Abbotsford’s 17 school board candidates lined a long table at the Abby Arts Centre to answer questions from the district parent advisory council at the school district’s only all-candidates forum. Dustin Godfrey/Abbotsford News

VOTING DAY: How Abbotsford trustee candidates line up on the issues

We asked all 17 candidates if they agree or disagree with 10 statements. Here’s how they answered.

With 17 candidates running for school board this year, it can be hard to know whom to vote for and why. How could your votes affect various issues for the Abbotsford School District and the teachers, students and parents in and around the school system?

We asked each candidate to rank 10 statements from one (strongly disagree) to five (strongly agree), where a three is neutral or status quo.

Here’s how the candidates line up on various issues:

Story continues below. Find full rankings at the bottom of this article.

How do Abbotsford school board candidates align with these statements?
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RELATED: Here’s what you need to know about Abbotsford’s 17 school board candidates

1. School supplies.

In 2006, the B.C. Supreme Court deemed it unlawful for school districts to “charge students fees for any materials, or for musical instruments, that are required for students to successfully complete a course leading to graduation.”

But since that ruling, the school fees have often continued to be issued, though several trustees or other school district officials throughout the province, have typically suggested that the fees are not illegal, as they are not mandatory — only a suggestion for parents who have the means in order to help fund education when school districts often struggle with lacking funding from the provincial government.

Others, however, have suggested it can be embarrassing for a child or the child’s family to not return to school with the fees suggested, and the debate continues.

Here’s how the candidates line up on this issue:

Statement: Parents should be encouraged to buy their own materials for their children (pencils, notebooks, etc.) if they have the means to do so.

Average rating: 3.6/5

  • Strongly agree: Kathryn Sobko, Michael Battel, Earl Storey, Raj Patara
  • Agree: Krista Cardinal, Rhonda Pauls, Korky Neufeld, Jared White
  • Disagree: Heidi Smit-Vinois, Kuldeep Singh
  • Neutral: Preet S. Rai, Phil Anderson, Stan Petersen, Graham Evan MacDonell, Shelley Godwin, Freddy Latham, Shirley Wilson

***

2. Are students prepared?

Since the 2010-11 school year, school completion rates in Abbotsford have remained relatively stagnant, according to publicly available data from the B.C. government. The rate peaked at 89.8 per cent for all students in 2012-13, but has seen a tepid downward slope since, with the most recent data, 2016-17, at 86.9 per cent.

But it wasn’t always so consistently in that 85-90 per cent range. In the 2000s, particularly from 2004-05 onward, the number began increasing from around 75 per cent. Meanwhile, Indigenous students’ completion rates have risen from a low of 50.9 per cent in 2002-03 to its peak at 78.1 per cent in 2012-13, and has hovered in that area since.

Similarly, special needs students have completed school at a rate of around 65 per cent since 2012-13, after rising steadily from a low of 23.4 per cent in 1999-00.

With completion rates largely increased since the mid-2000s, how are those students faring after public education?

Here’s how the candidates line up on this issue:

Statement: Abbotsford students leave high school underprepared for university or work life.

Average rating: 2.9/5

  • Strongly agree: Cardinal, Patara
  • Agree: Sobko, Storey, Neufeld
  • Disagree: Battel, Pauls, Rai
  • Strongly disagree: Anderson, Petersen
  • Neutral: Smit-Vinois, Singh, MacDonell, Godwin, White, Wilson

3. Making space.

The Abbotsford School District has seen some challenges with space in its east-side schools, while schools on the west side have largely seen less enrolment, causing issues for the district. That has, to some degree, seen some improvements this year, where one west Abbotsford middle school gained more than 90 students, but the issue is still there.

What’s more, an elementary school has been in the works for some time, likely to go in the Eagle Mountain area.

And throughout B.C., some have criticized the provincial government for what they see as slow movement on seismic upgrades for schools. Fraser Valley schools are further down on the priority list, as Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island would be the most deeply affected by a large earthquake.

Here’s how the candidates line up on this issue:

Statement: Abbotsford school board should be advocating for funding for new a new school in the district.

Average rating: 4.9/5

  • Strongly agree: Sobko, Battel, Storey, Cardinal, Patara, Pauls, Neufled, Rai, Smit-Vinois, Anderson, Singh, Petersen, MacDonell, Godwin, Latham, Wilson
  • Agree: White
  • Disagree: None
  • Strongly disagree: None
  • Neutral: None

Statement: Abbotsford school board should consider policy changes surrounding out-of-catchment students within the district.

