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School boards step into election fray



Howe Sound education-only all-candidates forum to be held in Squamish

School trustees in B.C. want to put education issues on the election frontburner and to do this, the B.C. School Trustees Association is urging all trustees to host all-candidate forums in their respective school districts that will focus exclusively on education.

A date has yet to be set for the Howe Sound School District all-candidates’ education gathering but Whistler trustee Alix Nicoll said a venue and time should be announced the first week in May.

"I am pretty sure that it will be held in Squamish," said Nicoll. "That would be the best place because we could draw people from other areas more easily."

The school board was due to meet Friday, April 27 to set a time and venue for the event.

At the provincial level, the BCTSA has been working with the major political parties to ensure the co-operation of candidates in their respective ridings.

"The BCTA really wants education as a priority out there," noted Nicoll. "The idea is to give everybody a view of where candidates stand on public education and the importance of this election."

She added there are some hot button issues, including the Liberal’s promise to make education an essential service.

"There are a lot of people who don’t agree with that. They see that as a really major thing so I think there will be some interesting discussion coming form that."

In the past school boards have tended not to become involved in provincial election campaigns but this time around the association is telling members it is their duty to step up as "locally elected representatives responsible for ensuring that community values and interests are reflected in public schools."

The BCSTA has gone so far as to prepare a how-to package to help trustees organize the all-candidate forums.

The goal is for individual trustees to remain non-partisan at these events but at the same time raise and "publicly discuss local education issues with the men and women who want to become Members of the Legislative Assembly."

The umbrella body for the province’s parent advisory councils is also rolling up its sleeves and getting involved. The B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils is urging local PACs to get involved in the election and work with trustees in planning the all-candidates forums in their respective districts.

The B.C. trustees association, together the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils, has already hosted a question and answer session at the provincial level with BCTA president Gordon Comeau, BCCPA president Reggie Balabanov and Liberal leader Gordon Campbell, as well as several other Liberal candidates.

At the April 20 gathering Campbell outlined the Liberal stand on education. He said a Liberal government would not cut education funding. It would make education a number one priority and restore education as an essential service.

Campbell said school board autonomy, flexibility and accountability would be expanded and that a three-year rolling funding program would be initiated, enabling school districts to plan ahead.

The Liberals have also promised to institute legislative change to ensure parents can volunteer in schools as long as they are not taking jobs away from staff.

They would remove the PST on PAC fundraising, which is valued at around $2.1 million. Funding to PACs throughout the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils would also be raised to its previous level of $350,000.

"A three-year budgeting plan would be like a miracle," said Nicoll. "The concept sort of stopped us all in our tracks. We could actually plan."

The trustees association has told members that by getting involved in the election they can fulfil their democratic duty to the communities that elected them to represent the interests of local public schools and to keep B.C. education strong.

"As elected people, lets make sure our public understand where the candidates at the provincial level stand on what trustees know to be important issues in public education. It’s time for trustees to lead the debate on education issues and to be seen to be doing so by their communities. One way that we can take control of the issues we were elected to oversee is by being at the forefront of any debates on public education, asking the right questions and adding our points of view to the mix."