Democracy in B.C. took a bit of a hit over the long weekend. All nine trustees on the Cowichan School Board got sacked.
But how, you may well ask, can anyone just fire an elected official? It is part of the provincial School Act that the minister of education can, at will, remove an elected school board and replace them with an appointed trustee to hold the reins of power until a new board can be elected.
In this case, the Cowichan School Board was fired for refusing to submit a balanced budget that, as in almost all school districts in the province, would have included yet more cuts.
Part of the mandate given to trustees under the School Act requires them to submit a balanced budget. The Cowichan trustees weighed that against their responsibility to look out for the education of students, and decided that the students ranked higher and submitted a budget that dared to show the amount they needed to be effective.
Just as in the Okanagan-Skaha and Okanagan-Similkameen school districts, Cowichan has dealt with years of shrinking budgets. Okanagan-Skaha has been lucky enough to have done some very foresighted financial planning, which has helped to both smooth out the annual budget shortfalls, and keep budget cuts out of the classroom as much as possible. But even that is running out as school districts are pushed closer and closer to the line by shrinking enrolment and a government that annually claims to be increasing funding, blindly ignoring increasing costs.
We doubt anyone expected the Cowichan “restoration” budget to be approved. But democracy died a little when Minister of Education George Abbott refused to even meet with the board, and simply sacked these elected officials rather than begin to address the very real issue of the need for more education funding.