Tag Archives: Ken Shipka

edmonton election 2010: battle over the public school board reveals a nervous old guard.

A heated battle has been brewing over Edmonton’s Public School Board.  Although it was re-ignited by communities angry that their Public School Board Trustees were not responsive to their concerns about the closure of neighborhood schools earlier this year, this battle is not new. In many ways, it is a conflict between the “old guard” and a newly involved group of community members who believe that the school board should be more than a bureaucracy of education administrators. Experience is good, but for too long the board has been dominated by retired administrators and civil servants who refuse to see themselves act as leaders in our City.

Two elections ago, this battle raged between the old guard made up of long-time incumbent Trustees and members of the now-defunct provincial parent advocacy group APPEAL (Albertans Promoting Public Education and Learning). In that election, APPEAL did not run a slate of candidates, but many of their members decided to step up from years as education advocates to stand as Trustee candidates in their communities.

The day before election day in 2004, the Edmonton Journal published an op-ed from Leif Stolee, longtime educator and administrator of Edmonton public schools, who effectively claimed that unless you are an educator, former administrator or have served on the public school board for at least three or four terms, you are not competent to serve as a trustee. It is likely that this op-ed side-swiped many of the new challengers and helped boost many of the old guard incumbents over the top in closely contested races for Edmonton Public School Board.

Fast forward to 2010 and the same dynamic is in play as the old guard and their supporters are still trying to hang on to their positions. Are they running scared this time?

In Ward G, incumbent Trustee George Rice has refused to debate challenger Sarah Hoffman, who has been running an aggressive campaign against him. In Ward B, I am told that Trustee Ken Shipka has also refused to debate his opponents. Mr. Shipka has been an invisible Trustee after he was forced to apologize after calling aboriginal people “nocturnal” in 2008.

One of the more heated battles is in Ward F, which has drawn three candidates to replace five-term Trustee Don Fleming. This week, candidate Bev Sawyer chastized the media for focusing on the rift between the School Board and the larger community. In addition. Mrs. Sawyer (a retired Principal and administrator) used her best online Principal voice to scold fellow candidate Michael Janz for… being too young?

Mrs. Sawyer appears to have taken an issue with comments that Mr. Janz made during interviews with CBC last week:

“The reason we’re seeing more younger candidates, fewer of the retired administrators, and more community advocates is because there is this growing realization that decisions made at the school board level will effect all Edmontonians” – Michael Janz.

Mrs. Sawyer apologized after being caught having not done her homework when she posted the bizarre attack on her website accusing Mr. Janz of having attended a private school. In reality, Mr. Janz attended public schools from Kindergarten to Grade 12.

As the old guard and their supporters desperately try to keep their hold on Edmonton’s Public School Board, they are missing a larger point. Legislation expected to be introduced by Education Minister Dave Hancock in the Spring Session of the Alberta Legislature may further curtail the administrative powers of School Boards, potentially even replacing them with partially-appointed Boards.

When the time comes when School Boards are challenged to stand up and prove their relevance, who will be best fit to do this – an old guard who have allowed the role of Trustees to wither into glorified administrators or a new group of people who understand why School Trustees need to be relevant and responsible to the whole community?

edmonton public school closures.

Parents and students protest the closures of inner city schools.

Last night, I attended the Edmonton Public School Board meeting where Trustees voted to close five Edmonton schools (Parkdale, McCauley, Eastwood, Capilano, and Fulton Place schools will close at the end of June 2010).

Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald speaks at the demonstration before the meeting.

The meeting was preceded with a demonstration where over 200 parents and students rallied against the closures and welcomed community leaders, including MLAs Hugh MacDonald and Brian Mason, to speak to the crowd. After the demonstration, the crowd poured into the meeting hall (and thanks to the Edmonton Journal the meeting was live-streamed online so that people across the City could watch).

As the meeting began, it was clear that it would be a very tense evening. At one point during the meeting, as Trustee Sue Huff called out fellow Trustee Ken Shipka for not speaking to the motion to close one of the schools (Mr. Shipka would only say that he was voting for the closure), Board Chair Don Fleming snapped at Huff “RELAX!” It was an out of line comment from Trustee Fleming and only increased the thick intensity in the room.

Trustee Sue Huff defended the importance of schools in inner city communities.

I shared some thoughts on the inner city school closures a couple of weeks ago and I continue to believe that many of the challenges facing inner city schools have been caused by the lack of smart urban planning in Edmonton. As Edmonton continues to sprawl and spawn new neighborhoods in each direction, it has become increasingly difficult for the school board to plan the future of its schools. This is an issue of urban planning and coordination between City Councillors and School Board Trustees that needs to be addressed. Both Councillors and Trustees are doing Edmontonians a disservice when they do not work together.

Trustees George Rice, Gerry Gibeault, and Ken Shipka listen to citizens speak against the school closures.

I also feel that the Public School Trustees could be more creative with how they use the space available in these undercapacity schools. Could renting out unused space to non-profit, community, or public health groups help cover the costs of keeping these schools operating at such low capacities? Maybe this would not save every school from closure, but it might allow consolidation of two into one. I got the district feeling at last night’s meeting that most Trustees may had not considered these kind of ideas. It is my observation that there are only three Trustees who have been willing to look out of the box since the last election (Trustees Huff, Dave Colburn, and Catherine Ripley have caught my attention).

Over 200 concerned parents and students packed the School Board meeting.

Last night the meeting room was packed with over 200 engaged and irritated citizens. Hopefully they will continue to stay engaged and challenge incumbent Trustees who continue to think inside the box when it comes to options for under-capacity schools. A growing number of these citizens have helped form groups like ARTES and understand that the election is only six months away.

Check out Flickr for more photos.
Read the Tweets from last night’s meeting at #EPSB