Funding, rural schools hot topics at trustee debates
Anyone expecting a lot of fireworks Wednesday evening at the Prince George Playhouse was disappointed.
Instead, the forum for school trustee candidates gave about 130 people the chance to hear from 15 candidates, in a forum co-hosted by the Prince George District Teachers' Association and the District Parents' Advisory Council
Candidate Bal Gill was the only one unable to attend, and sent a short letter regretting not being there. There had been a death in the family, and Gill expressed concerns about not being able to fulfil campaigning obligations.
The candidates who were present continued with the themes which had been prevalent throughout the campaign, funding formulas and rural schools.
"It's all about the money," Kris Benson said. "How can we make the money we have work to get the best education for our students?"
Shawn Peters suggested not relying solely on the provincial government for funding.
"We need to look at other funding methods. We can develop software here to help the teachers with their jobs, then sell it to other districts."
If the funds aren't there, Don Sabo said there are ways to let Victoria know the district isn't happy with the formula.
"We need to have an acceptable level of service. I would be more than willing to submit a needs budget to government to highlight what level of funding we need."
Tim Bennett left little doubt as to his feelings on the current budget problems.
"Our teachers are doing a great job with the cards they've been dealt. Cutting services should be an absolute last resort."
Meeting the needs of the students were highlighted by several of the candidates. Betty Bekkering said she had been looking at websites discussing some of the issues trustees faced.
"There were things like 'Schools in the future' and 'Education as a fundamental right'. One of them had the fundamental statement 'Kids matter'.
"Why do we even need to say that? That's what it's all about."
Andrew Burton phrased the same thought differently.
"We need to change the story of education. We need to get back to why we're there – the kids."
Addressing the needs of rural students and rural schools also came up several times, both in the candidates' introductory remarks and in questions collected from the audience and asked to individual candidates.
"I took an active role in the discussions about school closures," Kate Cooke said, "and I was disheartened by the barriers the district seemed to keep putting in the way of parents trying to come with alternatives.
"I want to make a change."
Elona Arnott had also seen an apparent lack of communication.
"I've noticed a real deterioration in the relationships between the various groups in the school system. That has to be reversed."
To Sharel Warrington, communication was also an issue, but she said simply talking about it isn't enough.
"We need to find ore effective ways for open communication. We're a can-do district, we have to do this."
Communication, though, has to be kept in its place, as Trish Bella pointed out.
"I think all shareholders need to have a say in the district budget, but I would prefer that those consultations happen before the budget gets to the board table. That is not the time to start making changes."
Nee styles of teaching, especially distance learning, were the focus of questions to several of the trustees. Brenda Hooker said her experience with rural schools had taught her a few things.
"Distance learning can be a good approach for rural schools, and even smaller schools that can't offer the full range of courses available elsewhere. That said, though, success rates with distance learning can be lower than those in a standard classroom setting."
Sharon Bourassa said there was one way to make all schools, rural or urban, better for the students.
"We have to find ways to get the parents more involved. It makes the schools a safer place if parents care about what's going on, and it makes for better students."
Enrolment levels are usually only viewed as a concern when they are too low and a closure is looked at, but Valentine Crawford felt the opposite problem is just as bad.
"We need to monitor enrolments for schools at the top end as well. When we have to start putting in portables, maybe it's time to stop taking students at that school."
Whether they're talking about elementary schools or secondary schools, Earl Krushelnicki reminded everyone of the primary goal of the school system.
"We have to educate them for life after high school."
The majority of the trustees said their position, if elected, would be that voiced by Rhonda White.
"Kids need someone who isn't afraid to step up and speak out for them. I can be that person."