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Glen Gantefoer, trustee: 'The best years of my life'

While Glen Gantefoer may be looking toward retiring from his day job, that's not the case with his involvement with Light of Christ Catholic Schools as a member of the board of education.
Glen Gantefoer

While Glen Gantefoer may be looking toward retiring from his day job, that's not the case with his involvement with Light of Christ Catholic Schools as a member of the board of education.

He currently serves as chair of the seven-member board and has a total of 21 years service as a trustee. He recently received a lifetime achievement award from the Saskatchewan School Boards Association. He was one of three new life members of the SSBA announced during the annual general assembly earlier this month. All three of the individuals have served students and communities in Saskatchewan for many years through their efforts as trustees, including service on the provincial executive of the SSBA. Gantefoer served in the executive for five consecutive years, from 2010 to 2014, and two years previous, 1998 and 1999. He was the representative of the province's Catholic school boards.

In accepting his award, Gantefoer told the SSBA his years as a trustee have been the best years of his life.

"I am truly grateful for having been given the opportunity to serve my community in this manner," he said.

Serving his community takes up a good chunk of Gantefoer's time.

He also sits on the Catholic Family Services Board, and as a school trustee with the separate system he sits on the executive of the eight-board member Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association.

"It's my sitting on that executive that ended up with me sitting on the SSBA, because I represented those eight catholic boards at the SSBA executive," he says. "You have to be an elected trustee that gets on the Catholic section board, that gets on the SSBA board. To do all that, you’re talking … just to be on the SSBA … a 30 day-a-year commitment."

The CSBA is about a five- or six-day-a-year commitment, he adds, and sitting on Light of Christ school board means a meeting every other week and everything else that goes with being a trustee.

Gantefoer, human resources manager for Discovery Co-op, was born and raised in North Battleford. His interest in education stems from growing up as the son of a Catholic school board trustee, Arnold Gantefoer.

"My dad was on the separate school board for 31 years and of those 31 he was chairman for 25," says Gantefoer. "All the time I was going to school I saw him doing that."

He went to school through the separate system, attending Notre Dame for Grades 1 though 8 and taking high school at the old St. Thomas College, now the Don Ross Centre. From there, he went to university, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree.

"I wanted to get into law school, but that wasn’t in the cards, so then I went away to Europe for six months for look-see, then came back and settled into North Battleford in January of 1976. He's been with the Co-op since December 1997.

"It will be 18 years next month."

Before that, he worked in human resources at the now closed Maple Leaf bacon plant.

"I did that for 10 years," he says. "Prior to that I worked for Glen Hornick, who was the owner of Cash and Carry Lumber. I was his warehouse guy."

Before that, he worked as a sales co-ordinator at Pyramid Homes, a company building mobile homes in the facility that is now the Home Hardware site.

It was in 1985 that he first pursued his interest in becoming a school board trustee. His father was thinking of stepping down. He let his name stand, but didn't get elected. He ran again, successfully in 1988, and that's when his dad stepped off. So the family tradition continues.

Gantefoer served for the next 12 years. He wasn't re-elected in 2000, but ran again six years later.

"In 2006, I let my name stand again and I'm still there."

Times have changed since his first term as trustee.

"When I first got elected in 1988, there were 112 school boards in the province."

Over the years 2004 and 2005, the provincial government imposed mandatory amalgamation of smaller school boards, bringing the total down to the 28 boards existing today.

"By forcing that amalgamation, that changed trustees 'right now,'" says Gantefoer, "because school boards all of a sudden had to manage many, many more schools and more students in their school district because their school district became much larger over night."

The Catholic school board in North Battleford had already amalgamated with Unity and Wilkie in 1997.

"We did that voluntarily because we could see that the government was saying, 'Hey, do this voluntarily or we may have to force it,'" he said. "We had talks with Wilkie and Unity they saw that was a smart idea so we amalgamated in 1997."

The provincially mandated amalgamation saw Spiritwood added to the division.

Although the Catholic school in Wilkie has had to close, there are 2,000 students in the Light of Christ Catholic School Division.

Another historic change for trustees has been the game-changing new funding model, under which school boards no longer have the ability to collect taxes locally.

"Prior to the way they do it now, we could get funding from the provincial government based on our needs for capital money to build schools, we also got funding based on our needs to maintain the facilities and, of course, there was funding to pay the salaries for teachers and all the other stuff that goes along with that," says Gantefoer. "If there was ever, in our opinion, a shortfall in terms of programming we wanted to offer, well, we had the option of increasing our mill rate to generate some more money."

He adds, "But now, with the government saying we can’t do that, then we are sitting there with our hands out to the government. We lay out a budget for them showing them this is the budget we need for capital, for programming, for salaries. They will approve our budget, but then based upon how things are going with their budget they may or may not give us all the funding we require."

That's where some school divisions are faced with major difficulties, but Gantefoer says Light of Christ has fared better than some.

"This new funding model they’ve come up with that is supposed to address all these things, it works well for some divisions and not for others. We have found that small school divisions like ours, the funding usually comes in pretty close to what we need and we don't have huge issues."

But there are other larger school divisions in the province that are facing funding deficits of $4 and $6 million.

"I’ve spoken to some of those trustees when I go to conventions," he says. "They are struggling."

They've had to make all sorts of difficult decisions with millions less to work with.

"We’ve had to make some difficult decisions in our budget, but we might have to deal with a shortfall of only $150,000 or $300,000."

Still, he adds, "That’s a lot in our division."

He says, "We haven’t had to cut staff. There’s the normal attrition, people leave and you have the option of not replacing them perhaps, that’s how you may be able to deal with staffing issues, but we haven’t been faced with too many decisions like that, I’m thinking, because we are a small division."

