Chapter 2: School Board Trustee - At a Glance

There are three kinds of trustees:

  1. Trustees elected through the Municipal Elections Act, 1996
  2. First Nation Trustees appointed to the board by their First Nation
  3. Student Trustees elected by the student body of the board

Where trustees are elected, the process is governed by the Education Act and the Municipal Elections Act, 1996.

Trustees Elected through Municipal Elections

School board trustees are elected every four years during municipal and school board elections. Voters must choose which of the four school board systems they will support, subject to certain restrictions. This means that each voter can elect a trustee to only one of the four school board systems in a jurisdiction: English public, English Catholic, French public, or French Catholic. Voters who own residential property in more than one school board district may vote in each of the school board districts in which property is held.

First Nation Trustees

A school board may enter into an agreement with one or more First Nations to provide education services to First Nation students. Such agreements are called tuition or education services agreements. When students from First Nation communities attend schools operated by a school board under a tuition or education services agreement, the board may be required to appoint a First Nation trustee(s) to the board to represent the interests of those students. The number of First Nation trustees depends on the number of First Nation students attending under tuition or education services agreements. First Nation trustees are selected by the First Nations and are full members of the board with all the rights and obligations of other board members. For details, see Chapter 5, First Nation, Métis and Inuit Education.

Student Trustees

District school boards are required to organize an election each year of one to three student trustees. They are elected by students of the board or by a student representative body. To act as a student trustee, a student must be a full-time pupil in the senior division. This requirement does not apply to a student who may not be able to attend full-time because of an exceptionality. The one-year term of office of student trustees runs from August 1 of the year they are elected to July 31 of the following year.

Student trustees are not board members, do not have a binding vote on the board, and are not entitled to move a motion although they can suggest a motion at the board, or at a committee of which they are a member, that may then be moved by a member of the board. If no board member moves the suggested motion, the record will show the suggested motion. Student trustees do, however, have a number of other rights, including the right to require a non-binding recorded vote, the same opportunities for participation at meetings of the board and of its committees as any other member, and the same access to board resources and trustee training opportunities as board members have. Student trustees are also permitted to participate in in camera board meetings, with the exception of those dealing with matters relating to intimate, personal or financial information about a member of the board or of a committee of the board, an employee (or prospective employee)of the board, a student, or a student’s parent or guardian. [s. 55(5)]

Trustee Honoraria

District school boards are required to establish a policy for the payment of trustee honoraria. The amount varies from board to board in accordance with the limits set out in Ontario Regulation 357/06 (Honoraria for Board Members). The outgoing school board has the authority and responsibility to determine the level of remuneration for the new, incoming board. The new honorarium must be determined by the board by October 15 in the year of the municipal and school board elections. The honorarium is made up of: an annual base amount; an annual student enrolment amount based on the board’s average daily enrolment; an amount payable to the trustee for attendance at eligible meetings; and, a distance amount in the case of boards covering a certain geographical area. First Nation trustees appointed to a school board receive the same honorarium as other members of the board. The chair and the vice-chair of a board are entitled to additional amounts for the responsibility of their office. An honorarium is not intended to be a salary. The honorarium amount across Ontario ranges from $6,000 to $26,000. School authority trustees are paid an honorarium at the same rate as was paid on December 1,1996 [Regulation 357/06].

The Education Act also enables school boards to establish a policy that provides for reimbursement of travel and other expenses incurred in fulfilling the role of trustee [s. 191.2] Guidance is also provided by the Trustee Expenditure Guideline. See: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/memos/july2009/Guideline_2009B08.pdf.

Trustees do not have access to board benefit plans that are provided to school board staff, such as group life insurance; general accident insurance; and sickness, hospital/medical, dental, and extended health insurance. The board may provide accident and third-party liability insurance for trustees, but a trustee would only be covered while he or she is on board business.

Student trustees are entitled to an honorarium, currently $2,500, which is pro-rated if the student trustee serves less than one year [s. 55(8)]. The board has to reimburse student trustees for out-of-pocket expenses. The board must also implement a policy providing for matters relating to student trustees and the payment of honoraria.

School Board Size – How the Number of Trustees is Decided

The provisions governing the number of elected trustees on district school boards and their distribution over a board’s territory are found in section 58.1 of the Education Act, and in Ontario Regulation 412/00 (Elections to and Representation on District School Boards).

