What is a trustee anyway? Everything you wanted to know about school elections

When Ontarians go to the polls on October 24, they won’t just be choosing their next batch of municipal representatives, they’ll also be voting on school board trustees.

School trustees sit on Ontario’s 72 school boards. They hold the administration accountable and shape the policies that affect the educational life of some two million students in the province.

While administrators may share a ballot with city politicians, the work they do does not share the same high public profile.

Before the election, you might have questions about what exactly a director does and why it’s important, especially if you don’t have school-aged children.

Here’s a trusty guide to all things admin:

What do trustees do?

Like municipal politicians, school trustees are elected for a four-year term.

These terms end in November after elections are held in October every four years, depending on board membership.

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

Windsor-Essex’s English public board, the Greater Essex County District School Board, has 10 community trustees representing different geographic areas.

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Alongside the mayor and councillors, school trustees will also be on the ballot in municipal elections. So what exactly does a school counselor do? We discuss with someone who has done the work the role and responsibilities of the trustee.

Alicia Higgison, outgoing chairman of Greater Essex County Council, said trustees provide governance and oversight of the council and represent the local electorate.

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

“What we had heard from families over and over again was that they kind of felt that communication was a sore spot,” she said.

Alicia Higgison is the Past Chair of the Greater Essex County District School Board in Windsor-Essex. (Michael Evans/CBC)

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

« [Trustees] gain experience of working with children, working with the education system, educators, [GECDSB] CEO Erin Kelly is down, » said Halberstadt, who has been a director for about 15 years in total but is not seeking re-election.

« And that’s a very important role. We have thousands of children in the Windsor-Essex public system. »

alan halberstadt
Alan Halberstadt is outgoing trustee of the Greater Essex County District School Board. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

Vote for the trustee

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

But before that, there is the question of which board election you can vote among the types of school boards.

By default, you will be what is known as an English Public Council ‘supporter’, meaning this is the election you can vote in.

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

Either way, you have the ability to change your status if necessary before the election, either through the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, which maintains 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 larger municipalities also allow residents to change Election Day at the polls.

Are school counselors paid? Who can run?

You don’t need to have kids in the school system to run for an administrator.

According to the Ontario Education Services Corporation (OEC), which has set up a board election website, one must reside in the board’s jurisdiction, be a Canadian citizen 18 years of age or older, board supporter and legally entitled to vote.

You must also be Roman Catholic to serve on a Catholic school board. Some people, such as school board employees, are disqualified from running as commissioners.

Trustees are paid. The fee limit in Ontario ranges from $7,500 to $29,500, depending on a variety of factors, including the board itself, according to the OESC.

Who runs in my area?

The director nomination period has already ended for the fall vote.

Your municipality will have local candidates listed on its website along with other election candidates.

The OESC has also published a list of candidates.


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