All School Board Candidates Meeting Hosted by New West District PAC – Wednesday, October 3rd

It’s Election time New West! (But you already knew that, right?) Saturday, October 20th is the big day to reach for the pencil and select your choice for Mayor, Council and School Trustees. There are a number of All Candidates Meetings popping up around town.

On October 3rd the New West District Parents Advisory Council (NW DPAC) will be hosting an all School Board Candidates Meeting. Questions from the 12 parent advisory councils (PACs) that make up the DPAC will be put to school board candidates. Find your school’s PAC contact information on their webpage.

The event will be held at New Westminster Secondary School’s Library at 835 8th Street in New Wesminster between 6:30 and 9pm.

Professional childcare and snacks will be provided. No RSVP required, just show up!

What does a Trustee do?
The British Columbia School Trustees Association gives a bit of info on their webpage:
“As locally elected representatives, the trustees on these boards best understand their respective communities’ particular strengths, challenges and demands…School trustees listen to their communities, guide the work of their school district and set plans, policies and the annual budget.”

 

Here We Go Again

#NewWestVotesWhat’s happening in New Westminster politics has been a great portion of this site’s history. We’ve written all sorts of think pieces, op-eds, event previews and recaps, profiles, and have also hosted all-candidates events. Our comments section has always made for lively discussion, as well.

In the past, we’ve often endorsed certain candidates.

We’ve made the editorial decision that from now on, Tenth to the Fraser will not endorse any particular candidate for any election. True, our editor’s political leanings are not exactly secret, but we just don’t think Tenth to the Fraser, as a business and a team of a few people, needs to make a proclamation about who we think is the right leader.

We do commit to write about what we think is much more important: providing information about how, when, and why to vote, and providing a platform for all candidates to give answers to questions, purchase advertising (so long as they meet our guidelines about suitable advertisements), and have an opportunity to submit pieces about the issues their position might have to cover.

So…. guess what?

There’s a school trustee by-election coming up to replace Mary-Ann Mortensen who resigned in March this year, and that means you are voting for a single person to replace her. Just because it’s only one person doesn’t make it any less important for New West to vote, in fact, it’s almost more important that you do put in the effort. And regardless of whether you have children, trustees work collaboratively to develop policies and lead and represent New Westminster Schools, and ultimately, they work to raise awesome future New Westers who might one day be your neighbour, your employee, or your caregiver.

For a bit more info about what trustees do and why you should care no matter that, check out this article from back in 2011.

The election takes place on June 11. if you can’t make that, then there is also two opportunities for advanced voting: June 1 at City Hall, and again on June 4 at Glenbrook Middle School. All of the date and places are available on the City’s website and all voting opportunities are from 8am to 8pm.

Who’s running? There are two candidates who have filed: Dee Beattie, backed by the District Labour Council, and Mary Lalji, running as an independent. I sent both candidates the same questions, and I’m printing them below exactly as received. Dee got her responses in first, so hers are listed on top. If you’ve got more questions that need answers before you make a decision, get in touch with your candidates and ask them your questions! Their contact info is included below.  Continue reading “Here We Go Again”

New West kids deserve fair lunch policy for all

Lunch standards vary significantly from school to school in New West, as shown in this page from the Superintendent's report on the subject.
Lunch standards vary significantly from school to school in New West, as shown in this page from the Superintendent’s report on the subject.

The children in my daughter’s kindergarten class, like most in the district, are given 15 minutes to eat their lunches before they are sent outside to play. But it’s not really 15 minutes to eat.

That 15 minutes includes two dozen children lining up and washing hands at a single sink in the class. It includes the time to file into the cloakroom to fetch their lunch kits. It also includes the time to clean up their desks and put their lunch kits away. Talking and socializing are necessarily forbidden. Continue reading “New West kids deserve fair lunch policy for all”

Why PACs never stop asking parents for money

As parents of kids in New West schools know, each school has a PAC, and they never stop asking for your money. Although PACs are familiar, a lot of people aren’t sure exactly what they do or why they do it – and why, no matter how much you donate, it is never enough.

“PAC” stands for Parent Advisory Council. PAC members work very hard to represent the parent voice within their children’s schools. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, School Districts started forming PACs in order to increase family involvement in the education process (this is according to the Vancouver School Board PAC handbook). It became school board policy that all schools must allow the formation of a PAC, and that members of the PAC executive should be chosen by election. Since then, PACs have been an integral part of the BC education system, representing the voices of families.

