New West school board candidates weigh in on family issues

Kathleen McConnell asked the candidates about family issues in the New Westminster election, focusing on two areas: what elected officials can do to help families, and specifically what changes candidates would advocate for if elected. This post focuses on answers from trustee candidates; a second post will follow focusing on mayor & council candidates.

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about my first impressions of the 2011 Civic Election Candidates for New Westminster, based on a non-traditional all candidates forum at Lafflines Comedy Club. I based my thoughts solely on the all important ‘first impression’, in particular, the issue of trust and authenticity. However, that doesn’t discount the importance of know what a candidate actually stands for. I believe that it is important to do our research as citizens and vote based on policy platforms.

I was invited to write an article for Tenth to the Fraser specific to family issues in the Civic Election. I am happy to have that opportunity. I put together a couple questions and sent them to all the candidates via e-mail- hoping to get a better sense of their policy platforms. My questions targeted two things:

First, it is my belief that part of the reason voter turnout is so low in civic elections is that many voters are unclear on the ways in which Civic politicians can impact their day to day life. I wanted the candidates to help me explain through this article, when it comes to family issues, what it is that they can actually do within their municipal offices.

My second question required them to be as specific as possible about what they would actually like to see happen in our city. I believe in the “Nenshi” mode of civic politics: “Politics in full sentences”. (Haven’t heard of Nenshi? Calgary’s current mayor. Ran an awesome campaign based on grassroots consultation, social media, and a robust but clear policy platform). However, I also believe those sentences should be short, to the point and without unnecessary ‘fluff’. We often hear candidates talk about how they will improve or make things better. The catch is a) What does ‘better’ mean to them and b) how do you get from now to better, aka do we agree on the means to the ends.

I really appreciate the candidates who responded, I know how busy they are. Overall, I got the best response from the School Board Candidates, which reflected my general first impression that overall I was more impressed with the School Board candidates then the council or mayoral ones. I should note, I did have a few candidates who responded but are not included in this article, as they did not directly answer the questions I provided, making it difficult for me to include them in this format. I also had a number of candidates apologize for not having enough time to respond, which I respect.

I will share the candidates’ answers to the above questions in two posts. The first one (below) will focus on trustee candidates. The second will summarize responses from mayor and council candidates.

Part One: School Board

I know many parents make choices of where to buy a house in the Lower Mainland based on the schools, their reputation and their programs of choice. In clarifying what the school board can impact, the answer from Mary Ann Mortensen was that, “our Board of Education trustees are responsible for improving student achievement.” The School board can impact this by allocating budget (which comes from the provincial government) to ‘programs of choice’ such as “special needs, apprenticeship programs, drama and music, sports programs, international baccalaureate, adult education, self directed learning. It would also include after school care, child care, special counselling services.” Says Brenda McEachern Keen. The School Board can also provide community access for recreation programs, according to David Phelan. It is important to note, however, that the school board is not directly responsible for providing day care and can not change the curriculum, though it can advocate as such.

So given that range of what the school board can actually do, the second thing I asked the candidates is to be specific in terms of what they would like to see happen. To do this, I asked them to specific programs or policies (essentially, things they spend budget dollars on) they would like to see stop, reduced, improved, created and advocated to other levels of government. Essentially, I wanted the meat of their campaign platform. This is the part that really got at the heart of the issues for the school board. Here were some of my favorite responses:

Stop:

Jim Goring: “In the past Boards have passed a “Needs Budget.” This has not been effective, takes staff, increases costs and distracts focus. There are alternative methods to look at budgeting to establish needs and make decisions.”

Mary Ann Mortensen: “Creating policies without first creating a Mission and Vision statement through consultation with the community.”

Reduce:

Brenda McEachern Keen: “Participating in the day to day management of the district. This is properly delegated to our capable executive administrators with periodic review by the board.”

Glen Richmond: “Overcrowding in our schools.”

Improve:

James Janzen: “I think the School Board could communicate better with the wider community about what we do and how we are doing. We are doing well and more people should know about that!”

David Phelan: “We need to organize community walks, perhaps work with the PACS so students can partake in an active way of getting to school…. Develop local connections to farmer’s markets, community gardens and Farm to School programs that will help develop healthy eating habits in our children.”

Mary Ann Mortensen: “More advocacy for Special Needs funding and supports, more advocacy for a review of Special needs designation, assess students earlier for Special Needs and gifted/talented, improve parental engagement in public education, improve communication, increase programs of choice as demand increases and room in schools increases (3 new schools), improve employee morale, and a host of others.”

Create:

Glen Richmond: “[R]e-establish the School Liaison Officer (SLO) Program (one part-time officer assigned to each school) for all elementary and middle schools.”

Michael Ewen: “breakfast programs”

James Janzen: “In the area of policy I would like to find out from the community if we need to offer more protection for LGBTG students or whether our current policies are good enough.”

Casey Cook: “Increased funding to support special needs, school breakfast and hot lunch program and many many more education supports and services.”

Advocate:

David Phelan: “Funding for more child care spaces, and having the various levels of government work together to create more child care spaces in our schools, and to create more Community Hubs.”

Conclusion

Overall, most of the candidates indicated a need to advocate to the provincial government for more federal funding.

For me, as a parent of a toddler, there are few things in particular that resonated with me and that I will be looking for from our newly elected School Board. Those things are:

  • Getting the new schools built
  • Programs that focus on healthy living: healthy food in the schools, walk to school programs, physical education, ect.
  • The option for parents to enroll their child in a program with a focus on little to no homework and a focus on critical thinking and problem solving, rather then rote memorization

Based on what I heard from the candidates, I am confident there are candidates out there that can move us in the right direction.

Kathleen McConnell

Kathleen McConnell is a really valued member of the Tenth to the Fraser community. Interested in joining our pool of writers? Please see these submission guidelines.

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