanaging all staff and equally important is the need to listen to parents. We need to lead by example, work together and refresh the system to improve student success.

Walt Krahn:

Moving forward, we need a Change of Climate at the Board level where personal respect and regard are always present… Excellence in the classroom begins with Excellence in the boardroom.   It is all about relationships!  I am committed to working collaboratively with fellow Trustees and Senior Administration, within a respectful and supportive manner where the focus is on improvement of student achievement.

The roles and responsibilities go far beyond the hiring of a Superintendent.  I see my role as “a view from the balcony” where we avoid the daily micro-managing (we have highly competent staff to implement the policies), but have a strong knowledge of the business of the district.  I believe that the Board must represent the public and reflect the community in its decision making.  Through collaboration with all stakeholders, we will set district priorities and approve the District’s annual operating and capital budgets.  Our role will be to establish and support policies which provide clear direction for the District, with the focus of enhancing student success.  For more information, please visit my website at

Dan Coulter:

I hope that the next board will not be bogged down in this issue and I will focus my energy on solving issues that impact our students more directly.  That said a school trustee’s responsibilities are to set out short and long term strategic plans, to develop and implement new policy, and to set out the districts budget.

Audrey Stollings:

I believe that the Role and Responsibilities of a Trustee should be first the advocate for the student, as they are the reason we need Trustees. Trustees should be role models for our schools. We teach our children that there is to be no Bullying in our schools so MUST start at the Board level.

Trustees need to be planners, developers of policies that will guide the administration and staff towards achieving goals, as well as lobbyists ensuring that the voices of our community will be heard.  Trustees must keep quality education high on the list of priorities with the Provincial Government.

Doug McKay:

Understanding our role is one thing; accepting it is another.

POLICY 204 Governance Principles:

2. The Board establishes long-term vision and provides clear direction through policy to indicate action and monitor results.

3. The Board is responsible for the ‘what’ not the ‘how’.

One of our primary roles is to represent students, parents and the community.

As an individual trustee I am charged with the responsibility of working closely with 6 other trustees in a board governance model that is obliged to also work closely with executive staff to ensure student achievement is PRIORITY #1.

The role of all participants is critical including the role of the corporate board. However our role is very different from the role of parents and partner groups and executive leaders and we need to recognize and accept that difference.

Our role is the big picture; budget decisions, policy, vision, mission and strategic planning. Our role is not the day–to-day operation of the school district.

Everyone has an equally important role to play in public education and when trustees choose to play roles they are ill prepared for; chaos and crisis result.

It is important that we know what our job is. It is equally important we know what our job isn’t.

I know and accept my role as a policy maker and equally as important I know and accept that my role is not to be involved in the day-to-day operation of the school district.