Replacing Cedar Elementary is one of the top capital project priorities for the school district. File photo/Campbell River Mirror

Campbell River school trustee candidates Q&A #2

Trustee hopefuls outline funding priorities

The Campbell River Mirror has asked the candidates for school trustee questions around public questions, and we will be running the answers in the candidates’ own words in the days leading up to the Oct. 20 election. We did ask both Susan Wilson and Shannon Briggs to answer them too, though each has won by acclamation. Wilson chose to answer the questions, but Briggs declined, citing time constraints around a recent move. Manfred Hack submitted his answers late and have been added to the end.

2) As funding can often be a challenge, what 2-3 items do you think need more attention? (Be specific. Items can be either a matter of resources or infrastructure, i.e. operations versus capital spending).

Susan Wilson – Most urgently, in our district, capital funding is needed. We have 17 schools which require a lot of maintenance and repairs, and one school that we would like to see replaced with a new structure. Having less targeted funding would also be helpful so districts could use funding to meet their unique needs.

Peter Sutherland – I would say that I’d like to see the province commit to developing an effective and purposeful portion of their budget directed toward our “vulnerable” youth and their families. This is needed for both infrastructure and resources. A delicate balance of both operational and capital needs has been displayed in recent years by the sitting board and I would commend them on their efforts.

Christian Stapff – The first item is identifying, and supporting intensive support for students in K and Grade 1. Most support only really kicks in once a student receives and IEP, not that a teacher will already be trying to create the support for the student in need. The earlier the process begins the better outcomes are for any student. Late identification, late support and late intensive remedies have a bigger gap in learning to overcome. In theory, a process like this will save money and frustration for all concerned.

The second item, vulnerable students indigenous and non-indigenous – and how we support them says everything about if we care enough about their success now and in the future.

The third item is about system change – for the better.

Schools, administrations and trustees all work with system and processes. The question is: are these processes still useful? Are they usable? Do they change behaviour in the system for the better? Can the processes be improved? For example: the education act requires teachers to record absences. So, what do we do with them?

Frequent absences should trigger us to investigate if communication is not forthcoming from parents. What if a student misses a particular class? What is happening? There may be a sufficient reason or something needs to happen to address the issue. There are many systems we may not be aware of and all can be improved using particular tools and thinking processes

If governments view education as a cost item and not as investment in future success and economic development, we as a province will not make progress, nor will our students be skilled and educated enough to succeed.

Funding for public school systems and health care are the two biggest budget items for a government. The funding trustees and superintendents can work with, to a large extent, is earmarked for salaries and benefits for employees. There are many priorities competing for dollars, something that was not addressed for quite a long time and we are paying for it now.

My view is pay professionals sufficiently so they can focus on their job and not have to worry about their family’s well-being. That said, the government has the opportunity to do this, do it well and in the process, attract good people to British Columbia to teach. We still have shortage of teaching professionals and this will not change until compensation reflects realities. But paying professionals is not enough. It is a little like asking a person to perform their work without the right tools or using outdated tools.

Joyce McMann – Funding is a perpetual challenge. Over 80 per cent of the district budget goes to wages. The Ministry of Education directs class sizes, so the teacher requirement is non-negotiable. Remaining dollars must be allocated to support those classes. Challenges exist around acquiring the support services needed to address the complexities of students with special needs. The need for specialty professionals such as occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, psychologists, and skilled educational aids are always in higher demand than the budget will allow for.

The government sets the criteria for funding directed to “special needs.” Many children with support needs fall outside the government designations and funds must be found to support them. The district student’s services office is extremely skilled in allocating resources, but the needs stretch the limits of the resources and this is a source of concern that requires ongoing advocacy to improve.

Another budgetary challenge is in maintaining facilities. Again, dollars are stretched around general custodial and maintenance tasks that often means long work order lists and frustration for custodial and maintenance staff.

In addition, the current board has identified the need to renew Cedar Elementary School. It is an old school with facility problems mounting. It has a strong enrolment that deserves a healthy and well-designed learning environment. We have begun to plan for, and pursue funding to support this goal, but we have reason to believe that this problem will not be solved soon.

