School District #27 (SD27) chair Tanya Guenther gave an update on options for changing trustee and zone reconfigurations at the Nov. 14 Cariboo Regional District’s South Cariboo Joint Committee (SCJC) meeting.
The discussion was the result of investigations to resolve voting area issues with SD27’s trustee zones for Williams Lake that no longer matched up with the city’s electoral boundaries since they were expanded, she explained.
Guenther said residents had to attend separate voting stations for civic elections, and with similar boundary issues also impacting some Cariboo Regional District (CRD) voters, trustees were concerned about this affecting turnout at the polls.
The four options for changes, which were presented for public feedback in the spring, involve SD27’s current seven trustee zones, three of them (1-3) covering the South End, and four (4-7) in the North End, she noted.
“The first option was to realign the boundaries for the two Williams Lake zones [5 and 6], so they matched the Williams Lake and the CRD boundaries – so that everything is the same.”
Option 2 was reducing to two zones for the north end – merging zone 4 and 7 into one “at large” trustee zone; and merging 5 and 6 into one zone, but with three trustees “at large” elected (for Williams Lake), she explained.
“Option 3 was to reduce [SD27] to two zones, basically a north and a south, with at-large [trustees elected] – three from the south and four from the north, and that would include the east and west.”
Guenther said option 4 was to reduce SD 27’s current seven zones to six, by combining zones 5 and 6 with two trustees at large, and matching it up with the city’s electoral boundaries.
Noting the trustees received a variety of public comments, Guenther said she was “surprised” by one unified message they heard – that no one wanted to see fewer trustees.
“If anything, they wanted more representation, which is usually the opposite of what we would hear when we’re talking budgets.”
The SD27 chair notes the local governments were consulted previously at the SCJC meeting in June, and she was now bringing it back to them with the trustees’ view of the best option, prior to applying for the provincial approval that is required.
“With all of that feedback, at our September meeting the board elected to move forward with proposing Option 4, which was combining those two Williams Lake zones 5 and 6 [with two at large] trustees elected for that area.”
The SCJC members will be receiving a letter from the board asking for written feedback to submit with its application, along with the feedback it gathered from its public consultations, she said, adding the trustees hope to implement the changes in 2018.
Guenther fielded various questions from SCJC members, including co-chair Al Richmond (CRD chair) who asked how the trustees felt about the other idea of combining zones with trustees at large, eliminating specific area representations.
Noting all South End students end up attending Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School in Zone 1 for Grade 8-12, Guenther replied the trustees already represent the whole school district.
“We don’t look at school representation in a zone fashion. As a board member, I’m elected to the board and I represent all students.”
Regardless of any particular connection to schools in a trustee’s zone – such as their own child or a neighbour’s child who attends there – “we are not directly tied to the schools that are in our zones,” she explained.
However, later Guenther noted the board did discuss previously having only two trustees in the South End after the City of Williams Lake had requested representation by population, but decided against it.
“We have such a huge geographical area that we cover with so many unique pockets of communities within it, the board felt it was really important to continue with that zone structure, to ensure we had someone that had some sort of tie with that community.”
No opposition from the SCJC was posed at the meeting for pursuing Option 4.
District of 100 Mile House Mayor Mitch Campsall (SCJC co-chair) said he believes the “biggest issue” for the South Cariboo community is ensuring it retains three trustees – even if the board had all of them representing one unified zone at large.
“We don’t care who they are up there, as long as we retain our three. You can mix them up all you want, and it makes no difference, as long as we’ve got representation.”
Campsall said he believes the South Cariboo is so much smaller and less widespread than in the North, the local trustees do care about all of their communities, regardless of which zone they were elected to represent.