Candidates running to fill a seat on the Prince Rupert School District board of education participated in a forum sponsored by the District Parent Advisory Council and Prince Rupert District Teachers Union last week.
The forum started with candidate introductions and what they view as the biggest educational need in SD52.
William Spat said there’s a need for excellence within the Prince Rupert school district.
“In Prince Rupert, some of the things we are facing … are declining enrolment and tight funding. I think public schools in particular have to really up the value. We’re losing families to home schooling, and paying schools,” said Spat, adding his mission is to see some of the school district’s facilities upgraded.
Incumbent Terri-Lynne Huddlestone said she is well-versed in what’s required of a trustee and has been involved during her two terms on the board.
Judy Carlick-Pearson, who is making the switch from city council to school board this municipal election, said she cares strongly about children, and they need support, to be heard and to have good role models.
June Lewis is a support worker for children with special needs, and said these students still aren’t getting the support they need as many remain undiagnosed.
“We don’t have the psycologists in this area to be able to diagnose the children properly,” Lewis said, adding if elected she would fight to resolve the issue.
Candidate Fanny Nelson also said a focus of hers, if she were elected, would be improving the success of students with special needs.
Current board chair Tina Last said the biggest educational need in Prince Rupert is success for all students.
“We continue to have wonderful things happen in the classroom every day. Our graduation rates are very good, but they’re not where they need to be; Aboriginal students are not where they need to be and deserve to be,” said Last.
Louisa Sanchez, who has also sat on the board for four terms, said she regularly visits schools and has heard from staff that there needs to be more collaboration between administration and teachers.
James Horne said he’s a passionate believer in good education, and government funding is an issue.
“The provincial government has consistently lowered the amount of funding over the years, and we’ve been forced to make severe choices because of that. We need a strong voice on the school board to push for better funding and to be fiscally responsible,” he said.
Incumbent Bart Kuntz, who has served for two terms, said district programs need to be sustained and expanded, and trustees need to fight for that as a board.
Trustee candidates were asked what they would do to increase funding in the district and, as the primary source of money for school districts comes from provincial government funding, a majority stated the answer was to lobby the government.
Sanchez said the board of education and district stakeholders must be partners to make sure the government is aware of issues in Prince Rupert.
“We can continue to advocate and ask for more money, but I think we have to provide our services differently to do that,” said Huddlestone.
Horne also said working together is key, adding fiscal responsibility is important as well, something he vows to be if elected.
Carlick-Pearson said school board trustees have been doing a good job at being fiscally responsible, but it must consider all of its options when it comes to funding sources. This is a sentiment Lewis echoed, stating all of the rocks must be overturned.
The amount of provincial funding B.C. school districts receive depends on student enrolment, which is why Spat said SD52’s board of education must work on retaining and attracting students who drift off into home-schooling and fee-paying education facilities.
Following the end of the lengthy labour dispute this September, the question of how candidates plan to rebuild the relationship between district staff and teachers was a topic of concern.
Nelson said that all stakeholders must work together and respect is needed to renew the relationship, with Kuntz saying he believes the relationship can be repaired, the trust just needs to be built.
Carlick-Pearson agreed that collaboration is key.
“I don’t think the parties are so far apart that they can’t mend that relationship,” she said.
Huddlestone said it’s been a difficult few years, but the district needs to continue to build a foundation with all of its partners.
“Communication is key. We need to have more opportunities to meet with all of our education partners,” she said.
Sanchez said it’s critical that trustees be involved in schools and classrooms to make direct contact with teaching and support staff.
“I volunteer in classrooms on a weekly basis,” said Sanchez.
“I have made it a priority because that is how I make informed decisions.”
“It’s my belief that as a trustee you need to stay in touch with people and be able to be communicated to,” Horne added.
“We need to be open and put the time and effort in to contacting teachers in the classroom.”
Last said she believes a critical part of renewing the relationship would be to learn what is important to teachers.
“Tell me about how my role as a trustee at the board table might support you better,” Last said.
Another question fielded from the crowd revolved around the ratio of administration to students within the district.
Huddlestone said she understands some in the community feel the ratio is high, but the board of education committed to a mentorship program to ensure administrators are available when others retire.
“It’s really important in order to provide mentorship opportunities for vice-principals, so they can go the natural path to be a principal in our school district,” she said, adding it could be detrimental for those filling the position if they didn’t have the opportunity to train prior.
Kuntz said the subject could be revisited during budget time, but mentioned the board did investigate the ratio and discovered it was the average for school districts of its size.
Kimberly Williams is also seeking a seat on the board of education and sent her regrets for being unable to attend the event on Monday.
General voting will take place on Nov. 15 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Jim Ciccone Civic Centre.