Vanessa MacLean – I believe that more funds need to go towards better supporting children who require learning assistance. With learning disabilities, developmental disabilities and mental health issues on the rise, it is mandatory that we ensure these children are well supported, so they too can rise to their full potential within the realm of education. Effective stewardship of our resources is critical. We must look at where our funds are perhaps not being best used and make sure students are the main priority in all decision making. Currently, many parents across B.C. feel that the public education system is failing to provide the adequate attention and support that their children need in order to have a thriving educational experience. The great influx of high needs children has further led to teachers needing extra assistance in the classroom (i.e. educational assistants, special needs instructors). These extra ‘hands’ help provide better classroom management as well as create a richer learning environment for all students and instructors. The lack of resources and support in the public schools has accounted for part of the significant rise in parents taking their children out of public school in B.C. and enrolling them into private schools. Private school enrolment has increased by 14.6% in the past decade while Public schools numbers have dropped by 10% (​https://www.bcbusiness.ca/why-are-so-many-parents-opting-out-of-bcs-renowned-public-schools). Furthermore, a stats Canada analysis showed that “Private high school students score significantly higher than public school students on reading, mathematics, and science assessments at age 15, and have higher levels of educational attainment by age 23” (https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11f0019m/11f0019m2015367-eng.htm). Another issue I would like to draw to attention is the fact that reports from across the province have shown that more parents than ever are now wanting to enrol their children in independent schools that line up with their values at home; hence the reason there has been increased enrolment in faith-based schools across B.C. Parents are taking their children out of public schools because their moral values are not being respected or reflected in their child’s public education. Again, this supports the fact that political neutrality is needed within our school system and respect for differing values/beliefs must be upheld. We need to give students access to quality education with a variety of current resources that have been reviewed and approved by parents, educators, and professionals before implementation into the classroom.

John Kerr – The first item that needs more attention in the education system as a result of chronic underfunding for the past 15 years is adequate, sustainable, and predictable funding of our schools. This is especially important in the education of our children with special needs who have been underfunded for years. Second, the district has identified that the replacement of Cedar Elementary is a priority in the Five Year Capital Plan and I strongly endorse this priority. The condition of this school ranks among the lowest in the province and it is overdue for replacement. I have made presentations to the last two Ministers of Education supporting the replacement of this facility. Tied into this is the need to fund the adequate maintenance and repair of our aging school buildings, many of which are showing their age.

Linda Jay – The budget at SD72 is taken mostly by human resources. Because schools need qualified people, we really can’t ignore the importance of proper remuneration. With fewer student enrolments (fewer FTEs), the district is continually challenged to meet the demands of learning with fewer financial resources. Two or three items that may need increased attention will be the safety protocol (fire, flood, earthquake) for our buildings as well as first aid/first responder equipment within the schools. Two or three items that might come under a microscope for scrutiny could be how much is spent for computer hardware and projection facilities in each classroom, and also the vehicles needed for grounds maintenance. With regard to programs, I am a strong believer in the capacity of the community to step forward where children require extra-curricular coaching and supervising.

Daryl Hagen – Balancing all the competing interests in a school district is often difficult when it comes to finances and interests. For years we would rob parts of the system to help subsidize and pay for those that had the greatest challenges. Eventually over a long period of time it was decided to put some money into reserves so that there would be a buffer zone to minimize the impact (we have saved around $7 million that we can access) for

whenever the government decides to change something or to cut back. Identifying and in turn getting the funding that goes with a challenged child is one of my highest priorities. Increasing the graduation rates of all of our children is another priority. Do they have the skill sets to succeed and thrive in society today. Mental health would be my choice to focus on over the next term as well, especially when we see the number of youths that are at risk.

Richard Franklin – The board of education in Campbell River has always managed to annually submit a balanced budget to the Minister of Education. However, this has been challenging because funding for schools has not kept up with inflation. As a result, not only must the district be incredibly efficient, sometimes we have to cut corners to balance the budget. Over the years, the maintenance of the schools has been difficult. Insufficient funding has led to the schools becoming rather shabby in terms of landscaping and paint. I would like to see our hard working maintenance workers provided with the time, equipment and resources to maintain our buildings which are valuable public resources. The other area I think needs attention is support for students who have special needs. Students who need full-time support to enable them to attend school in a productive and safe way are not funded for full-time support. As a result, providing adequate support for these wonderful children is an ongoing challenge that needs appropriate funding.

