School trustee role requires ‘a passion for education,’ Winnipeg educators say

When you head to the polls on Oct. 26, you’re not only voting for your city’s next mayor and a councillor representing your area. Also on the ballot are candidates for the least-understood position — that of school trustee.

According to John Wiens, Dean Emeritus at the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Education, the powers of a trustee are vast, but sometimes get taken for granted.

Wiens told 680 CJOB’s The Start that your local trustee is your school’s connection with the provincial government.

“The province is not nearly as accessible as your local trustee, and it’s one of these things where you don’t know what you’ve lost ’til it’s gone,” he said.

“They have to plan, approve curriculums, approve programs, pay for things like lunches, provide materials for students, on the political level.”

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Wiens said trustees are effectively the ones responsible for children during their hours spent at school.

“We might think that’s largely the responsibility of teachers — and in one sense it is — but the legal responsibility also falls directly on trustees.”

Read more: Winnipeg School Division vacates trustee’s seat until next election

St. James-Assiniboia School Division trustee Craig Johnson, who was first elected in 2010, told Global News that while trustees are collectively responsible for the governance and operation of schools within a division, they don’t have individual authority.

“The primary job of a trustee, in my opinion, is to provide service for members of the community — be they parents, be they ratepayers, be they concerned citizens in the division,” Johnson said, “to be able to facilitate getting them the information they need… not to solve their problems, but to help put them in touch with the people who possibly can.”

Johnson said the role takes a considerable amount of time and effort — far more than just attending regular school board meetings — and that the nature of the job means trustees need to be team players.

“This is not a position where you’re going to be elected as a solo decision maker.

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“Any elected trustee is not going to be able to walk in by themselves and tell everybody what to do. They have to get the majority of the good women and men who are also elected with them to support them in their ideas. Otherwise, they’re not going to be able to get anything done.”

Unlike the other candidates on the ballot — those running for mayor and council — the position of school trustee isn’t a full-time job, and those elected definitely aren’t in it for the money.

Johnson said if the hours were calculated, a trustee would make far less than minimum wage.

“A person could easily make way more money doing something else for the same amount of time,” he said.

“This is a passion. A passion for education in the K-12 system, a belief that making the public education system better is something that you can contribute to as a partner.”

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Winnipeg mayoral race: Oct 12

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