Nanaimo school board trustee and chairman Steve Rae will not seek re-election. (News Bulletin file)

Nanaimo Ladysmith school board chairman not seeking re-election

Steve Rae said school closures were difficult, regrets ‘fingergate,’ proud of reconciliation efforts

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ board chairman will not have his name on the ballot for the 2018 local government election.

Steve Rae announced in a press release yesterday that he has decided against seeking another term as trustee, with increased responsibilities with his day job cited as one of the reasons. It wasn’t an easy decision, he said.

Rae told the News Bulletin the board had to make very difficult but important decisions the last four years and said the district is on a stronger path because of it. That included closures to Rutherford Elementary, Woodlands Secondary and Woodbank Primary schools, which had to be done in order to move the district forward, he said.

According to Rae, parents look out for what’s best for their kids, but the school district has to look out for what’s best for the district and the two don’t always align. The board made a decision based on the information available at that time, Rae said.

“Nobody took any pleasure in that … All of them were equally difficult decisions. You’re disrupting people’s lives and that’s tough, but you know what? It put us on financial stability,” said Rae. “As I noted in my letter, we put $4.3 million back into the school district this year. We’re finally getting a gym at Hammond Bay, they’re going to build out of that. We have our turf field, I mean there’s so much to celebrate. Eight focus schools, that’s huge.

“And [Canadian Union of Public Employees] are going to work with our students to learn how to build learning commons (portables) together. That’s really great stuff and we couldn’t have done any of that stuff if we didn’t make those difficult decisions early on in our term.”

Another decision that Rae and the school board made was to re-open Cedar Community Secondary, which was being converted into an elementary school.

“It’s funny, the three trustees from Cedar get beat up if you even mention the word Cedar, it’s like a swear word, but you know what? That community deserves to go to school in their own community as well and I believe it was the right thing to do and I stand by that, just like all the other decisions we made,” said Rae. “People forget, that we also closed a school in Cedar (Woodbank).”

When asked if he had any regrets, Rae pointed to an incident in December 2015 when he was photographed giving the middle finger.

“Obviously what happened, I refer to it as ‘fingergate,’ there is not a day that goes by that I [don’t] wish I could take that back,” said Rae. “I embarrassed my family, I embarrassed the school district, I embarrassed myself. It was a stupid move on my part and as soon as it happened, I wish I could’ve taken it back.”

In terms of work he is proud of, Rae pointed to re-establishing a working relationship with Snuneymuxw First Nation.

“We went from being sued by the SFN to working together with them in a school in Cedar (Woodbank) and building our relationship even stronger,” said Rae. “I’m really, really proud of that.”

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