Two forums held last week for candidates in the Nov. 19 local government elections were a study in contrasts.
On Nov. 1, about 150 people arrived at Creston and District Community Complex to hear from and meet candidates for mayor, town council and the regional district. All candidates — two for mayor, 13 for town council, two for regional director, and both acclaimed regional directors — were given three minutes to present information about themselves, then the rest of the time allotted was turned over to an informal meet and greet session. Candidates were invited to circulate around the Creston Room and speak to anyone with questions.
A number of people in attendance grumbled about the lack of interaction among the candidates and the lack of a chance for each to be asked questions in front of an audience. The forum was organized by Creston Valley Chamber of Commerce and organizers had determined there were too many people running to allow for a traditional forum.
On Nov. 2, eight people vying for three School District No. 8 (Kootenay Lake) board of education seats took to the stage in a chilly Prince Charles Theatre to respond to questions from the organizing groups and the public. Fewer than 40 were in the audience.
Three candidates for the single town of Creston seat — incumbent Mel Joy, Paullette Francoeur and Heather Suttie — and five vying for two positions in the South Rural district — incumbents Annette Hambler-Pruden and Verna Mayers-McKenzie, and Vladimir Certik, Bob Gollan and Rebecca Huscroft — spent three hours fielding questions.
The forum was hosted by the Creston Valley Teacher’s Association (CVTA), the Kootenay Lake District Parents’ Advisory Committee (DPAC) and Canadian Union of Public Employees. It was moderated by retired teacher Bob Ferguson.
Candidates were given a short period to introduce themselves, then the evening was devoted to questions. A sampling of questions and answers follows.
•Local DPAC treasurer Susan Wilson asked whom trustees are responsible to and how candidates include senior staff in their vision of education.
Pruden-Hambler: Trustees are responsible to kids, who are the reason we have schools and teachers.
“I want what’s best for kids, but I’m only one of nine on the board,” she said.
The school district needs good senior staff to advise on issues, but it’s the trustees who make decisions. She feels the current senior staff, led by superintendent of schools Jeff Jones, has a great vision for the Kootenay Lake district.
Francoeur: Trustees answer to voters, children, parents and teachers.
Certik: Trustees are responsible to children and taxpayers. Senior staff offer a bank of knowledge and wisdom and must work with trustees as a team to provide the best possible education with the money available.
Joy: Trustees are accountable to the community and public and obligated to work as a team with senior staff. Senior staff have expertise and knowledge and, with trustees, need to ensure they share the same vision for education as the public.
Gollan: Trustees are responsible to just about everyone and schools should reflect community values. Students should be exposed to as many education options as possible.
Huscroft: Trustees are responsible to children and taxpayers. They need to have open communication with senior staff, as trustees need their opinions in order to make responsible decisions.
Mayers-McKenzie: Trustees are responsible to children and the general public, and to provide fiscal management.
Boards only hire the superintendent of schools and he or she manages the other staff.
“Jeff (Jones) works with administration and the board to offer the best programs we can for our children,” she said.
Suttie: Trustees have a moral responsibility to children to provide excellent public education. Public education is a way to level the playing field in society. Trustees are responsible to the entire system — teachers, students, principals and the public. They should surround themselves with the very best senior staff, and should listen to them and challenge them.
•CVTA president Becky Blair asked if candidates support expansion of contract negotiations with teachers at the local level, a practice that has eroded over the years.
Mayers-McKenzie: School districts have no ability to tax and get only what the Ministry of Education decides. But there are other things that can be done locally. An example of a “made in SD8 solution” is a compromise that will see teachers meet with parents instead of writing report cards.
Suttie: Is not opposed to local bargaining and sees advantages in some areas because staff’s needs are different in different parts of the province. Local bargaining of some issues could ease tensions between the BC Teachers’ Federation and BC School Employers’ Association.
Joy: There are local issues and provincial issues and to return to full local bargaining would be complex. The move to provincial bargaining came because the union used agreements in one area to leverage agreements in others. True local bargaining would include only local bargainers, not professional negotiators.
Francoeur: Doesn’t have the answer, but likes the concept of local bargaining.
Huscroft: More bargaining should be brought back to the local level so that “we all have a stronger voice locally. We need to say to the province, ‘enough is enough.’ ”
Certik: The problem is not local versus provincial bargaining but the lack of transparency in the process. Negotiations should be open and televised. Throughout the evening, Certik returned to his concern that teachers’ salaries have gone up considerably since 2005, reducing boards’ ability to pay for more services to students.
Hambler-Pruden: Described herself as a dinosaur who remembered when school districts had autonomy and the ability to set the education tax mill rate. “The public didn’t complain that we were spending money foolishly.”
“We know at the local level what we need,” she said. “We have lost the ability to defend what is best for the children in our district.”
Gollan: Negotiations are really complex issues but isn’t opposed to looking at more local bargaining.
•Laura Wigen, president of the Prince Charles Secondary School parents’ advisory council, asked how the candidates will handle new technology to benefit students in modern ways of teaching.
Huscroft: Students need more tech support than ever before, the best we can provide.
Joy: Technological advances “are the most exciting thing in schools today. They can bring out the best in children.” It is a serious issue to keep up with changes and a challenge to use available resources efficiently.
Francoeur: Learning is empowered by technology and it one of her five key issues she will focus on.
Mayers-McKenzie: Technology is key to current and future education.
Suttie: Computers are “wonderful” but they are teaching tools. Expressed concern that the provincial government suggests there will be an increased role for online learning and parents in education.
“I don’t want to lose personal contact between teachers and students,” she said. “We have to be very careful with technology.”
Gollan: Very much in favour of new technology, which is a powerful tool that needs some controls.
“We need to find innovative ways to supply technology to students and teachers,” he said.
Hambler-Pruden: Technology is incredible, but scary. Locally, many areas still do not have high-speed internet. Technology is a double-edged sword that “we all have to be aware of.”
It is difficult to afford the costs necessary to provide students with a level playing field.
“How on earth can we hope to keep up?” she asked.
Certik: Computers are a tool that must be used in a wise manner. We don’t have to go after the newest and most expensive technology.