Election 2014: School board candidates aiming to address child poverty

NANAIMO – High child poverty rate in Nanaimo needs to be addressed, say trustee candidates.

With Nanaimo’s reputation for high child poverty, a number of prospective school trustees at Tuesday’s all-candidates meeting said it was an issue they hoped to address if elected.

The forum followed a speed campaigning format and candidates set up booths and engaged with the electorate.

Trustee candidate Nelson Allen pointed to the high child poverty level in Nanaimo and said teamwork was needed.

“I’m suggesting, put this out there, that we should be finding a way that we can have almost like a summit … of organizations that are doing good work in combating poverty and let’s get together and see whether or not there are ways we can improve the delivery service and help to deal with some of the root causes,” he said.

Jamie Brennan, incumbent trustee, said a community-wide initiative was needed to deal with family poverty. He said 35 per cent of children in the school district were arriving in kindergarten unprepared.

“We can’t do it by ourselves,” said Brennan. “We have to engage with other levels of government, other community partners and non-profit organizations and get working on it,” Brennan said. “Parents and families can’t be let to be this hard up and kids can’t be coming to school unprepared.”

Candidate Catherine Morley said child poverty is directly related to graduation rates and showing children the value of education is one way to remedy it.

“If we can have the teachers really set an example and maybe even have a class taught about how education is a way out of poverty in elementary school so that kids can really build up confidence in school,” she said.

Incumbent trustee TerryLynn Saunders said addressing poverty was a goal of the current board and it did very little to address it.

“Our whole board, the current board that we have, we’ve just started to focus on that, so we’re starting to have discussions with other groups that deal with poverty issues and we’re going to bring them in and see what we can do and get more people understanding that we [have] one of the highest poverty rates in this country.

“We need to do something about it and it’s all of our responsibilities, just not the school board. It’s Nanaimo and Ladysmith’s problem and we need to deal with it,” Saunders said.

Twenty-three candidates are seeking nine trustee positions for the Nanaimo school district.