ELECTION 2014: UPDATED – Only two incumbents return to school board

School District 68: Stephanie Higginson received the most votes in an election that sees seven new faces at the board table.

There will be a lot of change at the School District 68 board table, as only two trustees from the current board will be returning.

Preliminary results from the Nov. 15 election show that Stephanie Higgison had the most votes of the 23 candidates, with 9,545. She will be joined on the board by Scott Kimler with 8,490 votes, Jeff Solomon with 7,463 votes, Steve Rae with 7,270 votes, Natasha Bob with 7,243 votes, Tania Brzovic with 7,020 votes, Noah Routley with 6,752 votes, Jamie Brennan with 6,388 votes and Bill Robinson with 6,347. Only Brennan and Robinson sit on the current board.

Higginson, a former high school teacher with an MA in Education Studies who lives in Cedar, says she is shocked that she received so many votes, and she didn’t expect there to be such a sweep of the board. She feels optimistic about the new board.

“They’re such a really strong, diverse, passionate group of people,” she said. “I’m really excited to govern and see where the future will take us.”

Higginson says she’s excited to see so many new faces, and she also thinks it’s nice to see two trustees returning and bringing their knowledge and experience to the table.

Higginson put her name forward as a trustee candidate with Kimler and Rae after the three worked together to advocate for community consultation and tried to get answers about the district’s 10-year Facilities Plan as part of Save Cedar Schools for about two years. The three ran on a platform of meaningful stakeholder engagement, democratic reform and student-centred fiscal responsibility.

Looking ahead, Higginson feels one of the good things about the new four-year terms for elected officials is they don’t have to get in there and start making changes right away — it gives them a bit of time.

“I’m looking forward to catching my breath and seeing things from the other side,” she said. “I’m looking forward to being on the other side and getting answers, not just about facilities, but also about why and how decisions are made.”

One simple thing Higginson thinks the new board could do very quickly to move toward a more open and responsive board is change the format of the board meetings. Currently, she finds them very disrespectful to the people who take the time to come and watch the meeting, and she would like to change the physical structure so that trustees are looking at the people who came to the meetings, and she would also like to see that people in the audience have an opportunity to speak and ask questions before any vote.

Higginson is pleased to see that the new board will be more spread out in terms of geography.

“I think what we’ve seen in this election is we had a board where everyone was from Nanaimo proper, and there was a feeling out there that the south end was targeted in the facilities closures,” she said. “I think what’s really great is there are people from the tip of the district all the way to the bottom. I think that means no community is going to be left out — and I don’t just mean geographical community. Communities of stakeholders are not going to be left out. … I’m looking forward to a board that puts communities at the heart of decisions, and I think the south end will feel that.”

Kimler, who lives in Yellow Point, says the election results are a bit overwhelming, but he feels hopeful.

“I didn’t think we would do as well in votes as we did, but I think it sends a very strong message that the school board needs to make decisions that reflect the community,” he said. “I think we’ve got a great board, and I think people have done well in electing us, and I look forward to bringing about positive change.”

Kimler says he decided to run in the election so that he could have a voice.

“We have been working to save Cedar schools for a while now, and it doesn’t take very long to see your voice isn’t being heard,” he said. “I think that translates into low morale in the school district. The only reason I ran is I realized in order to have a voice with this board, the only way to do this is to have a seat on the board. I realized if I don’t step up, who is going to. I’m glad to see that message resonated.”

Kimler recognizes the new school board is coming in at a difficult time, after the province went through the BCTF strike and with provincial funding for education always being a concern.

“Times are tough,” he said. “I realize we’re going to have to make not-popular decisions, but for me, the first choice shouldn’t be to close schools like dominoes. I want to look at all the alternatives and engage stakeholders and get their input on what they think we should be doing. I understand the district admin are experts in education, and I’m certainly going to rely on them for data, but there’s a concern the superintendent holds too much sway. Trustees are supposed to make decisions that reflect community values. I think the election shows people feel the old board was not doing that, and I think a lot of that had to do with the governance model.”

Rae, a Cedar parent, says he is thrilled, humbled, excited and scared all at once.

“It’s an exciting time,” he said. “The people have spoken. There’s obviously a drastic change, and I’m thrilled to be part of it. We feel the south end hasn’t been heard for a long time, and now there’s no question it will be.”

Rae is happy that there are two returning trustees, and he feels Brennan and Robinson both bring a lot to the table.

“I think we’ve got a very dynamic board going forward, and as long as we’re open and honest and open to new ideas, the sky’s the limit,” he said.

For full results, visit the school district’s website.