Class size, government funding, and micromanagement were recurring themes at the first school trustee all candidates meeting.
The District Parents’ Advisory Council hosted an all-candidates’ meeting on Wednesday at Chilliwack secondary.
The meeting had 22 of the 24 candidates in attendance (Neil Whitley and Tammy Brown were absent) with approximately 75 people in the gallery.
Questions asked were submitted to DPAC prior to the events and were randomly drawn for each candidate.
When asked about implementing new policies to improve student achievement, David Russell, a former IT tech with the school district, said student achievement isn’t a policy issue – it’s budgetary.
“What our at-risk kids need is more meaningful time with teachers, [educational assistants], counsellors, clerical staff,” said Russell, who noted the problems with the school district the last few years were lack of communication and “volatile” funding from the government.
“We need to restore a credibility to our district that has been damaged in the last few years.”
Walt Krahn, a retired principal, and Vern Tompke, a teacher, also said the “micromanaging” at the board table needs to stop.
“I’d like the school board to be known for what it’s doing in the district, not for the fireworks it’s setting,” said Tompke.
“The professionals have the education and experience, and when they’re hired, you need to have a confidence in them to do a good job. Trustees don’t need to micromanage and direct all facets of education.”
When asked about the restoration of class size limits into the collective agreement Don Davis, a chartered accountant, was supportive.
“Not only do I think it should be in the agreement, I think it should be in our policy,” said Davis. “Teachers are overworked … class sizes have grown rapidly. There may be 25 kids in a class, but in some cases, teachers are teaching 25 different lessons.
“I don’t believe we can continue in this vein. The system is crumbling.”
Audrey Stollings, a parent of two children in the school system, said she would advocate for more government funding “so teachers can have smaller classes and more EAs.”
“Out of 60 school districts, we rank the 48th worse school district,” she said. “Without trustees working for change, it’s only going to get worse.”
Dan Coulter, a student at the University of the Fraser Valley, said classrooms were becoming unsafe, especially in shop classes.
“Classes are getting larger and larger and they’re affecting learning as well as teacher workload,” said Coulter.
“No one wants to see a child get hurt.”
Barry Neufeld said the public system is underfunded, and Joey Hagerman suggested boards across the province form a coalition in the vein of Occupy Wall Street.
“It doesn’t help when you only have 10 people,” said Hagerman, a teacher at Mountain Institution. “You need hundreds, if not thousands of people, a unified voice. To just put your hand out, they don’t really care.”
Incumbent trustee Louise Piper said she would not support a deficit budget.
“Legislation won’t allow you to run a deficit,” said Piper. “We have to come up with more creative ways to deal with the funding pressures.”
Kirsten Brandreth, former District Parents’ Advisory Council president, agreed there needs to be more funding, but suggested the board look beyond provincial coffers.
“The problem is, where is the money going to come from,” said Brandreth. “There needs to be more creative ideas … we have to be more vocal.”
A second all-candidates meeting for trustees was also held Thursday at Sardis secondary.