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Boards seek to raise profile of trustees as election nears

Trustees debate eliminating over 400 EAs during a meeting of the Toronto District School Board in Toronto, April 11, 2012.

J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

Ontario school boards are trying to raise the profile of publicly elected trustees in the lead-up to municipal elections.

It can be hard for school trustee candidates to get much attention, especially in cities like Toronto, where a mayoral candidate like Rob Ford dominates the headlines. When voters go to the polls, as many as one in five skips the trustee vote after marking the choices for mayor and city councillor.

The result is that many school board trustees, the people who control $20-billion and the education of more than two million children, get the job without debate or contest, or are voted in by just a couple of hundred people.

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Prospective candidates are not lining up either. Many Ontario trustees have held their seats since the 1970s, and according to the Ministry of Education, more than a third of trustees (34 per cent) were acclaimed in the last election, meaning no one ran against them.

Acclamations are most common in Northern Ontario, but there have been some recently in the GTA, which has had a number of spending and trustee expense scandals.

The Ontario Public School Board Association is spearheading an effort to raise awareness about the role of trustees, and to encourage voters to learn about their local candidates.

For the first time, the OPSBA is working with the other school board associations (English Catholic, French public and French Catholic) to develop public service announcements that will air in television and radio spots across the province.

"We want to see a healthy vote, a healthy discussion around education," said Michael Barrett, president of the association.

The school boards are also circulating guides that explain the role of trustees and how to arrange all-candidates' meetings.

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