Forum brings out SD33 byelection hopefuls

Candidates hoping to win a seat on the Chilliwack School Board faced questions at the second of two all-candidates forums on Monday.

Candidates in the Chilliwack School District byelection face questions at forum at G.W. Graham school on Monday.

Candidates hoping to win a seat on the Chilliwack School Board faced questions ranging from corporate funding to year-round schooling at the second of two all-candidates forums on Monday.

Hosted by the District Parent Advisory Council, the event drew 10 of the 12 candidates hoping to win the Dec. 12 byelection.

The group included  Paula DeWit, John Edwards, Angelina Gosselin, Karen Jarvis, Brian Mielke, Marion Mussell, Bob Patterson, Megan Praat, Robert Stelmaschuk, Lisa Thébault

Alisha Atkinson missed for medical reasons; Perry Sherstobetoff, who attended the early all-candidates forum on Thursday, was out of the country.

Facing a sparse gathering at the G.W. Graham school theatre, the candidates were offered a chance to introduce themselves, before addressing written questions that had been submitted through social media, or gathered from the audience.

Because of the number of candidates, questions were directed to half the candidates in each round.

Funding was a dominant theme; another was what each potential trustee could bring to the board if elected.

Asked if corporate funding should be accepted by the Chilliwack School District, most candidates with a chance to respond reluctantly agreed, provided there were adequate controls in place.

“In a perfect world, no,” said Bob Patterson. “But we’re not in a perfect world.”

Paula DeWit, agreed the funding would help, but worried about the long-term implications. “It could be a bit of a slippery slope.”

John Edwards, whose background is in healthcare, said he didn’t have a problem with it, provided it was regulated. He suggested that if corporations wanted to support the school district their money should be placed in a central fund where the district could allocate it according to need, similar to how pharmaceutical companies support hospitals.

Brian Mielke was unconvinced. “I’m completely against it,” he said. “I’m a businessman; There are always strings attached.” He said corporate influence in public schools was part of a larger effort to move toward greater privatization in education – a major threat he returned to later.

Candidates were also asked if they supported a “more robust” use of restorative justice practices in school as a way to enhance discipline.

Robert Stelmaschuk, whose background is in corrections, said what’s needed is more effort in school to keep kids out of detention later in life. He advocated greater involvement with counsellors, as well as input from people with real-world experience in the corrections field.

Karen Jarvis said she strongly supports restorative justice in schools, have seen how addressing the cause is ultimately better than punishing the behaviour.. “We need to be solution focused.”

Candidates also faced questions about the role of the school board and their effectiveness on it.

Many, like Marion Mussell, advocated greater communication with parents and the community to ensure they understand what is happening behind the school walls. They also talked about greater collaboration with other trustees in the province to lobby the provincial government on the relevance of local representation.

Megan Praat, who only graduated from secondary school this year, said her youth would bring a unique perspective to the board. She hoped her presence would also inspire young people in the play a larger role in their community.

Angelina Gosselin, an RCMP member currently on educational leave, also stressed the importance of reaching each and every youth at an early age. She said wanted to ensure young people here were never denied the same opportunities that were denied her.

“We need to look at the level of our youth, not only the level of our district.”

On the issue of year-round schooling, most candidates allowed to respond seemed confused by the concept. They argued that school “365 days of the year” would be a mistake because both teachers and students need time off.

Only candidate Lisa Thébault understood it meant holidays more evenly dispersed throughout the year. Thébault, a former trustee who served nine years on the Chilliwack School Board, said the concept might work in some communities, but would need a closer look if it were to be considered here.

General voting day is Saturday, Dec. 12, between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. at Chilliwack Secondary School, Neighbourhood Learning Centre, Alumni Hall, (46361 Yale Road); Cultus Lake Community School Gymnasium, (71 Sunnyside Avenue); Rosedale Traditional Community School Gymnasium (50850 Yale Road); and, Vedder Middle School Gymnasium (45560 South Sumas Road)

Advance Voting Opportunities will be held Wednesday, Dec. 2 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. at City Hall, 8550 Young Road.

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