PACs have been involved in everything from evolving curriculum and communicating with School Boards, to creating school lunch programs and raising funds. However, the PACs’ responsibilities have become increasingly weighted towards the latter. PACs have long been responsible for providing schools with things like hot lunches and activities, but they are now also providing schools with money for field trips, playgrounds, and technology. PACs are becoming a high stakes game, and schools are slowly becoming “have” or “have-not” due to the ability of its PAC to raise those funds. I spoke to some PAC members and parents, and there are some very telling commonalities in the typical PAC that indicate whether its school is a “have” or “have-not.”

When I asked PAC members and parents what one of the main issues was with today’s PAC, the number one answer was parent involvement. When I was a child in the 80’s, I remember my parents’ PAC meetings being a meeting place, a place to socialize, to be involved, and to get sh*t done at the school. There were always at least 20 people at the meetings, most of them on the executive. And this was a school with only 150 kids! That’s quite a ratio! The school I now work in, has a membership of 4, and an average attendance of the same.

Parents assume that they have to commit huge amounts of time to the PAC. And if there are only 4 people attending meetings, you DO! But the more people involved, the more work there is to go around, and the less time it takes to do said work. Then, the work is shared more equitably. The PAC president at my school is here most days, all day. spearheading fundraising, arranging hot lunch days, researching grants, organizing various after-school fun activities, etc. It’s a full time job that she doesn’t get paid for. Some may say, “Well she signed up for it!” And if it was signing up for something that only affected her family, fair enough. But it affects all the families in the school, and if the PAC isn’t providing, the school suffers. PAC members who work their butts off burn out quick. When I asked PAC members and parents what their top wish would be for, one of the top things was more parent involvement.

One of the other top wishes was for more funding from the government. PACs receive money from the government, and over the years, there have been more and more stipulations put on how the government allots that money, and what the PAC can use that money for. For example, PACs have to have a minimum number of members to get funds, and must fill out mountains of difficult paperwork. PACs also receive funding from the BC Lottery Corporation, and over the years, the funding has not caught up to inflation, which means the funding is actually getting cut more and more. Meanwhile, the BCLC is making more and more money, each year and passing that money on to big Crown corporations that work specifically towards the government’s agenda. BCLC money can only be used for certain things. Technology is not one of them. And what are schools lacking in the most? Up to date technology.

As I mentioned before, in the ’80s, PACs played an integral role as the family voice in new district policies, governmental curriculum development, and school communities. However, as PACs’ plates have become more and more full with providing for the schools they represent, their ability to communicate at those levels has declined.

District PACs, or DPACs have popped up. And Provincial PACs, or the BCCPAC. These new representative groups have taken on the responsibilities of policy change and educational reform. Therefore, there should be a lot of communication between DPAC and BCCPAC and the local school PACs, right? Nope. In most cases, none at all. DPACs and BCCPAC have adopted their own political agendas over the years, and the formerly non-partisan organizations have become decidedly partisan in their agendas. These agendas, for the most part, have no link to the average schools’ needs. Local school PACs feel they have little to no voice outside their own school. And even within their school, some feel segregated.

With the rise in dependence on the PAC to provide funding for field trips, school supplies, and even teacher funds, PACs have also noticed less teamwork between teachers and PAC members. In the ’80s, teachers, principals and PAC members worked side by side, creating school communities where children thrived and school was “fun.” Now, PACs are becoming more and more disengaged with teachers, finding it difficult to communicate.

When a PAC asks how they can help teachers, teachers want money for more opportunities to provide students with fun and engaging activities. And that means more money from PACs. The fundraising machine runs non-stop. Programs that used to be free are no longer free, such as the Aquarium and Science World. Some programs have been cut altogether (such as swimming and skating) and therefore those field trips and programs have gotten more and more expensive, and all due to lack of funding on those programs’ own parts. And the PAC is still there, needing to toe the line. With fewer and fewer members doing more and more, with less and less.

So the next time you get, yet another, PAC notice asking for money, hopefully you will understand that grabbing money from you is the last thing the PAC wants to be doing. And it is the last thing they should be doing too.

New West school board candidates weigh in on family issues

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.

Candidates on best behaviour at school board all-candidates debate

School trustee candidates prepare for an all-candidates debate in the NWSS library.
School trustee candidates prepare for an all-candidates debate in the NWSS library.

At the first all-candidates school board trustee debate of the 2011 civic election, hosted by the New Westminster Teachers Union, emcee and Left Coast blogger Stacey Robinsmith had a bit of last-minute shuffling of tables and chairs to do. As he shoved the last one into place he quipped, “That’s CUPE work, sorry everybody!” Stacey got a good laugh for that zinger, but his little joke also reflected one of the contentious questions of concern to the (unfortunately somewhat sparse) crowd of union folk, council and mayor candidates and political axe-grinders.

In Alfie Lau’s coverage of the event in the Record he mentions that the candidates “scored no knockout blows,” and so no clear winner emerged. The structure of the “debate” – as with most all-candidates debates – didn’t really lend itself to verbal repartee, and within the limited opportunity for rebuttal, in all cases the candidates played it safe.

