A power struggle at the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) threatens to inflame the urban-rural divide in the region.
On March 22, the public school board will consider shifting its balance of power by stripping Middlesex County of its ‘Low Population Area’ status and shifting one of the county’s seats to the City of London.
“Six-six equitable distribution is extremely important,” argues Kelly Elliott, deputy mayor of Thames Centre. “What’s going to happen is the rural vote is automatically two votes behind (7-5).”
Currently, the board consists of 13 elected trustees representing:
- One seat for First Nations
- Six rural seats (two each from Elgin County, Middlesex County, and Oxford County)
- Six urban seats (from the City of London)
Now a provincial cabinet minister whose riding overlaps part of the TVDSB’s territory is adding his voice.
“As the local MPP for a rural riding, this is totally unnecessary,” Labor Minister and MPP for Lambton-Kent-Middlesex Monte McNaughton tells CTV News. “For 25 years the make-up of the board has been what it is.”
Trustee distribution by geographic area for the 2022 election. (Source: Thames Valley District School Board)
Trustee distribution if Middlesex County remains designated low population. (Source: Thames Valley District School Board)
On Friday, McNaughton sent a letter to Trustees expressing his opposition.
“I’m certainly going to ensure that the voices of my riding are heard with the provincial government,” he adds.
Despite the current provincial moratorium on rural school closures, Elliott warns shifting the balance of power on the school board would influence where budget dollars are spent long into the future.
“We saw many schools close in our rural communities,” she argues. “It (also) comes down to programming, capital spending, renovations.”
A decision about maintaining or changing the distribution of trustee seats must be made by March 31 of each election year — leaving rural parents and communities little time to express their opinions.
Marcus Ryan, mayor of Zorra Township, tweeted his frustration that delegations will not be permitted at the TVDSB meeting on March 22 to discuss a pair of rural education issues including trustee distribution.
“It (delegation request) was turned down for that date. I got a delegation for April 26, after the board has decided both issues,” he says.
Some urban trustees are expected to argue London’s large electoral population within the board justifies a shift to seven seats based on the principle of ‘Representation by Population.’
McNaughton wants to remind trustees that rural communities are also experiencing unprecedented growth.
“We’re going to see tens of thousands of more people move out to Middlesex County, to Elgin, to Oxford, so it’s wrong for the Board to be considering this,” he says.