The 10 candidates for school board trustee participated in an all-candidates forum on Wednesday night in a forum driven by questions from the audience, which was largely made up of those employed by the district.
The format of the event allowed each candidate to make an opening statement, followed by questions that would be answered by two random candidates, followed by questions aimed at individual candidates followed by a closing statement.
In the opening statement, each candidate outlined their main concerns and their reasons for seeking election.
“I really believe I still have something to contribute. We’ve made the most massive changes to education in 18 years in Prince Rupert with the introduction of the middle school last year…Education is more of an investment in the community, the province and the country than anything else. I highly believe in the power of public education,” said Russell Wiens, who has been a trustee for 18 years.
“Right now the district, from my perspective, has a lot of complex issues and resource issues. To resolve those we need to come together as a team…We really need to get as many people’s voices heard as possible,” said Tanya Boudier, a first-time candidate for trustee.
“I have never seen morale in the district so low. It is time for school boards to say no. No, we can’t cut any more. No, we won’t close any more schools and pack students into classrooms that can’t hold that many students,” said Marty Bowles, a former president of the Prince Rupert and District Teacher’s Union.
“We’ve come a long way with the trustee board since I came on…We were in turmoil, I’ll grant you that. We were in one hell of a turmoil. We had to get out of that turmoil and get back on track, and I think we are on the right track now,” said incumbent Leonard Alexcee.
“Every student matters, and we have to do what we can to help them succeed…We have to work together to create a safe and nurturing environment where the students can succeed,” said incumbent Terri-Lynne Huddlestone.
“I’m all about students and parents having choice, I want my two daughters to have a choice in public education…I’m proud to make unbiased, well-informed decisions on the issues that are facing our district,” said incumbent Bart Kuntz who spoke of the proposed BC Education Plan.
“I’m a firm believer that parents, students, teachers, the board and administrators have to work together. We all have the same goal, and that is for our students to get the best education possible,” said Barb Gruber, who introduced herself as the community volunteer.
“I believe it is time to review our education system, particularly the curriculum and the September to June model…It is a new technological world and we need to give the students the tools to be ready for the world their entering,” said board chair Tina Last.
“We need a board that can tell us what we can do, not what we can’t do…My goal is looking at literacy and increasing accountability for the success of all students,” said incumbent Louisa Sanchez.
“I will bring to the table a team-building approach and I would like to bring back our Partners in Education Committee to ensure success….We also need to utilize our closed schools. We can’t allow them to deteriorate like the other schools that were closed,” said former trustee Brian Johnson, adding that the board needs to make better use of the MLA.
When asked what one thing they would change to improve education locally, Wiens and Kuntz said class size and composition, Last said having the students come to school fed, well rested and with involved parents, Bowles said more parent involvement and Johnson said passing the budget line by line to better examine how it will impact the classrooms.
On the question of reporting on special needs students Last pointed out that there are a disproportionate amount of children with needs in the district and that isn’t being reflected in the funding coming to the region, Johnson said the board needed to discuss with the teachers more what their needs are.On making the budget process and reporting more public, Bowles noted the process was more public years ago with three meetings as opposed to one, Sanchez noted that the vulnerability of students make the budget process different in Prince Rupert, Wiens said parents need to be more involved as they sometimes have more political clout than trustees with the government, and Last said making better use of the money in the district may be better than asking for more money from the district.
After much discussion about working together, the question about bridging the gap and mending relationships between management and the unions came up. Last said part of the problem is all the groups are competing for a small amount of money that comes from the province, Bowles said meaningful, articulate discussion was needed to get away from the 100 or so grievances, and Sanchez acknowledged there had never been so much distrust in the district and that more meetings together were needed. In losing statements that also touched on the subject, Gruber noted that if teachers and administrators don’t get along, it is the children who suffer, and Huddleston said respectful discussion among the stakeholders was crucial to moving forward.