I’m no expert in school board matters, but it seems to me that over the past three years, the big issues in the local newspapers have been the tortuously slow progress on building new schools, the investment in the district’s business company (which has lately started to show a return), the question of whether to close tiny Hume Park Elementary and above all, the toxic politics that divide the current Board and hamper its ability to efficiently fulfil its mandate.

The interests of the crowd, or at least those who submitted questions, had little to do with any of the issues I was expecting to hear about. A number of questions were asked about the potential for outside interference from unions for candidates who were employed by unions as teachers or who have accepted New Westminster and District Labour Council funding and endorsements, the role of private enterprise in schools, support for programs of choice and levels of funding for students with disabilities.  These are contentious issues for some union members, but (correct me in the comments if I’m wrong) these are not the burning issues that matter to the majority of New West voters. The only candidate that alluded to the difficulties the board has faced in achieving consensus was Casey Cook, who noted, “Where we are challenged as a district is what takes place in the boardroom.”

Given that, the other big surprise was just how similar all the candidates’ answers were.

As I mentioned, over the past three years every mention of the school board has been paired with moaning about how dysfunctional it has been. Yet when it came time to hear from each of the candidates, virtually all of them said they were for the same things: putting kids first, offering parents and kids choices when it comes to education, providing access to technology to enhance learning, supporting programs of choice, being prudent stewards of the budget, etc. etc. While their aspirational values may be the same, where the rubber meets the road is how they define these ideas and what steps, tradeoffs and choices they would make to realize these. I am hoping to hear more specific commentary differentiating the candidates’ approaches later in the campaign.

A number of mayoral and council candidates were present to listen, shake hands and support trustee candidates. I didn’t expect to see such easy camaraderie among the candidates. I even overheard councillor Betty McIntosh take a moment to offer some public speaking tips to one of the new female candidates. I didn’t expect to see the more experienced politicians mentoring the political newcomers. I don’t know whether this is something that’s typical, but I was glad to see it.

Major themes the candidates kept returning to included how to improve communication between the school board and constituents, how to strengthen school ties with the community, and especially the need to lobby for more funding from Victoria for schools.

In response to a question about candidates’ views on advocating for more support staff, Michael Ewen explained, “The issue here isn’t whether we support support staff. Are the schools clean? They are as clean as we can afford to get them right now.” He went on to say that the issue is fundamentally one of funding. “We need to encourage the province to fully fund the needs of our students.”

On the topic of asking for more funding, Jim Goring stressed that “rallying, ranting and raving” were not effective, and said lobbying as a group along with the B.C. School Trustees Association would be the way he’d want to go about it.

Lisa Graham pointed out that there was no problem in demonstrating need in the district, saying, “The current levels of funding are not sufficient. There are many, many more needs than there are dollars to meet those needs, whether it be for special needs supports, more custodians, technology for teachers … all those things take money.”

MaryAnn Mortensen agreed, saying, “I think it’s a given that we need more money in public education and that we need to look at our own finances.”

And James Janzen said that lobbying for funding was “one of the primary roles of trustees in B.C. – and it’s too bad that it is.”

Other notable quotes from the evening: 

  • “I was ensured by one employer that I was a successful failure at almost everything. Vote for me for school trustee!” – James Bell, who is also running for council.
  • “I’m a huge fan of technology. The world is moving very, very quickly and if we want our students to keep up in the world they need that exposure to technology. We need to bring in every piece of equipment we can reasonably afford that would give our students these tools. We need to make sure our computer labs are up to date, the equipment is up to date.” – Glen Richmond
  • “There’s nothing wrong with a conflict of interest. There’s a great deal wrong with an undeclared conflict of interest. People have lost faith in the decision-making process because they perceive there are a lot of conflicts that are not being declared.” – Casey Cook
  • “Communications between school board trustees and PACS & DPAC is vital. It’s a function of a trustee to have a connection with the people, not just the issues. There’s a huge difference between hearing the issues via email and hearing the issues in person.” – MaryAnn Mortensen
  • “I believe we need to take the time to listen to all groups.” – James Pepa
  • “When it comes down to it, you’re not going to make a decision based on how many sign up or how many sign a petition. You’re going to make decisions that are best for the children in this district.” – David Phelan
  • “People are very disappointed in the lack of progress for schools. People were disappointed that the money went elsewhere and not to students.” – Jonina Campbell
  • “Whenever we make a decision about anything we have to ask where is the child in this decision. If it’s not the girls and boys of New Westminster, we need to go back and think again.” – James Janzen
Note: more photos from this event are in an album on our Facebook Page, where I will be adding photos of civic election candidates.