Ybia Anderson understands that voters don’t know who trustees are or what they do.
“I often ask, ‘Are you aware that it’s part of the municipal election on Oct. 27?’ And the overwhelming response is, ‘No,’” Anderson said. “On average only 35 per cent of eligible voters bother to vote for a trustee. … Whereas voter participation for the mayor and council are significantly higher.”
Anderson is running for election as a school board trustee for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) in Ward 10. She realizes that low voter turnout may well be attributable to the limited visibility of the board.
“People feel that they can’t engage with the school board … not because people don’t care,” she said. “I think it’s more the current board’s lack of outreach.”
Nelson Wiseman, director of the Canadian Studies program at the University of Toronto, blamed media coverage for the board’s near-invisibility.
“When you look in the (newspaper), you see a lot of stories about the mayor, a lot of stories about the council,” Wiseman said. “You see councillors’ names mentioned. … How often does a school trustee’s name show up?”
Anderson said constituents don’t vote for trustees because they don’t understand what trustees do. They’ve also experienced bad press, according to Anderson.
“I was seeing a lot of negative press about trustees and their behaviour,” she said.
Wiseman claimed the problem is a general public ignorance of trustees and their work.
“I’m a political scientist, and with one exception I have no idea who is running for the school board,” he said. “And … the only reason I know is because … a local councillor … was endorsing him.”
This kind of obscurity, according the Wiseman, can make things worse.
“People when they don’t know anybody else recognize one name,” Wiseman said. “And they think, ‘OK, the world hasn’t burned down, so I’ll vote for the same guy…’ That’s why there is a high rate of incumbency.”
Karen Ridley, campaign manager for TDSB trustee candidate Robin Pilkey, believes that campaigning for a trustee is worth the time and energy.
“I think that the school board is a really important election,” Ridley said, “because they have continuing education programs, night school programs, ESL programs, so it is for the whole community.”
Anderson recognizes the need for qualified trustees and will campaign right up to Oct. 27.
“As a concerned community member,” she said. “I want to do my part to make a change.”