Campbell takes board chair in troubling times

New New Westminster board of education chair Jonina Campbell -
New New Westminster board of education chair Jonina Campbell
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First-term trustee Jonina Campbell will serve as chair of a divided New Westminster board of education as it decides how to pay back a $5 million accumulated deficit in an election year.

Campbell had been serving as the board's vice chair but at Tuesday's board meeting she and Michael Ewen, who is in his fourth decade on the board, swapped positions.

"It's a good thing. I'm excited, it's a challenging time," said Campbell, a learning resources teacher who was the top vote getter in the 2011 municipal election. "Our board recognizes this is a challenging financial time, not just in New Westminster but provincially. We know there are increasing cost pressures that we know about and then there are the ones we didn't anticipate such as Hydro rate increases."

Campbell said in the past year as vice chair she's had to learn how to run meetings and deal with the province as well as provincial education issues.

"The learning curve upon being elected trustee is really steep," admitted Campbell.

She added the board must concentrate on fiscal stewardship while at the same time making sure education in New West isn't compromised.

"Those goals are so important that we are going to focus on that and not sandbox politics," said Campbell.

She was referring to the split between the labour-backed majority that includes her, Ewen, James Janzen and Dave Phelan, and trustees MaryAnn Mortensen, Casey Cook and Lisa Graham who ran under the Voice New Westminster banner.

Although Campbell won by acclamation that didn't mean her appointment was fully supported by the board.

"We recognize we don't have a majority, so there's really no point in staging a show thinking we can get the position. There's not a snowball's chance in Hades to get the chair position," said Mortensen, also a first-term trustee.

She did, however, nominate fellow Voice trustee Casey Cook to be vice chair but Ewen got the nod instead.

"That was a bit of a surprise that [Ewen] was interested in a vice chair role," said Mortensen. "I thought that was a very good opportunity for us to work collaboratively. I know Voice wants to work collaboratively with the majority on our board but it makes it very challenging when it's clear power is so important to the majority. We're in really, really difficult times right now, we have many challenges ahead of us. This year has been, wow, one of the worst for the kids, the staff and certainly us. But you have to move forward."

The board also decided not increase the trustee's annual stipend, which is $21,000, of which one third is tax free.

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