Funding challenges and school facilities dominated the discussion at the all-candidates meeting for school trustee hopefuls Tuesday evening.
All 13 candidates vying for nine positions on the school board and about 50 spectators showed up to the event, sponsored by the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce at the Port of Nanaimo Centre.
The evening started with two-minute introductions, then each candidate answered one question selected from a pile provided by attendees. The evening wrapped up 45 minutes early with two-minute closing remarks from each candidate.
Many of the candidates expressed concerns about the district’s financial situation and cuts to areas like special needs supports.
Incumbent Dot Neary said the district’s single biggest challenge is continued underfunding from the provincial government.
She said current trustees and district staff are working on a strategic plan for the district that will assist trustees in making sound budget decisions and stressed the importance of moving from vision to action.
Noah Routley criticized the current board for finding money for two new human resources positions, but not for extra resources for special needs students – a recent audit resulted in the province pulling $600,000 in special needs funding.
“Special needs students in our community have really fallen through the cracks,” he said. “We need to push back against these constant funding cuts.”
Incumbent Sharon Welch said the best way to advocate for more funding is to show the province that the district is doing the best it can with what it gets.
She said she believes millions of dollars are being wasted in the district.
“We need to get our house in order,” said Welch. “What we’re doing right now isn’t good enough.”
Bill Bard criticized the board’s decision three years ago not to go ahead with a provincially approved plan to close Nanaimo District and Woodlands secondary schools and build a brand new school at Woodlands, adding that nothing new for Nanaimo has been approved by the province since and there was no mention of Nanaimo in the province’s new school funding announcement earlier this week.
“The state of our facilities is horrible,” he said. “We have buildings that are in desperate need of renovation, upgrading and replacement. The old plan is gone and we’ve got to really start from scratch.”
While it is nice to have new paint, the most important thing is the learning going on in classrooms, said incumbent David Murchie, who voted against closing the two secondary schools.
He said the latest seismic audit has determined that schools are safer than government officials initially thought they were.
Preparing students for future jobs in the community was also discussed.
Kim Howland said the district needs to find new ways of doing things because the current education system is not preparing students for jobs in the 21st century.
Incumbent Jamie Brennan said school shops need upgrading so that students can start the training they need to get the jobs expected to materialize in Nanaimo from federal ship building contracts.
Another all-candidates meeting was held after deadline Wednesday at John Barsby Secondary School.
u Donna Allen (incumbent)
u Nelson Allen (incumbent)
u Bill Bard
u Jamie Brennan (incumbent)
u Nancy Curley
u Kim Howland
u Rosmy Jean Louis
u David Murchie (incumbent)
u Dot Neary (incumbent)
u Bill Robinson
u Noah Routley
u TerryLynn Saunders
u Sharon Welch (incumbent)