Nineteen candidates seeking one of the seven spots on Delta School Board squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder onto the Genesis Theatre stage Monday night (Nov. 7) to tackle major issues facing the district.
Questions were submitted by the hosts of the trustees’ debate—the Delta District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC), Delta Teachers Association and CUPE—as well as audience members.
Asked what the greatest challenge facing Delta teachers is today, incumbent candidate Janet Shauntz responded “special education.”
“We’re underfunded in that area,” she said. “[Specialized teachers] don’t have the resources that they need and we really would like to get them.”
For other candidates, such as incumbent Brenda Bennett-Schneider, the biggest challenge revolves around class composition.
“We have high numbers of special needs and not enough resources,” she said.
Andy Basi said because the district depends on the province for money it will continue to face fiscal challenges due to declining enrolment. And Sue Lloyd said the school board must keep teachers abreast of changing technology.
A question submitted by a student asked if candidates would support facility upgrades at secondary schools, specifically the Delta Secondary School turf field proposal, which would be a joint project with the Corporation of Delta.
Incumbent Laura Dixon said she would “absolutely” support a new turf field, explaining the current board has developed a good working relationship with council members on the Delta Council/Delta Board of Education Liaison Committee. Fellow incumbent Fabian Milat, who is also running for a seat on council, called for more co-operation between the school board and municipal hall, noting the school district is “land rich” but “money poor.”
A parent in the audience asked how the candidates would allocate funds and support initiatives to engage South Asian students, parents and the community.
Donna Burke, who was a member of the Delta South Asian Student Support Initiative (DSASSI), said the committee always struggled with funding for translation services.
“I would definitely support more funding and going to the outside community also for help in this area,” she said.
In answer to a question posed by CUPE representatives, all respondents agreed that maintaining a clean, safe environment is an important part of the education process.
Incumbent Simon Truelove said the board has always tried to keep cuts away from the actual learning of the students.
“It’s a lot easier for a board to make the decision to cut the custodial position than to cut, for example, an EA (educational assistant) who is working with a special needs child,” he said, but added “This is not OK at all.”
Given the district’s funding challenges, candidates were asked what their strategies would be to meet the needs of all Delta students, particularly the most vulnerable.
Julie Sanders said implementing International Baccalaureate (IB) and Montessori programs could attract more students and thus more funding.
“I know we can draw more students from private sector and from out-of-district, especially in North Delta,” she said.
Malcolm Smillie suggested that all trustees give up $300 of their monthly salary, which would annually equate to $25,000 invested back into the classroom.
A second trustee all-candidates meeting will take place Monday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. at Seaquam School Theatre in North Delta. Delta TV will broadcast that debate.