Around 1.4 million New Zealanders have children at school between the ages of 5 and 17, while about 18,000 people will be standing for election to the more than 2400 boards in May this year. This makes it one of the largest democratic elections held in the country.
The president of the New Zealand School Trustees Association (NZSTA), Lorraine Kerr, says although there is anxiety among some trustees in the wake of the review undertaken by an independent taskforce into Tomorrow's Schools, boards of trustees aren't going away – at least for the next few years.
"A lot of people are not certain about what is going to happen, but our view is it is business as usual," Kerr says. "We have board elections coming up (voting day is June 7) and we need parents to stand and vote so we can continue to maintain the ability for every school in the country to function to a high standard."
"In some ways, the Taskforce report makes it even more important that people in the community step forward now and show that they are committed to boards of trustees continuing to govern their local school on behalf of the local community.
"School trustee elections are a big deal and we estimate that since 1989 more than 100,000 parents and community members including judges, lawyers, engineers, teachers, tradespeople, parents, other professionals and community leaders, have contributed their time, energy and expertise to ensure the success of schools, classrooms and students.
"We'd like to inspire people to take part and encourage them to support their school and community," Kerr says.
"Any change [as a result of a Taskforce report] won't happen for at least three years," she says, "Even after that, we think boards of trustees will still have a vital role to play."
That means it is important people continue to feel confident about the future of their school board - which is accountable to the community as well as to the government for a school's performance, its vision and to ensure it complies with legal and policy requirements - and to feel motivated to take part in the elections.
Kerr says being a trustee is an extremely important job. It requires people with all kinds of skills - financial and strategic thinking among them – but especially integrity and a passion for education.
"A lot choose to stand for a board because their children are at school, but once you are on the board it is no longer just about your child, it's about making the right decisions for every child."
Kerr believes school boards have been the most cost-effective part of the education system for the past 30 years and in that time NZSTA has upskilled many trustees in areas like curriculum, financial issues, policy and health and safety matters.
"Our job has been to ensure boards have this kind of knowledge, but without it sounding too scary."
A focus on diversity - a factor unique to every community - is also of importance in the make-up of boards. Anyone can stand for a board - although they have to be nominated by a parent from the school – and to this end NZSTA is encouraging anyone with skills and experiences that might be useful on their board to put their names forward for election.
No one person will have all the skills and qualities needed, but together the board collectively should aim to have them all covered. It's about the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, Kerr says.
Trustees are elected by parents, staff and, in the case of schools with students above Year 9, the students. Boards usually include between three and seven parent trustees, the school principal, one staff trustee and a student trustee (in schools with students above Year 9).
Nominations are open from May 10–24 and voting will take place on June 7.
For more information, visit www.trustee-election.co.nz