I sent two questions to all school trustee candidates from Lake Country, Kelowna and West Kelowna recently.
Some of the responses were short; some were long. But I’ll only give partial responses for some for brevity sake.
1. Aside from the current legal dispute between the BC Teachers’ Federation and the provincial government, what are your views on class size and class composition?
Nicholas Aubin: “I believe that class size and composition is something that should be looked at by all partner groups. I want to establish meaningful communication systems and relationships with our partner groups by including them in collaborative discussions...”
Joyce Brinkerhoff: “…The matter has been in the courts since prior to my term as a trustee. I have respected the court process and as a board, we have not discussed the issues … To be honest: to both of your questions I would have to plead “I do not know enough to make a definitive comment, but I would like to know more and am currently researching the area…”
Rolli Cacchioni: “Having taught a four-grade split with identified students, and numerous classes over 30 during my teaching career, I agree with smaller class sizes. I also agree with decisions made at the school/ class level with regard to staffing specific classroom situations.”
Julia Fraser: “… I believe the most pressing problems in our school district are resources and class size and class composition. In order for School District 23 to continue towards achieving success, schools will require more resources. I believe there should be reduced class sizes and consideration given to class composition, especially in the vulnerable schools….”
Chris Gorman: “Class size, composition, and the teacher are all important to maximizing learning in the classroom. Where there are challenging class size and composition issues, the school district makes every effort to ensure additional support structures are in place.”
Lee Mossman: “Class size and composition are perhaps the most significant factors in allowing teachers to provide the time and interaction that meets the needs of all the students. The needs of all children should be considered. If 70 per cent of a teacher’s time is spent with three or four children, then the needs of the other children are not met. It’s ridiculous to think that one teacher can effectively give the quality of one-on-one interaction with 35 kids…”
2. What are your views on the actual legal dispute, namely: a) the government ripping up the BCTF contract in 2002; and b) the government's claim to have the right to set policy regarding staffing levels?
Nicholas Aubin: “I am committed to supporting our students and schools, the teachers who are entrusted with teaching them every day and contributing to our centres of learning that inspire innovation and creativity. I feel I can make a difference in my community. As an incoming school trustee candidate, I believe we have the ability to influence change and have an effective voice for our community...”
Joyce Brinkerhoff: “…Certainly my over-arching philosophy is to treat all people with respect and dignity. When this mutual respect is fully practiced — even those times where circumstances or finances dictate less than our favourite option, we can still work together…”
Rolli Cacchioni: “…decisions on educational services are best made at the school/class level. With School Planning Councils, an excellent opportunity is afforded for principals, teachers and parents to make these close to home decisions … I do believe that negotiated agreements produce the best work place environments.
Julia Fraser: “… The tragedy of this unfortunate, protracted dispute is that our children are caught in the middle. It really isn’t about the BCTF and a hard-nosed government, determined to spend as little on education as possible to maintain its self-proclaimed bottom-line. It’s about all those children and youth in the classroom to whom we will rely on to grow our economy into our retirement and take care of our planet for future generations…”
Chris Gorman: “The new Education Fund is helping school districts address challenging class size and composition issues.”
Lee Mossman: “The government cannot act arbitrarily in terms of policy and law in labour negotiations. They are bound by the laws of the land as we all are. Staffing levels are to be negotiated “in good faith” by both parties. When the government decided to act outside of those parameters it violated B.C. labour laws…”
Of 14 people surveyed, only six responded. That’s surprising given the common notion school trustee elections are pretty much ignored. I must say, though, there are markedly more forums than I’ve seen in the past.
I’d like to thank my respondents for answering my questions. And I wish you all luck in the election on Saturday. But before I go, I have two other questions:
1. We have heard for at least a decade the government is under-funding education. The government counters with figures that show that it has put more money into education. The problem revolves around costs being downloaded to school districts. Trustee candidates often say they would lobby the government for adequate and sustained education funding. My question to incumbents is what have you been doing for the last decade? Why are you promising this again? To new candidates I ask, what do you propose to do about this?
2. My second question originates in 1998. A collective agreement was imposed on trustees by the NDP because they were opposed to giving the BCTF the right to bargain class size at the primary level. Then on July 31, 2013, the provincial government replaced the board of directors of the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association with an administrator. This board included elected school trustees. On what basis do you believe you really have any influence to effect change?
Richard Knight is a retired educator living in Kelowna. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.