We had a great conversation with an impressive group of people. In attendance, besides potential trustee candidates and ARTICS members, were a trustee, an MLA, a CEO and a political operative. Participants also represented a range of political views, from conservative to liberal. What was most gratifying was that everyone was able to participate and contribute, and that the conversation remained respectful and constructive.
We began by presenting the theme of the conversation: How can we extend our influence, get people involved and reach influential people? We recognize that trustee elections are low profile, the lowest among all elections, which translates into lower participation than at any other level. We raised questions about who can bring greater attention to and promote trustee elections. Is it the province, the media, ASBA or PSBAA, or the candidates themselves? Only a small proportion of voters have school-aged children. It’s possible to reach those with kids using emotionally charged messages about issues that affect them, such as fees, but other voters tend to be indifferent. It’s possible to reach other voters with messages about the size of the budget trustees are (supposed to be) responsible for, and issues of misspending. We could create a strategic media plan, but we realize that we have limited time, energy and resources,
We need to get in front of people and talk with them. ARTICS could fundraise, advertise and try to raise awareness about the importance of the election. In fact, there are significant issues. But there are other organizations better positioned to take on this task, groups that have done this in the past, such as ASBA. We’ll never reach everyone, but our efforts will have the greatest impact if we focus on the election. ARTICS started out by trying to influence the current CBE board of trustees to adopt greater transparency, accountability and responsiveness. We have realized, again and again, that we are simply not in a position to effect that change with the current trustees.
We don’t need candidates to agree on everything. We are really looking for shared values of transparency, accountability and responsiveness. To us, this means listening to constituents, engaging in debate in public and thinking about both sides before making decisions or creating policy. If decisions are made the right way, even if we don’t agree with the final decision, we can be reassured that they will be higher quality and outcomes are more likely to be successful. Candidates will represent change and democratic values over the status quo.
The media is unlikely to create a story based just on our values. Rather, we need to talk directly with citizens. We need to listen to them, find out what their issues are, and help good candidates know how to campaign. We see a need to shift our focus and how we spend our effort in order to bring positive change to the way decisions are made at the school board and to overcome some of the significant issues that we perceive.