School closures a hot topic at forum

School closures, teacher working conditions and improving student achievement were among the range of issues put to trustee candidates.

School closures, teacher working conditions and  improving student achievement were among the range of issues put to Nanaimo trustee candidates at Wednesday’s public meeting.

About 100 parents, district employees and community members attended the event, sponsored by the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association and the District Parent Advisory Council, at John Barsby Secondary School.

Each candidate was asked one question and given two opportunities to speak to another candidate’s question.

Former trustee TerryLynn Saunders was asked where she stood on school closures – a hot button issue in the district since the former facilities plan called for closing four elementary schools, two secondary schools and building a new school on the Woodlands site.

Saunders, who voted for school closures three years ago, told the room she would vote to close schools if necessary.

“We have a lot of empty spaces in our district,” she said. “If you want to have safe schools, upgraded schools … you better start thinking about it and thinking about it seriously.”

Incumbent Nelson Allen called the school closure debate a “dead issue” because enrolment is going to start rising again.

Labour relations was another focus and questions included the teachers’ job action, improving relations between the district and employee groups and last spring’s court ruling that found legislation stripping teacher contracts of classroom size and composition limits violated teachers’ rights.

Incumbent Jamie Brennan said he’s anxious for teachers and the province to come to an agreement on how to rectify the problems with the legislation, as he’s eager to see more money flow into classrooms.

“It’s a matter of money now,” he said.

Nancy Curley, who has worked in the labour relations field for many years, said in her experience, improving relations between teachers and the district starts with trust and showing employees they are valued through fair collective agreements.

Noah Routley criticized the school board for sending the superintendent’s report on class sizes, which included more than 100 oversized classes this fall, to the Education Ministry.

He said the report needs to include more information than merely stating the classes are appropriate for student learning.

As for improving the experience for students, incumbent Sharon Welch said enhancing the creative classes like sports, drama and music will engage students and get them excited about school.

One of Kim Howland’s priorities is to ensure the board hears more from students – the ones who are being impacted by its decisions.

Bill Robinson said his goal is to focus on and celebrate all of the success stories in the district.

“When you celebrate these successes, you build the kind of energy that gives you strength to tackle your challenges,” he said.

Rosmy Jean Louis said he would focus on creating policies that ensure students have equal educational opportunities in any school in the district.