Byelection: Q&A with Chilliwack school trustee candidates

Chilliwack school trustee byelection candidates respond to questions posed by The Progress.

The six candidates - Ben Besler

The six candidates - Ben Besler

Over the course of the past month, the six school trustee byelection candidates vying for one seat on school board come this Saturday have responded to weekly questions posed by the Chilliwack Progress.

This is a compilation of those questions and answers.

What is the key issue facing Chilliwack school district in the coming year?

Dan Coulter: Completion rates for secondary schools in Chilliwack are roughly 72 per cent – a full ten points lower than the provincial average. That means over one quarter of Chilliwack high school students don’t finish their schooling and receive their diploma. Two years ago, completion rates for aboriginal students was 45 per cent. That’s just unacceptable.

Chilliwack needs to build programs that equip all students to succeed in the workforce and in life. Expanding pre-apprenticeship programs that lead to real credentials in trades that students want to learn will help keep students engaged throughout their studies, and give them a leg up once they graduate. Leaving behind 25 per cent of all of Chilliwack’s students and over 50 per cent of all aboriginal students is a serious failure of leadership.

Ben Besler: I believe the key issue facing the school district this year, is balancing the budget. By law, the school board must balance the budget despite a few unexpected strains this year.

As a small business owner, I understand the need to keep a high quality of service within budgetary constraints.

If we can encourage an efficient and positive approach to service delivery, we can increase effectiveness in helping our children reach their greatest potential.

Rob Stelmaschuk: Have funds available to cover any pay increases for teachers and school employees. Find out how much budgeting is available provincially and locally.

Corey Neyrinck: The fact the board can’t get along. Spending $25,000 on a consultant to pretty much tell them how to get along. To me, that’s the biggest issue they’re going to be going through for this next year. Are they actually going to be following up with the suggestions that were given by that consultant? I’ve never actually seen what he said, so I don’t know what the accountability is for the board on that giant chunk of money that they spent.

If I get elected, I’d be the youngest trustee on that board. I’d bring a younger perspective, a younger voice to the table.

Harold Schmidt: Fulfilling the District Strategic Achievement Plans to ensure a maximization of learning opportunities to improve total student achievement in literacy, numeracy, and occupational skills for grade 12 graduation, and at the same time providing oversight for district operations within a balanced budget.

What would you do to improve Chilliwack’s high school completion rates?

Ben Besler: High School completion rates can be increased through continuing to promote positive parent/teacher communications. I know many teachers are doing an exemplary job opening lines of communication with parents and engaging parents in their child’s education as it promotes a greater accountability to continued student achievements. Also, promoting greater choice to the course options we offer students, whether it be through apprenticeship programs, French immersion, sports camps or other unique and engaging instruction methods that can be used to promote confidence and a greater desire to complete high school and move into post-secondary achievements.

Karen Jarvis: The role of a trustee is to create policies and govern the budget. In his book, The Element, Ken Robinson states that we need to “build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put them where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.” I would support staff in getting students “plugged in to” finding their passion. When they find what they love to do it will improve personal success and increase completion rates in the district.

Corey Neyrinck: The one step that I would do to improve completion rates would be to identify the at-risk students and engage the student so that they have the help that they need, Making sure that the engagement happens as early as possible most likely before the student even gets to high school or middle school.

Dan Coulter: As completion rates for secondary schools in Chilliwack are roughly 72 per cent – a full ten points lower than the provincial average – it is important to engage students that are not interested in academics.

Chilliwack needs to build programs that engage all students, so that they complete their secondary schooling. Expanding the ACE IT program, like that for welding offered at Sardis Secondary and Chilliwack Secondary, is a good way to do this. The ACE IT program should be expanded to include other trades. This will lead to university credentials for students in their chosen trade giving them a head start when they finish high school.

This would be one concrete step towards engaging students, and improving completion rates.

Harold Schmidt: The improvement of grade 12 graduation rates have been a high priority for the school district for several years, and teachers and district staff have already implemented a Strategic Achievement Plan Because education is a complex issue, there is no one ‘magic bullet or cure-all’ to suddenly increase the high school completion rates. Over 200 research papers and studies have shown that the only factor that can create student achievement is a knowledgeable skillful teacher. As a board we must listen carefully to the classroom teacher’s concerns of how class size and composition are affecting the student learning environment and then be prepared to make adjustments and at the same time provide teachers with the support and in-service training so that they can exhibit ‘best practices’ in teaching a variety of students in a variety of methods.

Rob Stelmaschuk: To improve High School completion rates.I would meet with the other Trustees and suggest incorporating some new studies into more Skiled Trades/ Welders,Mechinists,etc.Internships could be set up to prepare them to start employment immediately.This would greatly increase chances for employment. In the next two years 65,000 skilled jobs are needed and if we cannot supply Canadians for these jobs they will look elsewhere our kids need these jobs.

