Election 2014: Where the buck stops: Trustee hopefuls talk money

School District 33: In the final of a series of questions posed to the candidates, the Chilliwack Progress asked candidates about funding

Election signs cover a flower bed at Five Corners. Chilliwack residents will be voting on Nov. 15.

Election signs cover a flower bed at Five Corners. Chilliwack residents will be voting on Nov. 15.

The challenge of securing adequate funding for Chilliwack schools was front and centre at a recent all-candidates forum.

Despite an operating budget of $125 million, candidates were unanimous in suggesting there remained gaps in the amount of money needed, or how the existing dollars were being spent.

In the final of a series of questions posed to the candidates, the Chilliwack Progress asked candidates how they would “seek to increase available funding, or find new revenue sources, for the Chilliwack School District.”

Here is a summary from the candidates who responded; their complete responses can be found here.

Nearly all the candidates said a better job needs to be done lobbying the provincial government for more funding – or funding that at least keeps pace with rising fixed costs.

The rising cost of utilities, medical and pension premiums, and even labour contracts have all been borne by the school district, they said.

“The government has directly contributed to the district’s increased costs without increasing funding,” said Dan Coulter. “I will advocate on behalf of the district to have the government do the right thing.”

Walt Krahn called on the provincial government to change the way it calculates how much a district receives. “We need to review the funding formula and recommend changes that government-mandated cost increases are covered by government.”

Getting that message to the province will take a co-ordinated effort, said Barry Neufeld. “I would be more active at the provincial level (the BC School Trustees Association) to ensure public education is given higher priority in B.C.,” he said.

But he also suggested efforts be made at the federal level to reinstate federal transfer funds that were cut years ago.

“Education must be controlled at the community level, not the ivory towers of Ottawa and Victoria,” he said.

Paul McManus called for a unified front, including parents, school district, teachers and special interest groups in lobbying the government.

He also called for a discussion on business and corporate funding in schools. Although these kinds of partnerships have existed for years, there has been greater debate about them lately.

“I believe we have to get all stakeholders involved in this issue – teachers, administrators, support staff, and parents, and create a task force that develops recommendations on whether or not to move forward in this area,” he said.

Rob Stelmaschuk said he’d support greater corporate involvement in schools, provided there are safeguards in place. “We cannot keep asking the taxpayers to pay the bills.”

The candidates also called for greater control over spending, by setting out strict priorities on where money should be spent.

“We  have  to  spend  more wisely,” said Martha Wiens.  “The entire  system  needs to be  reviewed for  effective and efficiency.”

Heather Maahs agreed. “ If I am re-elected, I’d like to reign in spending and begin a process of efficiency review in all departments,” she said. “Tightening our belts at the top and reinstating a surplus is the first and most important place to begin.”

Walt Krahn said that while cutting costs is important, so is finding new revenue. He identified potential sources like increased facility rentals, selling unused property, or bolstering the district’s international program which currently brings in $1 million in tuition and enhances school diversity.

Dan Coulter is not convinced. He said the district was “ill-suited” for finding new revenue.  “Very little room exists for fundraising or corporate sponsorship that will not impinge on the classroom,” he said. “The district’s primary job should be to educate children and searching for revenue takes away from that effort.”

The complete responses from this and the other two questions asked to the candidates can be found in the Q&A section.