Partly due to the lack of communication among the Four Bands of the Maskwacis community and the Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) board of trustees, the trustees are leaning toward delaying their decision to accept an appointed First Nation board member until the next election.
It was late last year that Maskwacis contacted the Alberta Government requesting an appointed member to sit on the board. Since then, WCPS has yet to be contacted by anyone from Maskwacis on the matter. Superintendent Larry Jacobs only recently heard from the government.
He was told the board would be looking at an agreement that focuses on the role of the appointed member and term length. “They’re treated just like every other trustee,” Jacobs said.
However, with an appointed trustee, the division will not see additional provincial funding for the extra position.
Trustee Bob Huffs feels it is wisest for the board to wait until the next election at the end of term, possibly excluding a probationary period.
“This is not an easy fix, once you have it, it’s here,” said Huff.
He feels funding could be a challenge as another position could hold a $30,000 annual cost.
“It has to be done right, because if it’s not, the backlash is going to be tremendous,” said Huff. He told his fellow trustees he has already had people contacting him who are overtly opposed to the addition.
“Maybe it’s going to be at the expense of other kids in the division,” said Huff. “When a new trustee comes in, the chemistry of the board changes.”
Trustee Donna Peterson also agreed the best course of action would be to wait for an election. She feels the division is already moving in the right direction when it comes to supporting First Nation students with FNMI student success co-ordinator Shelia Hagemann and the Wisdom and Guidance Committee.
There are approximately 400 First Nation students in the division with the majority attending Ponoka Secondary Campus.
The school division in Wetaskiwin has had an appointed First Nations member for several years and Jacobs says there has been no hard improvements with students in that time. However, he says “soft indicators” such as enrollment has increased.
Huff is also concerned the action could set a precedent for other types of appointed trustees, such as towns with larger growing student populations wanting more representation on the board. “That’s where this becomes murky . . . and I say ‘hey, let’s be fair to all.’”
Board chair Trudy Bratland spoke directly about the band’s silence to WCPS. “That puts a whole new light on the situation I think.”
“We haven’t been directly contacted, so I think we’re doing our due diligence,” she added.
Trustee Pam Hansen feels when it comes time to make a decision, the board will be left out in the cold while the province dictates to them what will happen. “My honest opinion is, it’s not going to matter what we want or need,” she said.