What would you do to encourage the B.C. government to fund expansion projects in the Chilliwack school district?

Harold Schmidt: If the original requests to fund capital expansions in the Chilliwack school district were denied by the provincial bureaucracy, the board,  after consultation with senior administration and public counsel, should re-evaluate their data for new or alternate information to satisfy the provincial criteria for granting capital expansions and resubmit the request.

Corey Neyrinck: I think that the way to go to the government to get money is to go to the government with a plan to work together to get the funds and not just go and say give me give me give me.

Dan Coulter: I would work through the BC School Trustees’ Association to advocate on behalf of the school district for capital funding, and work with our local MLAs to find an equitable solution.

Karen Jarvis: It is important to note that not all requests are actually denied. For the critical requests which are denied, I would need to find out why. I would then work with my colleagues to have the shortcomings addressed so that the requests could be resubmitted. We must be relentless as a board in the pursuit of the critical funding that our district needs.

Ben Besler: Building relationship is how you get things done. I would use the relationships that I have built with provincial decision makers to lobby for improvements to the Chilliwack school district.

Rob Stelmaschuk: I would meet with the other trustees so we formulate another presentation to the B.C. government showing the urgency, re: our growing population where there is none in other districts. We should present this request directly to the minister of education to show the urgency of our request and the commitment to the students and parents. If we work together nothing is impossible.

If elected, what innovations would you bring to expand revenue opportunities into Chilliwack school district?

Rob Stelmaschuk: I would meet with all the Trustees to discuss any ideas to expand revenue opportunities. Maybe prize lottery draws, 50/50 draws, or auctions on donated items to auction on line. I think that with all of the trustees working together we could incorporate these and other ideas to supplement revenue for the Chilliwack school district.

Harold Schmidt: The provincial government provides each school district a grant of $8,603 for each FTE (full-time equivalent) student. More students means more funding. The district should make all efforts to keep students attending school, (K through Grade 12 graduation) and thus have an increased FTE revenue base.

Investigate the possibility of year-round schooling or double scheduling, as a cost-saving measure.

Cap administrative salaries and bonuses and/or consolidate administrative positions and responsibilities for a cost-saving measure.

Double the fines for speeding in school zones (as per construction zone fines), with the extra monies going to the school.

Karen Jarvis: I would bring the ability and desire to commit the time and energy required to engage with all stakeholders. Through such a collaborative process, we can share and build on the creative ideas of one another, in order to think both inside and outside the box with respect to funding the needs of our school district. It is only through collaboration that we can have success.

Ben Besler: I would strengthen the current revenue streams that we have to get the most for our district. I would use the relationships I have established with provincial decision-makers to advocate for Chilliwack to get its fair share of operating and capital funding. Then I would expand on and encourage stronger relationships with the business community to create more student engagement, build relationships, and offer more choices to allow every student the opportunity to reach his or her full potential.

Dan Coulter: Chilliwack needs strong, public education that serves all students – not just those at schools that can fundraise. If elected, I would work with all stakeholders locally to ensure that all local fundraising was equitable and directed towards where it was needed most.

Corey Neyrinck: I think that the best innovation would have to be going to the City and province to work together to come up with more funding.

Why should Chilliwack residents, whether they have children or not, vote in the Nov. 30 school trustee byelection?

Harold Schmidt: Who you vote for will determine policies that affect yours and every child’s education, including, among others, those with special needs, giftedness, and those who are bullied.

A large percentage of your property taxes are set by and designated for school district use.

The freedoms, rights, and privileges you enjoy now can only survive if individuals exercise these as a responsibility and a right in any democratic process.

Corey Neyrinck: The community should go out and vote because everyone always is saying nothing ever changes. The way to get things to change is to go out and vote each and every time that an election is held. I have heard countless times it is only one vote it will not make a difference but if 1,000 people say that nothing will ever change.

Karen Jarvis: One of the goals within the school district’s strategic plan is to “create a community in which students, parents, staff, and community partners are engaged and value working together to support student achievement.” As a community partner, voting in this byelection will show that you are both engaged and support student achievement. Our students are our future! Show your support for student success, vote Karen Jarvis for school trustee on November 30th.

Ben Besler: Every trustee’s voice will help contribute to either the harmony or discord that sets the tone for our school district. My opponents in this campaign have voiced their plans to change existing policies to be more tolerant of drugs and alcohol in our schools and less tolerant of business support for school programs. I think our primary concerns are keeping our students safe and providing every opportunity for students to reach their greatest potentials.

For a full list of candidate responses to questions asked by The Progress over the past month, visit the website at

Rob Stelmaschuk: Voting is the one choice that is totally yours.You are by yourself no outside influence; the one time you and only you make the choice. No one knows how you voted or who you voted for, the freedom of choice.

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