Ted Foster – The Board of Education operates on the governance model implying it sets policy and operations are handled by management. One of the main policy structures is the strategic plans that are formulated with significant input from our various partner groups. The new Strategic Plan (2018 – 2022) will be a priority for the new board. Funding initiatives and priorities are key components; ideas are discussed. It leads to consensus / voting and the boards’ will is determined with individual trustees expected to support the will of the majority.

Of course I have some ideas of my own. I believe our thrust on infrastructure level work should be on finding a way to replace Cedar Elementary School. Not only is it one of our oldest facilities, in need of extensive repairs, including seismic upgrades, it is also of an obsolete design and houses a disproportionate number of vulnerable EDI children. A new school would be a tremendous morale booster for these “forgotten” youngsters, but it would signal strong support for our vulnerable students, build capacity, display flexibility plus furniture upgrades would undoubtedly build self esteem, pride and sense of purpose on the targeted “vulnerable” students.

At the operations level I would advocate continuing support for the education transformative initiatives as in continuing to grow the I.T. program, support Indigenous initiatives and personalized learning opportunities, the furniture replacement initiative and expanding opportunities. There have been some inconsistencies in the data related to measuring student achievement on a year to year basis with individual classes. I appreciate that assessments can be distorted / faulty, but somehow we need to be able to better pinpoint areas in need of attention as well as those areas where we are excelling.

One of our trustees championed the phrase “stable, predictable and adequate provincial funding” would stabilize the Board functions. We are not there yet!

Kat Eddy – Provincially, there is a need to secure additional funding for professional services such as speech and assessment. Waitlists for these services are long and growing, professionals currently working in our system are at their maximum capacity, and funding for these services is significantly lacking. A related second and equally important priority is funding to provide services to our students with exceptional needs. Without prior historical knowledge of this funding stream I can only put forth that this needs to be advocated for re-evaluation at a provincial government level with an eye to increased funding for these services.

We need to look at some of our older facilities most noticeably Cedar Elementary. This facility houses a large student population and is in desperate need of repair or rebuild.

Although not directly related to funding an upcoming challenge for our district is succession planning. An eye needs to be turned towards this as a large number of our district’s staff members are nearing retirement age. This is a key issue in all professional fields but due to the fact that SD 72 is rural we may needd to come up with imaginative ways to recruit, retain, and encourage existing professional to assume roles in upper level management.

Andrew Beaudin – I will use the example operations versus capital spending because both do have challenges. Operations is an expense required for the day to day functioning of a business, but in this case our schools in District 72. This operating expenses, are incurred through out the regular school year. They are such things as general and administrative expenses, research, development, office supplies, and utilities. There is much more included of course. In running the business of our school system there may be a choice of either to incur an operating expense or a capital expense. I would like to say that a capital expenditure represents an investment. To be sure the funding available needs to be spent on the everyday expenses. I would, however, be in favour of capital spending to bring in tools that would lend achievement to the student, such as modern computer systems. Also, because our community is growing, it is a must to accommodate that growth with new up to date school buildings and equipment. Invest in current ways to clean the schools giving cleaning crews appropriate time and machinery to alleviate viruses from spreading among students, staff and then home. Making sure there are proven programs in place for our challenged children using expenditures to accommodate them in whatever is needed to give them an education they will be able to use. Give special attention into apprentices training. Invest in trades that are so lacking and needed in our world today.

Manfred Hack – Not having been a trustee, I am not able to address specifics, but one area that I would focus on is more financial support for teacher assistants to come alongside students who have challenges. Note but “with clear and transparent accounting to its distribution.”

Another area is the apprenticeship program which already has been success and to promote it further by a focused and determined effort to explain the great benefits to the students and community.

I believe that every child has a gift, a dream, a passion inside of them and it is the teacher’s opportunity to equip the child to fulfill that vision.

RESPONSES TO QUESTION 1

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