The Act sets the number of elected trustee positions on a district school board at the number that was determined by the board for the 2006 school board regular election, with the following exceptions:

  • For a school board whose number of elected trustees was increased by order of the Minister following the isolate board mergers which took place in 2009, the total number of elected trustees includes the additional position(s) ordered by the Minister.
  • A board may, by resolution, reduce its number of elected trustees to no fewer than five.
  • A board that has experienced a demographic or geographic change may use the formula in Ontario Regulation 412/00 to recalculate its number of elected trustees. [s. 58.1 (10.0.1)]; however the total number of elected trustees on a school board cannot exceed 22.

Before each regular election, district school boards must allocate their elected trustee positions over their area of jurisdiction. They do so by combining municipalities and wards in their area of jurisdiction into a number of geographic areas and allocating their trustee positions to these areas. The steps are set out in O. Reg. 412/00 and the process is called trustee distribution.

In boards where there is more than one municipality, the board must pass a resolution that either:

  • designates one or more municipalities as low population municipalities and directs that an alternative distribution of members be done, or
  • states that the board has decided not to designate any municipality as a low population municipality.

Designation of low population municipalities allows boards to provide greater representation to rural or other areas within the board’s jurisdiction than would otherwise be afforded by a strict representation-by-population calculation.

The “determination and distribution” process described above must be completed by boards by March 31 in a regular election year. By April 3, boards must provide a report to the Minister of Education, to the election clerks for all municipalities within the board’s jurisdiction, and to the secretary of every other school board which is wholly or partially within the board’s area of jurisdiction.

More information on the trustee determination and distribution process, including the detailed reporting requirements can be found in the Trustee Determination and Distribution Guide for Ontario District School Boards at http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/trustee-elections/.

Becoming a School Board Trustee

Qualifications to Run for the Position of School Board Trustee

Trustee candidates need not have a background in education.

A candidate for a school board must, upon nomination, be a qualified municipal elector and fulfil all of the following requirements:

  • a resident within the jurisdiction of the board;
  • a supporter of the board*;
  • a Canadian citizen;
  • at least 18 years old;
  • Roman Catholic (if running for a separate school board);
  • French language rights** (if running for French language school board)
  • not legally prohibited from voting; and
  • not disqualified by any legislation from holding school board office.

* “Supporter” refers to the individual’s support for one of the four publicly funded school systems.

** “French-language rights holder” is set out in section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and refers to the right of citizens whose first language is French to receive educational instruction in French.

A candidate who is qualified and a resident in the jurisdiction of the school board can seek nomination for any geographic area within the jurisdiction of the board.

If nominated, a candidate must remain qualified throughout the election and, if elected, throughout the term of office. School board candidates should confirm that they have the qualifications described in section 219 of the Education Act. It is the responsibility of the candidate to determine whether he or she is qualified to be elected to and hold office.

A candidate for school board office cannot be a clerk, deputy clerk, treasurer or deputy treasurer of a municipality within the jurisdiction of a board.

The following persons are disqualified from being elected to school board office:

  • any person not eligible to vote in the municipality;
  • an employee of a school board unless he or she
    • takes an unpaid leave of absence before being nominated, and
    • resigns, if elected to the office;
  • a judge of any court;
  • a member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario (MPP), a Senator or a member of the House of Commons (MP); or
  • an inmate of a penal or correctional institution under sentence of imprisonment.

An employee of a school board who wishes to run for office on any school board must take an unpaid leave of absence prior to being nominated. If elected, the employee must resign. A person may not be employed by one school board and hold office on a different school board.

(Detailed guides for trustee candidates and prospective candidates – Making a Difference for Kids : Running for Election as a School Board Trustee, are available online from the four school boards' associations (http://www.acepo.org; http://www.afocsc.org; http://www.ocsta.on.ca and http://www.opsba.org )

Term of Office

The term of office for newly elected members begins on December 1, 2014 and ends on November 30, 2018. Boards are required to hold their first meeting within seven days of the new term commencing. However, this can be later if a majority of members are unable to participate. It is at this first meeting that a chair is elected and possibly a vice-chair and committee members.

The members of a board remain in office until their successors are elected and the new board is organized. [s. 220 (1)]

Requirement to Attend Meetings

Trustees are expected to attend all board meetings and all meetings of board committees of which they are members, either physically or through electronic means. A member of a board who participates in a meeting through electronic means in compliance with Ontario Regulation 463/97 is considered to be present at the meeting. Members are to be provided with electronic means for participating in meetings. If a trustee expects to be absent from a regular board meeting, that trustee can have the absence authorized by a board resolution entered in the minutes. Note that a trustee will lose his or her seat for being absent without authorization for three consecutive meetings [s. 228(1)(b)]. In addition, a trustee must physically attend at least three board meetings in the calendar year beginning December 1 and ending November 30.

