Seven new candidates hoping to be elected as trustees for the Limestone District School Board have organized together as a group, running on policies of transparency and openness, elements they say have been sorely lacking from the current board.
On Friday, minutes before the deadline passed to submit names for the municipal election, the group and several of their supporters gathered on the limestone steps of city hall. They held signs that read “#TRUSTee,” a hashtag they say symbolizes the group’s common goals.
“The biggest issue for us as a group is that of trust,” said Roberta Lamb, trustee candidate for Napanee and a retired professor, who taught music education at Queen’s University for nearly 30 years.
“Trust needs to come back into the school system. We don’t have that right now.”
WATCH: Limestone District School Board meetings under the microscope
According to Lamb, the group will also be standing together on three pillars: education first, accountability to the electorate and commitment to the community. Those are exciting concepts for Iain Munro, trustee candidate for Williamsville and Sydenham.
“I feel energized,” said Munro, who like many in the group, has a long history in education, teaching for 35 years at Queen’s University with the faculty of education.
“The general feeling in the last few years is that the board has become a rubber stamp,” said Munro.
Although many in the group emphasized they are running due to personal interest, they pinpointed several glaring issues they had with the current board, one of which included the regularity of private sessions at board meetings.
A specific private session — when late trustee David Jackson’s replacement was chosen — seemed to encapsulate the board’s alleged lack of transparency. It was a meeting Paul Smith, candidate for Loyalist-Cataraqui, Collins-Bayridge and Lakeside, specifically mentioned when asked why the group decided to organize.
Back in April, trustee Jackson suddenly died, and the board had to choose an interim trustee who would serve the rest of his term.
In the end, they chose former trustee Helen Chadwick during a private session, rather than allowing members of the public to apply.
Several parents who were interested in the position were upset by the choice, which they say was made without consulting constituents. It didn’t sit well with Smith either.
“The process that was undertaken did not meet transparency in the manner I understand it. What was supposed to happen in a public session didn’t happen in a public session, and I don’t think that was appropriate.”
Smith said he was already spurred to run before he met the group, but during a courtesy call made to his preferred district’s incumbent trustee Tom Mahoney, he learned that there were others who shared his concerns.
In fact, Mahoney also took a stand against the current board. During his time as trustee, the board laid three censures against him, and eventually barred him from attending any graduations and all board meetings until Nov. 30, the end of his term.
For Sabena Islam, one of the few concerned parents who came out on Friday to support the group, decisions like those need to be made in open session.
“I’m not sure everything they have behind closed doors need to be,” said Islam. “What do they have to hide?”
Several in the group also felt like the board was too quick to dismiss constituent voices when it came to school closures, including Robin Hutcheon who is running in the Stone Mills and Loyalist district. Hutcheon has also been chair of the Limestone District School Board’s parent involvement committee for the last four years, and chair of an organization called Rural Schools Matter, which was heavily involved in fighting against the closing of Yarker Family School in 2017.
She and Lamb, who is running in Napanee and was also part of Rural Schools Matter, felt in the case of Yarker Family School, the board did not listen to the community.
“It was clear that often decisions had already been made behind closed doors,” said Lamb.
Although the current chair of the Limestone District School Board Paula Murray said she can sympathize with some of the group’s concerns, she said she stands by all of the board’s decisions.
“I can’t wait for them to understand the maneuvering around the bureaucracy, because it’s complicated.”
Murray said she didn’t know that the group was organizing to run against the current board, but that she wasn’t surprised.
“I’m glad to see them running as trustees,” said Murray, who after 12 years on the board, will not be running again this year.
One thing several in the group tried to make clear, was that although they had similar concerns and goals, if they are elected, each candidate would stand on their own.
“This is a group that has come together for the purpose of running in the campaign. The intent is that once the election is over, those of us who are elected will serve as independent and stand-alone trustees,” said Smith.
Smith also added that the group came together by happenstance, and wasn’t formed in order to stand against anyone in particular.
“It’s not a case of running against something, it’s a case of running… for something.”
Group of trustee candidates
- Billy-Jo Hollywood – Countryside, Pittsburgh & Frontenac Islands
- Paul Smith – Loyalist-Cataraqui, Collins-Bayridge and Lakeside
- Iain Munro – Williamsville and Sydenham
- Tom Gingrich – Kingscourt-Rideau and King’s Town
- Roberta Lamb – Napanee
- Robin Hutcheon – Loyalist and Stone Mills
- Roger Curtis – South Frontenac