The dozen candidates vying for the right to sit on the school board had a chance to make a pitch to voters Friday night at Thunderbird Hall.
All 12 trying to win one of five Campbell River seats on the board of education were in attendance at the event, organized by the district parent advisory council (DPAC). Approximately 100 people showed up for the start of the evening, though the ranks thinned somewhat as the event went on.
After an intermission, the candidates took a few questions from the audience. Roughly half of the questions dealt with the SOGI 123, the Ministry of Education’s contentious program aimed at making schools more welcoming environments for LGBTQ+ students, so the organizers simply had the candidates state their position on the issue. Most, including the current trustees, support SOGI 123, while an unofficial slate of three candidates – Vanessa MacLean, Manfred Hack and Andrew Beaudin – have opposed it. Another candidate, Peter Sutherland, has expressed opposition but is running independently.
The other couple of questions from the public focused on how they would handle funding shortfalls in terms of measures like staffing cuts or school closures. Some of the candidates spoke about the difficulties around closures, like Daryl Hagen who spoke about the drop in enrolment from 8,000 to around 5,000, which required the board to make some drastic cuts.
John Kerr added, “It was a hard decision to make…. but sometimes you have to make hard decisions.”
Joyce McMann said one of the biggest challenges for the district is making sure there are enough support staff when they face difficult fiscal choices.
To start the evening, each candidate was given five minutes to address questions from the DPAC around why each wants to be a trustee, what things the district needs to get right over the next decade, how to create an understanding of Canada’s history with First Nations, Metis and Inuit and what can be done to contribute to the overall mental health and well-being of students and staff.
Most of the candidates managed to compress answers to the four questions into the five minutes they had, though a few focused primarily around their personal experiences with teachers and why they wanted to be trustees.
Some such as Kat Eddy, who does literacy work, pointed out what happens when students become adults without necessary reading skills.
“I really see the tail end of the education system,” she said, highlighting the need to read to kids before they reach school age.
Some, like Christian Stapff, himself a teacher, spoke about the need to keep teachers excited about their work, especially in light of curriculum changes and challenges posed by the changing economy.
“A lot of the jobs are going to change or disappear,” he said.
A couple of candidates spoke about SOGI 123, especially Vanessa MacLean, who focused almost exclusively on the topic.
“I see parental rights being eroded,” MacLean said. “This program called SOGI – Sexual Orientation Gender Identity – 123 is the most frightening program I’ve ever seen coming into B.C. public school education. It falsely claims to prevent bullying…. Where is the parents’ say in all this?”
She also said she wants greater transparency in budgeting and finances, more age-appropriate resources especially around sex education and greater oversight of counsellors through a governing body.
“They need policing and they need to use methods that are clinically sound,” she said.