THE SCHOOL COMMITTEE MUDDLE.
If it be true, as stated, that the Education Board has again annulled the election for the Ashbarton Borough School Committee, then all we can say is that if Parliament doea not this session pass a Bill to amend that part of the Education Act which deals with the eleotion of School Committees it will most assuredly fail to discharge a highly needful duty. Let us recapitulate briefly the cicutnstances which have resulted already m two abortive attempts on the part of the householders to elect a Committee for the current year. As required by law the Board of North Canterbury duly called meetings of householders throughout the Educational District for the purpose of receiving the annual reports of the outgoing Committees and electing new Committees to serve for the year now entered upon, these statutory meetings being appointed to be held as the Act prescribes on the fourth Monday m the month of April. Accordingly on the day and at the hour appointed a meeting of the householders of the Ashburton School^District duly took place, and after the presentation of the report of the outgoing Committee, nominations of candidates for eleotion to the new Committee were called for. In response seven nominations were duly made — and only seven— and the Chairman of the meeting, following the precedent followed m the case of all other elections, declared these seven (being the number required) to be duly elected. This appears to be only a common-sense method of procedure, but unfortunately it is not according to the requirements of the statute which specifically declares that a Committee shall be elected by ballot, without reference to the number of candidates for eleo» tion, and forthwith the validity of the election was challenged on the ground that do ballot had been taken. The objection was upheld by the Board, and another meeting of householders was appointed to be held for the purpose of proceeding de novo. At that meeting there were nearly twice as many candidates proposed for election as were required to be eleoted, and as a matter of course a ballot was duly taken, but once more the eleotion has been, it appears, declared void, though on a totally different ground. Major Steward, who was appointed by the meeting to preside over the proceedings referring to Section 4 of " The Education Act, 1877," stated the qualifications required to entitle to be elected or to vote at the election. He stated that while no person could be legally elected to serve on the Committee other than householders resident within the school district, the Section cited laid down two alternative qualifica tions, the one being the ownership; occupation, or use of premises situated within the school district, and the other that of parenthood, guardianship, or responsibility for maintenance of any child without regard to the place of residence, and upon that basis the voting took place, certainly one parent who resides beyond the bounds of the Ashburton Borough School District (if not more) recording his vote. One of the householders present, Mr Silcook, challenged the correctness of the Chairman's interpretation of the law, and contended that no person resident without the bounds of the school district could lawfully vote, and announced his determination to submit the matter to the decision of the Board by protesting against the election as irregular. Curiously enough Mr Silcock was himself returned at the head of the poll and was subsequently obosen chairman of the newly-elected committee, and therefore he very nroperly fulfilled his announced intention^ and duly protested against his own and fellow Committeemen's election. The Board has, it seems, upheld his protest, thus deciding that a parent who does not reside within the school district is not entitled to vote. How the Board has arrived at such a decision is, we confesß, a surprise to üb, as it certainly appears to be contrary to the express provision of the Act. Here is the clause the meaning of which is the subject of dispute : — " Eouteholder means every adult male or female person who, as owner or tenant, lessee or occupier, occupies uses or resides m any dwellinghouse, shop, warehouse or other building m any district, or every parent or guardian who is liable to maintain or has the actual custody of any child," Now the word or which we have italioised to our mind unquestionably outs off the words following from the words whioh preoede it, and if so, then the first part of the clause down to the word «or" states one qualification to exeroise the privileges of a householder, and the second part of the clause, viz., that, which follows the word " or" states another. If bo then the Board is wrong and the Chairman right As there have been two failures to elect a Committee, the Board am now if it choose to appoint a Commissioner or Commissioners to act instead of a School Committee, but j as those failures have not been due to the householders declining to meet together, but as on the contrary the householders have twice endeavored to elect a Committee, we imagine that the Board will probably call another meeting for the purpose of a fresh election. No doubt, if this be done, m view of the Boards deofsipn^ none but householders whose qualification arises from the ownership, occupation or use of premises situated within the sohool district will be allowed to vote, but if so, any parent or guardian who attends the meeting, and whose vote is refused, will have, wo think, good ground for making an application to have the eleotion [upset. It is true that Section 66 constitutes thp Education Board the judge of the validity ftt the proceedings at any election, but we cannot help thjnkirig that the JJoard is bound by the express provisions of the Apt. and it may perhaps be thought wort)) while to test I the question, pr nofi soph an appeal be made at all, or if made can be made successfully, there can be no doubt that the history of the proceedings | demonstrates m the clearest possible way the necessity which exists for a redefinition of the "householder" franchise, and it is sincerely to be hoped that the Legislature will no longer delay, but will his session so amend the la^f that the recurrence of such muddles will be rendered impossible.
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