The lack of funding in the Delta school district was the prevailing theme at an all-candidates debate for school board hopefuls Monday evening.
Nineteen of the 20 running in this month's municipal election took part in the debate at Genesis Theatre in Ladner. Organized by the Delta District Parent Advisory Council, Delta Teachers' Association and CUPE, almost all the questions posed by the groups as well as those in attendance dealt with the chronic underfunding of the education system.
One of those queries faced by candidates was what they consider the biggest challenge for teachers today.
Incumbent Janet Shauntz said she thinks it's the lack of special education funding, adding the district is "underfunded and up against it."
Fellow incumbent Brenda Bennett-Schneider agreed, saying she believes it's class composition, not size, that poses the biggest challenge.
Val Windsor also said support for teachers with special needs students is the biggest challenge. More than 16 per cent of Delta teachers have four or more students with special needs, she said, adding the full costs of having an educational assistant is not adequately covered.
Saying the school board is totally dependant on provincial funding, Andy Basi said the biggest challenge is a fiscal one for teachers who need the resources to do their work.
"So it's vital that they come together, all stakeholders in the education system and try to prioritize projects and initiatives according to the benefits of the school district. The conversation must not only focus not on how many dollars we get but how those dollars are wisely spent," Basi said.
When asked about how to better engage the growing South Asian population, particularly in North Delta, Donna Burke, who was on the Delta South Asian Support Initiative, said funding is needed for translation services to better communicate with parents.
A question from CUPE asked whether candidates believed maintaining a clean environment was important to student success, an obvious reminder how custodial services have been trimmed due to budget constraints in recent years.
Carol Johnson said elementary principals are finding themselves having to clean up vomit or board up broken windows because no custodial staff are available during the school day.
Incumbent Simon Truelove said what people need to understand is the board has been trying to avoid direct cuts to the classroom.
"It's a lot easier for a board to cut a custodial position than, for example, an EA who is working with a special needs child. I don't think this is OK at all, it's an awful thing and really, we need more funding to make this educational system work," said Truelove.
The candidates had mixed responses to the DTA's question about submitting a "needs" budget as well as a balanced budget. Some said it is needed to point out the glaring shortfalls, but others questioned whether a parallel budget could be interpreted as nothing more than a wish list.
Brad Sherwin said an outside auditor is needed to go over the school board's budget and also work with the government, so there's an agreement on budget needs.
Incumbent Laura Dixon pointed out a special committee of the B.C. School Trustees Association has been working with the Ministry of Education on funding issues.
On the question of what their strategy would be with the funding challenges, especially for those "most vulnerable" in Delta, incumbent Fabian Milat noted the district still has $7 million in reserves it can utilize carefully. Julie Sanders said the board must continue to bring "more bums in seats" to slow the enrollment decline.
The candidates were also asked for their views on the district's vision, established after a lengthy consultation process with parents, students and teachers. Michael Patrick Macumber said he wants to make sure funding is available to move the vision forward.
The candidates were also asked for their thoughts on the proposal to partner with Delta to build an artificial turf field at Delta Secondary. Nick Kanakos and Malcolm Smillie echoed the comments of the others that it seemed like a good idea, although Kanakos had concerns how the sharing arrangement would work with the municipality. Incumbent chair Dale Saip noted what's needed is a comprehensive parks and recreation plan.
The host groups will be holding another all-candidates meeting for school board hopefuls on Monday, Nov. 14 at Seaquam Secondary in North Delta. It will run from 7:30 to 10 p.m.
The municipal election will be held Nov. 19.
A random selection of quotes from Monday's Delta school board all-candidates meeting:
"I'm just a regular single working mother who runs my business and has a deep investment in our education system. I will always think like that as a school trustee. My pledge to you is I will always put the needs of our children first."
- Carleen Bazowsky
"In seeking re-election for school trustee, I have to tell you I feel a tremendous responsibility to ensure that our students receive the very best education. I've knocked on doors and talked to people and they're really excited about our vision."
- Laura Dixon
"This is a remarkable district - innovative, caring, forward- thinking and fully articulated for anyone who took part in our visioning process. Delta is a highly respected district with a solid reputation."
- Janet Shauntz
"There's lots of talk about government funding, but I will put my money where my mouth is, and my expectation is the other candidates should do the same. Three hundred dollars every month from each trustee will buy $25,000 to put back where it belongs, that's in the classroom."
- Malcolm Smillie
"I've been an employee of the Delta school district for over 33 years. I have taught at North Delta. While teaching, I became aware of the major policies and regulations implemented by the board. I'm aware of staffing concerns, funding concerns and parental concerns."
- Nick Kanakos
"My experience on the board tells me this: cooperation in Delta is absolutely essential. The board doesn't make decisions by individuals... We actually have to listen until it hurts."
- Simon Truelove
"... I would use my energy to promote a wise use of technology and minimize costs. I am also a strong supporter of the arts and community education."
- Sue Lloyd
"One of my top priorities on the board has been cutting administration costs and I focused on administrative costs like a laser... Our district has the fourth lowest administrative costs in the province."
- Fabian Milat
"Being a positive, forward-looking person, I am using this campaign to talk to people about what the Delta school district does well and listen to their ideas for improving."
- Donna Burke
"I believe in consultation and collaboration with parents, teachers, administrators and senior management, as well as openness and transparency in the board's processes to keep the community involved and informed."
- Val Windsor
"Regardless of the issue at hand, children are always at the core of the debate."
- Carroll Allan
"It was a tough first term. We had funding shortfalls... Some of the things I'm proud of as a district, with our staff, is the district vision."
- Brenda Bennett-Schneider
"We need to put our children's needs first... We need a group of forward-thinking board members."
- Julie Sanders
"You're actually missing what the real problem is for teachers. It's the corporate agenda of our provincial government. They've got money for corporations, they don't have money for kids."
- Pat Dyer
"I have attention deficit disorder, it's one of the many learning disabilities that our students in the school system have. My passion is to get on the school board and make sure that the money we're spending is being spent in effective ways to ensure quality education for all students."
- Michael Patrick Macumber
"It's not special needs students who are the problem, it's the current funding formula."
- Carol Johnson
"My strength, I believe, for school trustee lies on my combination of professional experience, academic background and my personal commitment to the people of Delta."
- Andy Basi
"While it's good to have people from education on our board, it's also good to include people with a different perspective."
- Brad Sherwin
"We have a tradition of good, sound management practices, which includes good governance and solid leadership."
- Dale Saip