People attending an election town hall for prospective Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools trustees learned more about candidates’ views on education matters ahead of general voting day.
Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association held an all-candidates meeting at Beban Park social centre on Wednesday, Oct. 6, with Megan Simmer, NDTA member, moderating. Naomi Bailey, Tania Brzovic, Greg Keller, Charlene McKay and Bill Robinson seek another term at the school board table, while Andrew Gasson, Leanne Lee, Chantelle Morvay, Leana Pellegrin, Mark Robinson, Tom Rokeby and Tanner Scott seek to become trustees for the first time.
Safe schools and inclusion
Candidates were queried about what they would do to make schools safe places for all students.
Lee said it was important for anyone who enters a district school to know they are safe, regardless of race or orientation.
“I think it’s important to have places in schools designated as safe places, where students can go and know that when they enter that room, that is a space where they can feel comfortable and able to talk about anything that they need and I feel that comes with listening,” said Lee. “I think we really need to start to listen to the people in our buildings.”
McKay said it begins with the people attending schools.
“For me, it starts with the students and upholding their rights to privacy, to safety, to their education,” McKay said. “We need to make sure that they’re connected to at least two adults in their building that they know care deeply about them … we need to make sure that we’re providing training and, as a board, investing in training so that all of our staff, from the top all the way to the front lines, that we all have the same understanding of what those values should look like.”
Brzovic said the board needs policies that are well-designed to deal with such issues.
“It is vital, that of course, students have people in their schools that they feel they can reach out to and they have relationships with,” said Brzovic. “It is vital that we develop a good whistle-blower … policy within the district so that when you have concerns about bullying or racism, that we have a way making it seem like you can come forward to let us know that.”
Funding to private schools
Trustee candidates were asked whether money should be provided to other educational institutions.
“I believe in private schools,” said Bill Robinson. “I believe much more strongly in public schools. I believe people should have the right. I think they should be paying for their private schools … keep our public money going to public schools.”
Mark Robinson said he was very much against private school funding.
“Do we believe that public funds should subsidize Lowe’s and Home Depot? Probably not. Do we believe that public money should be subsidizing private industry? Probably not,” said Robinson. “I am 100 per cent against public funds supporting private education for that very reason … public funds for public schools; private funds for the private schools.”
Scott said private schools shouldn’t receive public funds as it affects curriculum.
“A specific example as to why they shouldn’t be receiving public funds as private schools would be the effect that it’s had on [an area private school] where they’re now required to teach [sexual orientation and gender identity] as a result of having that public funding, so no … there’s too many strings attached to that money.”
Advocating for capacity and staffing
Space concerns, lack of funding and staffing issues, including availability of education assistants, are affecting B.C. education and trustees were asked about how they would advocate for improvements.
Morvay said advocacy is her thing and something she will be doing if elected.
“[EAs] are just such an integral part of our education system and I know [the question] wasn’t just about EAs, but we really need to increase their wages, their hours,” said Morvay. “We need to get standards of practice so that they become a professional role. We do have a surplus in our budget this year, it might not be the same next year, but we can be fiscally responsible and provide these things at the same time and it’s integral to having a healthy, safe workplace.”
Scott said partnering with local non-profits may help with staffing. Looking at the budget and a $2.7 million surplus, most was invested into capital funds, or space, he said.
“They’re trying to increase the hours for EAs from 35-40, but the funding issue then comes in,” he said. “We’re juggling, we need more money as other candidates have said. We have to be advocating for that from the government, because they’re our primary money giver.”
Keller said there are increasing complexities in today’s classrooms, highlighting the need for EAs in the classroom, however B.C. doesn’t fund education to the level of other provinces, he said.
“That’s a really critical factor in all of this, is that it comes down to dollars and cents,” he said. “We can advocate and the board does. We do send letters to the ministry requesting more funds, but we can only do that so often and it’s really up to the province … one of the ideas I have is we can prioritize our budget. We can change the budget cycle, so we have more time to consider [priorities].”
School trustees adopted the Syeyutsus truth and reconciliation framework this term, a guiding document that considers Indigenous and western traditions. Prospective trustees were asked how they would consider United Nations’ Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act in forming district policy.
Bailey, who is of Cree and Métis ancestry, said the district has seen growth with Syeyutsus and more work is still being done.
“UNDRIP is all about connection to land,” she said. “We just signed a climate action plan for this district, which is all about land stewardship. That’s how I feel we can bridge the Indigenous lands with our climate action plan, that’s my vision for providing that lens.”
Gasson said conversations with First Nations are important.
“Educating through their eyes is really important,” said Gasson. “I used to have a class that I would take out and we would do language revitalization with some elders and we would learn the names of the plants, the area where we were and now my own kids, who are in school, are learning the language. I never expected that that would happen and it is, so that’s great … We should keep up our efforts on it.”
Pellegrin pointed to her work on Syeyutsus, which has her versed in Indigenous culture.
“Land and water are of the utmost importance and everything is about interconnection and reciprocity,” she said. “We have three land-based nations here in the school district and Métis and Tillicum Lelum … if you’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing [Joan Brown, Snuneymuxw CAO] speak, she often says that the most vulnerable among us is the land.”
Rokeby said the district has made great strides in truth and reconciliation, but First Nations should be lauded more.
“We have to acknowledge that we are witnessing a renaissance amongst the local Snuneymuxw population and what I want to make sure we do is give credit where credit is due and that’s to the nation, who fought the government for a settlement, who lifted their people out of poverty, developed themselves economically and, of course, be better in school,” he said. “I don’t want to see any settler organizations take credit for that.”
According to Simmer, approximately 100 people were in attendance and as many as 27 people livestreaming.
Advance voting in the City of Nanaimo will take place Wednesday, Oct. 12 and general voting day is Saturday, Oct. 15.
For voting locations, go to www.nanaimo.ca/your-government/elections/voting-locations.