Average rating: 3.6/5

  • Strongly agree: Cardinal, Patara, Anderson, Latham, Wilson
  • Agree: Storey, Neufeld, Smit-Vinois
  • Disagree: Pauls, White
  • Strongly disagree: None
  • Neutral: Sobko, Battel, Rai, Singh, Petersen, MacDonell, Godwin

Statement: Abbotsford school board needs to advocate for accelerated seismic upgrades, particularly for local schools.

Average rating: 4.2/5

  • Strongly agree: Sobko, Cardinal, Patara, Rai, Smit-Vinois, Anderson, Petersen, Latham
  • Agree: Storey, Pauls, Neufeld, Singh, Godwin
  • Disagree: None
  • Strongly disagree: None
  • Neutral: Battel, MacDonell, White, Wilson

4. Technology in school.

Over the years, as technology’s capabilities have grown, so, too, have the impacts and influence of technology on society, and particularly those most savvy with the new gadgets popping up around us — the youth.

And there’s plenty of discussion, and little consensus, on what much of that technology is doing to us. Has it been a net benefit? Does the bad outweigh the good? Or is it a balance of positives and negatives?

Statement: More needs to be done to educate youth on the potential hazards of smartphones and other technology.

Average rating: 4.2/5

  • Strongly agree: Storey, Rai, Smit-Vinois, Singh, Petersen, Godwin, Latham
  • Agree: Battel, Cardinal, Pauls, Neufeld, White, Wilson
  • Disagree: None
  • Strongly disagree: None
  • Neutral: Sobko, Patara, Anderson, MacDonell

Statement: Smartphones and technology have a role to play in students’ learning and should not be overly restricted in the classroom.

Average rating: 3.6/5

  • Strongly agree: Patara, Petersen, Wilson
  • Agree: Battel, Pauls, Neufeld, Rai, Smit-Vinois, Godwin, White
  • Disagree: Sobko, Cardinal
  • Strongly disagree: None
  • Neutral: Storey, Anderson, Singh, MacDonell, Latham

5. Controversial curricula.

Advocates are quick to point out, rightly, that SOGI 123 (sexual orientation and gender identity) is not a curriculum — indeed, it is a set of learning resources that can assist teachers in a variety of classes from K-12 — but it is noteworthy that SOGI 123 is designed to help students reach learning outcomes set out by the provincial curriculum.

SOGI 123 is not mandatory, but schools must allow teachers to prepare students for meeting those learning outcomes, which include items like inclusivity, diversity and acceptance.

But that hasn’t stopped the debate in school boards elections throughout the Lower Mainland from veering in that direction.

Also worthy of mention, though school boards have even less say on this matter, is the matter of a SOGI-inclusive code of conduct, which respects the B.C. Human Rights Code. All 60 B.C. school districts have done so.

And while the matter of sexual consent has not been as controversial here in B.C. of late, the Ontario provincial government recently scrapped its new sex-ed curriculum, incurring an outcry from women’s advocates. The interim sex-ed curriculum in Ontario has no mention of the concept of consent, according to a Globe and Mail roundup of the changes.

Here’s how the candidates line up on these issues:

Statement: I support the use of inclusive materials in classrooms set out by the curriculum portion of the SOGI 123 initiative.

Average rating: 3.2/5

  • Strongly agree: Patara, Smit-Vinois, Petersen, Godwin, Latham
  • Agree: Pauls, Rai
  • Disagree: Sobko
  • Strongly disagree: Storey, Cardinal, Neufeld, Anderson
  • Neutral: Battel, Singh, MacDonell, White, Wilson

Statement: I accept that the school district must have a SOGI-inclusive code of conduct along with anti-bullying policies, which are mandated by the provincial government.

Average rating: 3.9/5

  • Strongly agree: Patara, Pauls, Smit-Vinois, Petersen, MacDonell, Godwin, Latham, Wilson
  • Agree: Rai, White
  • Disagree: Sobko, Cardinal
  • Strongly disagree: None
  • Neutral: Battel, Storey, Neufeld, Anderson, Singh

Statement: The school district needs to take a more active role in teaching children about consent in an age-appropriate manner from their first year in school.

Average rating: 3.2/5

  • Strongly agree: Battel, Storey, Patara, Rai, Smit-Vinois, Anderson
  • Agree: Godwin
  • Disagree: Pauls, Wilson
  • Strongly disagree: Sobko, Cardinal
  • Neutral: Neufeld, Singh, MacDonell,White

Petersen declined to respond to this question.

Abbotsford candidate rankings
Infogram

Find our Abbotsford Election Hub here.

RELATED: Abbotsford candidate list released as nomination period closes

Find all local election-related coverage here.

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter

@dustinrgodfrey

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