Election 2014: Abbotsford trustee candidates address issues

Communication, funding and class size/composition among the concerns

Communication, class size/composition, funding and diverse education are among the issues that candidates for the board of education say are important to them in this coming election.

Sixteen candidates are vying for seven trustee spots in the municipal election on Nov. 15, and some common themes have emerged from the questionnaires they completed for the Abbotsford News.

The questionnaires asked them to list the two key education-related issues that voters should be considering when electing trustees.

Several candidates referenced the importance of continued or improved lines of communication among the board of education, the school district, students, teachers and parents.

“Communication should be open, accessible, easy and two-way. We should be doing everything in our power to have as much local input on school board decisions as possible,” said Noah Dwain Arney.

Balbir Gill said trustees “need to develop a way to be effective communicators and partners with our teachers, students, parents and schools” with the goal “to make Abbotsford the best it can be.”

Stan Petersen, seeking his second term as a trustee, said the challenge is to continue to improve communication.

“Our teachers, support staff, parents and our community need to feel confident in the direction of the board and have input in setting this direction,” he said.

Graham Evan MacDonell said more effective communication is needed with parents – for example, over the length of the school break and with the district’s teachers regarding the impact of the recent strike.

Several candidates also mentioned the importance of sufficient funding to meet the needs of all students – including those with special needs – and to provide diverse programs so that every student can succeed.

“It is only with the highest level of co-operation that we can maximize and enhance the limited resources provided to help our children achieve their goals,” said Freddy Latham.

Also in reference to student success, Kamal Gill and incumbent Rhonda Pauls said early-childhood education is crucial.

“My goal is to see implementation of programs in schools that start an earlier edge of a student’s life, so they can learn early on to make better choices and accommodate them into their lifestyle,” Gill said.

Pauls said these programs could include more Strong Start/kindergarten readiness options, the expansion of co-teaching in primary classrooms for English language learners, more resources to support mental-health issues, and working to equip families to support students in their homes.

Kirpa Punam Kaur Mann said program implementation should be research-based, and all parties should be involved in the process “in order to use funds most effectively and to gain the outcomes initially intended to be achieved.”

Preet Rai, seeking his third term on the board of education, said all students should have the opportunity to access programs and services of their choice.

“Creating a broad learning environment goes a very long way in ensuring that every single student is successful,” he said.

Shirley Wilson, seeking her fourth term, said the board needs to continue its efforts to ensure that the appropriate supports are in place for students in the district.

“Every child counts … We can talk about wanting to ensure all children meet with success, but a much more laudable goal is to ensure each child meets their own potential.”

Incumbent Cindy Schafer, current chair of the board, said voters should consider candidates “who will advocate broadly for public education at all levels of government.”

“I share the vision of providing a world-class, innovative and individualized educational experience for every student.”

Candidates Linda Matties and Phil Anderson said funding issues and class size/composition are concerns to them.

“It is unacceptable that teachers are spending large sums of personal money buying the resources they need for teaching. There needs to be some creative thinking about how existing funds are allocated as well as how new funds might be found,” Matties said.

Anderson said children with special needs should have “specialty classes geared to helping them get an education.”

Tadeusz Kuczynski said the key issue to him is the “courage to represent honesty and transparency.”

Two candidates – Harold Kokot and  Kevin Pedersen – did not submit their questionnaire responses.

To view the complete questionnaires, visit abbynews.com and click on the “election 2014” link and then “candidate Q and A.”

An all-candidates forum for those vying for a trustee position takes place Wednesday, Nov. 12 at the Abbotsford Arts Centre (2329 Crescent Way) from 7 to 9 p.m. Questions from the public can be sent in advance to dpac.sd34@gmail.com.

Retiring trustee offers views

The single biggest problem facing the Abbotsford board of education at this time is “the apparent disconnect between the board and its teacher employees,” says outgoing trustee John Sutherland.

Sutherland, who is retiring from politics after having served on the board for 27 years, said that during the recent labour dispute, he heard “frequent reference” by teachers that districts were receiving less funding and experiencing program cuts, when the opposite is true.

“It would be easy enough to say that there isn’t enough communication between the board and teachers, but, in fact, there is a very large amount of communication. It just seems to go unnoticed or ignored,” he said.

Sutherland said this disconnect is compounded by a “poor” relationship between the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the provincial government, with neither side wanting to make it better.

“Unlike the other large public unions who routinely, with little or no job action, settle collective agreements with the government, the teachers seem unable to do this … Nothing ever changes in the way the parties address bargaining in each round. Moose in rutting season comes to mind.”

He said this leads to an undermining of trust in public education.

Sutherland said the top priority of the board and senior administrators should be to repair the relationship with its employees, resulting in more “highly motivated educators who buy into the district’s programs, for those programs to succeed.”