There was more agreement than disagreement among the six candidates for District 69 school board at the only all-candidate meeting of this election, Monday night.
Around 40 people, including a number of district staff, attended the District Parent Advisory Council organized event at Oceanside Elementary School to hear responses to audience submitted questions.
Funding emerged as the night’s theme with direct questions on busing costs or whether the provincial government should fund emergency preparations, and questions about priorities and the role of the board often went back to things like pushing for more funding.
Perhaps the strongest reaction of the night came on the question “Should the government partner with private industry to fund education?” including chuckles and “oh boy” comments from the audience at the question itself.
“Wow, this could make or break me,” said long-time district volunteer John Hildebrandt to chuckles. “The current government is very 3P (public, private partnership) minded,” he said.
“As long as there’s oversight at the local level, with teeth, it could work, but I’m scared of it. If it’s the only answer it may come to that, but I believe that would be a long hard battle when the time comes.”
“The short answer is no,” said Julie Austin, the only incumbent running (Eve Flynn and Barry Kurland have been acclaimed). “There are probably some caveats to that, depending on the individual business,” she said, suggesting the current funding struggles could be part of a provincial push toward privatization.
“That’s a really frightening road to go down. We’ve seen it in Alberta where industry is actually helping direct curriculum and helping them write their curriculum,” she said.
“My response would be a bit longer than Julie’s,” said second time candidate Willow Bloomquist. “Oh good lord no!” she said, adding that privatizing BC Ferries didn’t work, so why do the same to education.
“The government’s not broke, they’re choosing not to spend it on us, they’re choosing where to put the money,” she said. “Don’t pay for a stadium roof and then tell me you don’t have money for public education, I don’t accept it.”
“My immediate answer is no,” said youngest candidate Jacob Gair, adding that a broad question deserves a broad answer, agreeing that there could be ways to explore it as long as it was done carefully.
“The more we give away to private investors the less say we have as the public,” he said. “It’s critical that education remain in the public domain,” he said to a large applause.
Jane Williams, who was previously a trustee for 12 years, suggested some low level support, like a local company sponsoring a sport team, is not a problem, but she doesn’t want large corporations getting involved in the curriculum, agreeing that “public education needs to stay public.”
Elaine Young, a long-time educator, agreed that there are different degrees and “if we can it would be nice just to say no, but I’m not sure we can, so I think we need to make a policy and have some ideas about how we asses all these different proposals that are going to come forward.”
Directed at Gair, with the other candidates allowed to respond, they were asked what is the number one issue facing schools.
“Funding is really critical,” said Gair. “You’ve got to advocate for increased funding, talk to the government as a trustee.”
“Other issues include lack of student involvement,” he said, referring to his platform of representing youth and students on the board.
“One of the main issues facing schools today is defining what education is,” said Austin. She said that while the province is heading in a specific direction (trades training), “We really have to look to ourselves, look to our teachers and our own community for what the best education is for our own kids and our own community.”
“Times are changing very fast and even the B.C. government has acknowledged that and are moving forward with technological change,” Hildebrandt said.
“I think our world’s changed enough that I think it is time to take a real hard look at what we define as education. As an innovative district I’d like to be part of that leadership to take on that challenge.”
Asked if a change in provincial government would change the funding formula most candidates agreed that there would likely be some kind of change, but were skeptical about it directly meaning more money.
“We’ve been allowing them to give us less money so where is their motivation to give more?” Bloomquist said. “I would push whatever government gets in to give more.”
“I don’t necessarily think a change in government would mean more money… there’s only so much money,” said Williams, adding that education does deserve more than its getting.
“We’re not dealing with a government that’s very fond of public education,” said Gair, adding “no matter what government’s in power we, as trustees, will have to fight for more.”
Elaine Young pointed out they have the current government for the next few years either way (the provincial election is in May 2017) and that having worked as a teacher under Liberal and NDP governments, “we’re dealing with the situation that we have and… advocacy is proper because the alternative is not good.”
Advance voting is Nov. 12 and general election day is Saturday, Nov. 15.