With the municipal election days away, Nanaimo Duncan and District Labour Council hosted a meet-and-greet for prospective Nanaimo Ladysmith school district trustees.
Attendees were given the opportunity to ask questions in an informal setting and candidates were afforded the chance to make a last pitch before voting on Oct. 20.
Capacity and overcrowding were among issues that face the school district, according to a number of candidates.
“We need to reconsider catchment policy to some extent,” said candidate Hunter Ehrismann. “We need to let students at all of our schools graduate and finish their education, but we also need to, going forward, consider catchment policy. I wouldn’t support touching in-catchment policy, but definitely out-of-catchment needs to be examined.”
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Richard Finnegan said facilities are an important issue.
“We only have 10 per cent of our budget to spend on buildings and we want to spend $100 million on a new high school,” said Finnegan. “We’ve got five schools that are [most vulnerable] seismic status and we need to make sure we go to the government with one plan from the city, RDN and from the school board saying, ‘We need to upgrade our schools.’”
Matt Szeler said space available is a pressing issue.
“There’s schools that are closing and we live in an area that is rapidly growing and there’s not enough space,” said Szeler. “I’ve heard people complain about catchment … and that had a lot to do with spacing. People want to bring their kids to this part of the city and they haven’t room with the people being there. So I think catchment is one of the things we need to look at.”
Corinne Furtmann said facilities, seismic safety and clean drinking water are issues for her, as well as transportation.
“I’m looking at getting seatbelts on buses; that’s an interest for me,” said Furtmann.
Jen Skogland said facilities are a priority, but health and well-being of students comes first.
“They’re not able to learn if they don’t have that basis,” said Skogland. “The pillars of that health and well-being are activity, equity and nutrition.”
Skogland said the district has to build on current school district meal programs.
“I know there’s emergency food programs available for our students, but I don’t believe we’re considering the nutrition factor as much as it should be considered,” Skogland said. “I think there’s a holistic approach to food and we’re missing that mark. I think that gardening needs to be in there, making food needs to be in there, as well as eating food, that’s all part of the food literacy mandate.”
Szeler, who stated opposition to SOGI 123 (sexual orientation and gender identity) curriculum at an earlier all-candidates’ meeting in a question where candidates were only able to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ elaborated on his position.
“I don’t disagree with all of it, but there are certain things that I do. I agree with the bullying policy, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m a short guy and when I was a kid, I got bullied,” said Szeler.
He said part of his platform includes ensuring age appropriateness of material being presented to students and creating school policies that protect parental rights.
“That’s one thing that I’m really for because it seems to me they want to disengage the parents,” said Szeler. “I want to go the other way. I think they should engage the parents in the curriculum SOGI should be working with. I’m not going to make a difference between SOGI, SOGI 123, that’s a complex situation, but I think the parents need to be engaged in the material. A person shouldn’t have their kids coming home and the parents are surprised at what’s going on.”