A well-organized all-candidates meeting for the public to get to know the Delta school trustee candidates attracted fewer than 50 residents Wednesday night.
The Nov. 5 meeting, arranged and moderated by the Delta DPAC (District Parent Advisory Council) at Seaquam Secondary in North Delta, covered topics ranging from funding to aboriginal graduation rates, corporate sponsorship to working with parents.
Thirteen of the 16 hopefuls gave a one-minute introduction before answering an array of submitted questions.
Three candidates – Nic Slater and incumbents Dale Saip and Fabian Milat – were no shows.
Much of the initial talk centred on funding, or the lack thereof.
Many candidates said the Delta school board needs to advocate more strongly for adequate provincial dollars. Others said trustees also have to ensure the money received is being used effectively. Susan Fetterkind said that could only be achieved by board members immersing themselves in schools.
“If you’re not in schools and seeing what’s really going on, how can you tell if money is being spent properly?” she asked.
Another query put to trustee hopefuls referred to Vancouver School Board turning down a half-million dollars from Chevron over objections to corporate sponsorship and marketing in public schools. Delta candidates were asked what they would do if faced with a similar situation.
Phil Hurt said corporations have no place in public schools. Rhiannon Bennett agreed, saying accepting corporate donations only enabled the government to underfund schools.
Brad Sherwin felt the Chevron situation was misrepresented and that the benefit kids would receive from the math and science programs the money fund would stick with them far longer than any company logo.
Laura Thomas suggested while provincial funding should cover the basics, including class size and composition, money for “bells and whistles” could be sought through community and corporate sponsorships.
Corinne Atwood agreed, saying with limited funding for things such as programs for vulnerable children, it may be time to turn to corporations to fill the gaps.
Incumbents Donna Burke, Nick Kanakos Val Windsor noted the issue is not a new one and the school district has strict procedures in place for dealing with possible partnerships with companies.
“We do not accept any partnerships that are for commercial gain,” said Burke, adding proposals are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
“In a perfect world the public education system would be adequately funded,” added Windsor. “But we can’t afford to say no without researching it.”
Trustees were also asked how they’d improve graduation rates for the district’s 520 aboriginal students.
“I think it’s really important that the indigenous voice is at the table,” said Bennett, who works with the Musqueam Indian Band as a family outreach worker, adding it’s time to take steps to halt the systemic racism that is part of Canadian culture.
Carla Qualtrough, who is legally blind, said the district needed to put an “inclusion lens” on policies and decision making so all vulnerable students get the programs and services they need.
When asked, candidates felt working with parents would be a key part of their duties.
Incumbent Laura Dixon said the board currently invites parents to take part in district advisory committees, invites input through public consultation, and trustees are there to guide parents if they have concerns at the school level.
“You’re my customer,” independent candidate Brad Sherwin told the small crowd. “Other than your child, you’re the most important person. Ultimately, that’s what I’m here for, is to listen to you.”
Bennett agreed, saying “parents and voters are our bosses.” But she added she’d also make it her priority to think about those whose voices aren’t being heard.
Scott Stoilen, who volunteers as a coach, said liaising with parents is potentially the best part of being a school trustee.
Trustee hopefuls also spoke about the B.C. Education Plan – a provincial initiative to change various aspects of the education system. Kanakos quickly outlined some of the components of the plan – including personalized learning, flexibility of choice, continual teacher training, possible changes to the school calendar, and use of technology in the classroom. “Our role is to put that into action,” he said.
A question about the board’s role in a hypothetical dispute between government and the BC Teachers’ Federation got Kids Matter candidate Bruce Reid, a member of the Richmond Teachers’ Association, fired up.
“It does hurt me that people have the impression that it’s the nasty BCTF against the nasty provincial government,” he said. “We can’t move from that premise … the focus must be on collegiality.”
The civic election is Nov. 15. Delta voters must elect seven school trustees.