Election 2014: Trustee candidates take on class size, composition

School District 33: Chilliwack trustees candidates offer their ideas on class size and composition.

Class size and composition became a central theme in the recent contract negotiations between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the association representing the province’s school boards.

In the first of a series of questions, The Progress asked trustee candidates if there was some way the local school district could address this issue.

Their full responses can be found in the Q&A section of our Election 2014 page on our website.

But here is a synopsis of what some of the candidates had to say:

The candidates were asked, “What can the school district do locally to address issues of class size and composition?”

Funding is the biggest challenge, said several of the candidates. While the school district has some latitude, there is only so much it can do with the dollars it receives.

“Without an increase in per pupil funding, the Learning Improvement Fund or some other instrument the school district has little freedom to significantly lower class sizes and improve composition,” said Dan Coulter.

John-Henry Harter echoed that concern. But said additional dollars could be found by reducing administration costs and investing those funds in the classroom. Harter also said the board has to do a better job advocating for more funding.

“Working together on solutions would allow teachers and staff, and in turn parents and students, to be supported locally and not feel abandoned,” he said.

Martha Wiens said the funding issue would have to be sorted out between the BCTF and the provincial government. “This is not a local issue,” she said, but added the board, staff and administration must work together.

Consultation was key, many of the candidates argued. Paul McManus said by working with teachers and creating a special “task force,” administrators could better determine where the limited resources should be applied.

Walt Krahn agreed. He called for detailed “School Staffing Plans” that could assess and allocate staff resources where they were needed.

“This process would result in full staff engagement  and equity in our school district,” he said.

Silvia Dyck said the school district already does a good job limiting class sizes for elementary students, and keeping class composition manageable through the use of the Learning Improvement Fund.  However, she said the district can do a better job providing professional development so teachers are better equipped to assist students who face learning challenges in their classroom.

Karen Jarvis said the issue of class size and composition could be addressed if the district followed recommendations that came out of its Special Education Review that was released in  2013 and earlier policies from 1999. “While the review/policy address special needs students, this could aid in alleviating some pressure in the classroom,” she said.

Rob Stelmaschuk, meanwhile, said a solution might be found in a greater use of technology. “Install computers in the class room that have teaching programs related the subjects being taught,” he suggested. “This would assist students needing more one-on-one time and help the teachers and all the class run effectively.”

And while Ben Besler said there were limits to what the school district could do, he said it was important school’s promote a spirit of inclusion and, “create a classroom composition that is tailored to bring out the best in every student.”

Read the candidates’ full responses here.