Ontario Regulation 463/97 requires every school board to develop and implement a policy for using electronic means to hold meetings of the board and meetings of committees of the board, including a committee of the whole board. (See Note 3) However, at every meeting of the board or a committee of the whole board, all of the following people must be physically present in the room:

  • the chair of the board or a designate
  • at least one additional member of the board
  • the director of education or his or her designate

For other committee meetings, the following people must be physically present:

  • the chair of the committee or a designate
  • the director of education or a designate

After the Election

This section of the chapter addresses questions that may arise after the votes have been tallied on election day or once the term of office has begun.

Tied Votes and Recounts

If two or more candidates get the same number of votes, and they can’t all be elected, there is an automatic recount. The recount must be held within 15 days of the clerk declaring the results of the election. If you are one of the candidates in the tie, you are entitled to be at the recount.

A recount may also be held in either of the following circumstances:

  • the board passes a resolution requiring a recount, or
  • an elector who is entitled to vote has reasonable grounds for doubting the election results. In this case, the elector must apply to the court for a recount within 30 days after the election results are declared.

If a recount results in another tie, the municipal clerk chooses the successful candidate by lot. This means putting the names of the tied candidates into a hat (or other suitable container) and drawing the name of the winner.

Vacating a Seat

A trustee does not have to resign in order to run as a candidate for another office, as long as he or she continues to meet attendance requirements for board meetings. If a trustee chooses to resign in order to become a candidate for another office, he or she may simply file a statement to that effect with the secretary of the board. In this situation, the resignation becomes effective on November 30 or the day before the other office commences, whichever is earlier [s. 220(4)]. If the trustee is unsuccessful in their bid for the other office, he or she cannot resume the seat on the school board without being re-elected or, in some cases, appointed.

Under the Education Act [s. 228(1)], a trustee’s seat is automatically vacated if the trustee:

  • is convicted of an indictable offence;
  • is absent – either in person or electronically – from three consecutive regular board meetings (unless the absence was authorized by a resolution entered into the minutes);
  • ceases to hold the qualifications required to be a trustee;
  • becomes disqualified to act as a trustee; or
  • fails to be physically present in the meeting room of the board for at least three regular board meetings in each twelve-month period beginning on December 1.

Any one of these conditions will require the trustee to vacate their seat.

A school board continues to exist even if, for whatever reason, there are no longer any trustees on the board.

Filling Vacancies

All vacancies on the board must be filled, unless the vacancy occurs within one month of the next municipal election [s. 224(a)]. A vacancy that occurs after the election but before the new board is organized shall be filled after the new board is organized [s. 224(b)].

A school board has 90 days to decide whether to fill the vacancy by appointment or by holding a by-election.

Appointment: If a majority of the trustees remain in office, the remaining trustees can appoint a qualified person within 90 days of the position becoming vacant.

If a board decides to fill a vacancy by appointment, they must appoint a person who is eligible to serve on the board and who is willing to accept the appointment.

The legislation does not set out any other criteria. It is up to the board to determine how they will decide who to appoint. Different approaches include:

  • appointing the candidate who came second in the general election;
  • inviting interested persons to apply for the position; and
  • offering the appointment to a member of the community.

By-election: The board can, by resolution, require that a vacancy be filled in a by-election held in accordance with the Municipal Elections Act, 1996, if the vacancy occurs:

  • in a year where there is no election under the Municipal Elections Act, 1996;
  • prior to April in a year where there is an election under the Municipal Elections Act, 1996; or
  • after the school board election, in a year where there is an election under the Municipal Elections Act, 1996.

If a majority of the trustees does not remain in office following a vacancy, a by-election must be held.

Once the school board has decidedto hold a by-election, the municipal clerk is in charge of conducting the by-election. The board does not decide when nomination day or voting day will be. These dates are determined by the clerk.

Nominations open when the school board has passed a resolution ordering the by-election and sent it to the clerk who will conduct the by-election. Nominations close at 2 p.m. on nomination day.

The clerk must set the nomination day within 60 days after the by-election is ordered by council, the board or the court. Voting day takes place 45 days after nomination day.

In a by-election for a trustee position, the following persons cannot run unless their present term of office is due to end less than two months after the nominations close, or unless they resign from their present office before the nominations close:

  • a trustee of another district school board or school authority
  • a member of the council of a county or municipality included in the board’s area
  • an elected member of a local board of a county or municipality included in the district school board’s area.

Subsection 7 (2) of the Municipal Elections Act (MEA) states that municipalities bear the costs of a regular election, but local boards bear the costs of by-elections under the MEA. The Ministry of Education provides funding to school boards in cases where they are legally required to hold a by-election.