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Trustee hopeful vows to bring board ‘culture of resistance’

Ward 7′s Marlon Picken calls school closures ‘manufactured crisis’

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

Marlon Picken acknowledges he faces an uphill battle this fall to unseat Lillian Orban as Ward 7’s public school trustee – assuming she runs again.

The Hill Park Secondary School grad, who is an environmental aide at Juravinski Hospital, placed nearly 2,200 votes behind the 23-year veteran during his first run for the position four years ago, capturing just shy of 40 per cent of ballots cast.

He says that’s pretty much been the story for anyone who’s run against Orban, who told the Mountain News last week she is still considering whether to seek another term but expects to make a decision “sooner than later.”

Picken, 31, says he hopes to build on his previous outing by starting his campaign now, rather than waiting until the final four weeks like he did last time.

But he says he will also take a more oppositionist stand than his opponent on school closures – including Hill Park’s at the end of June – which he blames on a flawed provincial funding formula.

He attributes his different mindset to his activism on behalf of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, where he is a provincial vice-president and workplace steward, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer community.

“Not to sound radical, but I think there’s a vacuum at that board in terms of a voice that brings a culture of resistance,” says Picken, who chairs the city’s LGBTQ advisory committee.

 “Until Hill Park is demolished, in my mind it’s not the end of the story,” he said, vowing that his other differentiating approach will be to work with other trustees to build a consensus that closure is fundamentally the wrong decision, rather than get emotional.

“Crying isn’t going to solve this one.”

Picken says he brings the same skepticism to elementary closures, which he criticizes for taking a short-sighted view of enrolment that ignores that “populations ebb and flow.”

He says warehousing students in “super schools” has failed elsewhere and he prefers having smaller schools dotted throughout the community, including because it reduces busing.

“I don’t think that problems just come out of nowhere,” he says. “People make those problems, and so this crisis we have right now, it seems wholly manufactured, if you ask me, and actually quite deceitful.”

In other Mountain public school races in the Oct. 27 vote, long-time incumbent Wes Hicks was the lone candidate to have registered in Ward 8 as of Feb. 13.

In Ward 6, where incumbent Laura Peddle has said she won’t run again, one candidate,Stoney Creek resident Allan Miles, has registered.

At the Catholic board, the lone Mountain candidate to have registered as of Feb. 13 was Mount Hope resident Joseph Baiardo in Ward 6. He previously ran for Ward 11 councillor in the 2006 election, placing second to then-incumbent Dave Mitchell in a three-way race.

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