There was plenty of space at the candidates’ table Tuesday night at the Whonnock Community Centre, as just seven of 11 Maple Ridge school trustee hopefuls showed up to take part in the only all-candidates meeting being held for them prior to the Nov. 19 municipal election.
Of the 11 candidates who originally signed up to run for trustee in Maple Ridge, only Susan Carr, Ken Clarkson, Cherie Delainey, Mary Flavelle, Mike Murray, Michelle Neale Larose and Dave Rempel were present for the debate, which was attended by close to 50 residents.
Candidates Gary Cleave and Kathy Marshall were both absent, while Rod Smelser and Melanie Scott both previously dropped out of the election race.
The trustee candidates that were in attendance vowed to fight for public education and advocate for better funding from the provincial government. However, specifics on just how they would do that were thin.
With the provincial government controlling most aspects of public education, including teacher bargaining and funding, trustees have little power at their disposal.
Current board chair Ken Clarkson said he would advocate for more control at the local level.
Murray said he would draw on his experience working with different levels of government as the general manager for parks and leisure services to bring new resources to the district.
Delainey said she would take a stand with the minister of education on increasing public education funding, even if that meant “banging on her door,” despite the fact George Abbott has been serving as education minister since March.
The ongoing job action by B.C. teachers, who are currently attempting to negotiate a new province-wide contract, was also a hot topic.
Neale Larose, who is the current chair of the District Parent Advisory Council, said she supports teachers in their fight for a fair contract, and asked parents to be patient with the process.
“I understand that we all want the teachers back to work, but there are issues that need to be resolved, and we need to be respectful of that,” said Neale Larose.
It was a view shared by many at the meeting.
Flavelle, a former teacher, said the provincial bargaining process, which has seen teachers legislated back to work with contracts forced on them multiple times in the past 10 years, has done damage to the public education system, and advocated for more local bargaining.
Carr, a current trustee, encouraged the provincial government to come to a fair, negotiated agreement with teachers and put and end to the job action.
“Education has to come first.”
The longer the province takes to come to an agreement with teachers, the more damage is done to relationships with teachers, and that can effect learning in the classroom, said Rempel, also a current trustee.
Clarkson stressed the importance of maintaining a positive working relationship with teachers, pointing to the current board’s accomplishments in that area.
“You’re not going to get rid of conflict, but you can work through it,” he said.
Many at the meeting said the school district needs to offer students more choices if public education is to remain relevant.
“This is a great school district, but there’s room for improvement,” said Delainey. “We have to make sure kids coming out of high school are better prepared for a life of earning.”
Carr said more options have to be provided to students, such as trade programs.
“Not every high school student is headed to university.”