He describes Light of Christ Catholic Schools as being right there on the edge.

"We’ve never had tons of money we’ve had to put into reserve, we’ve never had a huge lack of funds, we’ve always just been getting by the knick of our teeth, which is really how it’s supposed to be," says Gantefoer.

“Getting by” doesn't bother him.

"Governments shouldn't be funding other layers of government so that they can make huge profits," he point out. "It should be money in, money spent and out, budgets balanced. We have been lucky that way. We’ve been receiving the funding we need and spending it. Yes, it would be awesome if we could have another half million dollars on top of what we’re getting each year, but we’re managing."

On the capital side, they are managing as well.

"Right now, it’s mainly maintenance, roof repairs, that kind of thing. Right now we don’t need a new school, for example, but that could be a need of ours within the next five years, but it would probably also be a need for Living Sky in about five years."

The common need could result in a common capital project.

"Two or three years ago we actually began talking about that," he says. "There are discussions around the possibility of a joint use facility if and when we need it and it will probably coincide around the same time."

He notes the provincial government has recently said yes to nine joint use facilities that they hope to have open by 2017.

"Hopefully they’ve got some money left over for when we need it in maybe five or six or ten years from now, but I’m thinking joint use facilities is going to be the way of the future."

Looking to his own future, Gantefoer has a few more years to work, but, as a trustee, he hopes to continue even longer.

"My life is my job and my family and my interest in the school board," he says. "I am a little concerned about what I’m going to do in retirement. If I retire from this job … and if I get re-elected to the school board I can be on the board a few years after I finish here and I will be able to transition into retirement. The last thing I want is to go from being really busy to doing nothing. I doubt that would ever happen to me, but you think about it."

When he's not working or attending to school board business, Gantefoer enjoys his family life. His wife Cheryl has three children, a son in Calgary with a wife and two kids, a daughter in Martinsville who is married with three children, and another daughter, the youngest, who just got married in Mexico a month ago. He has two daughters who are both married and live in the Battlefords. They haven't added any grandchildren to the mix yet, but "they're working real hard," he laughs.

He may not have much downtime, but he does have interests outside of work and school board.

"Apart from school board that’s kept me extremely busy, I enjoy yard work," he says. "I built my house so I like construction and renovating projects and have done a lot of those. And I love kayaking so I have been doing a lot of that. And recently I’ve got interested in photography in a big way, so I am trying to become a photographer."

Gantefoer takes his kayak out to Jackfish and Murray Lakes.

"When I first bought kit, I thought it would be a hoot doing the Battle River or Saskatchewan River," he says. "But the first two summers I had it the water levels were so high in those two rivers I was nervous about going into them."

So he went out to the lake.

"At the lake there are all kinds of places to go paddling around Jackfish or around Murray Lake … you can go up L'Heureux Creek by Aquadeo and come back down, or go into the Jackfish marsh where the water spills out of the lake … there's a channel there that is protected from the wind so if it is a really windy day you can go in there and it doesn’t bother you. There’s lots of places you can paddle a kayak."

He’s started a trend at the Light of Christ Catholic Schools division office. Director of Education Corey Rideout has a kayak now and he and Gantefoer have been going paddling together. Now Chief Financial Officer Jordan Kist and Manager of Instructional and Business Technology Tom Hawboldt are interested in kayaking as well.

"There is going to be a group of us here in no time," says Gantefoer.

Gantefoer also enjoys travelling, a love that stems from his childhood.

A middle child, he has two sisters, one older one younger. They live in Edmonton and in Leduc, Alta.

"We were a different family in terms of what we did," he says. "A lot of the families around here that we knew, their parents had cottages at the lake, because this is a lake community. But we didn’t."

His dad, who is now 95 and still living in his own home, and his mother, nicknamed Monnie, who passed away two years ago, weren't interested in the usual lake activity.

"They didn’t do that, but what they did do was, they liked to travel, and they exposed us to travel," he says. "So while our friends were going to the lake having fun water skiing, boating and fishing, being at the lake all summer, we were taking little vacations. We got to see Canada, we got to see the United States, they took us to Mexico – they planted a real travel bug in all of us. We travelled a lot."

They still like to travel.

"Recently my two sisters, my wife and I have been travelling together."

It started with one of his sisters, who is a year older than he, deciding she wanted to go back to Paris for her 60th birthday.

"She called us up and said, 'I’m going to Paris for my birthday. You guys want to come?' We said, 'Yeah! But not on your birthday because your birthday is in February. We’ll go at a nicer time of year, but we’ll definitely go with you.'"

The four of them headed to Paris, and while they were there, Gantefoer says, he came up with the idea of picking the next place to go for his 60th birthday.

"So we all agreed. The next year we went to Italy."

He adds, "This past summer, my cousin got wind of this and he said, 'Why didn’t you guys call me and include me in this gig?' He was 60 this year, so we went to Germany."

It's Cheryl’s turn next.

"Now we are waiting for my wife to figure out where she wants to go in 2017. We’ve been going to Europe, but she might change that by wanting to go somewhere else. We’ll see where that is."

Meanwhile, Gantefoer is eyeing retirement at the end of December 2017.

“I just turned 63. I will be 65 by December 2017. It's the number I’m zeroed in on. Mind you, I zeroed in on 60 a few years ago and I didn’t do it,” he laughs.

"When I'm retired from this job and if I get re-elected to school board in 2016, a four-year term, I could be there until 2020," adds Gantefoer. "Then I could just hang it all up and go kayaking."

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