Trustee candidates fear the provincial government may soon take away local control of school divisions, but they want to have a say in what policies move forward. As 11 people vie for seven seats on the Red Deer Public School District board, high school completion and getting the public out to vote are also key issues.
Incumbent Lawrence Lee, who has served two terms on the public school board, sees local autonomy as one of the core issues of his platform. He said it affects everything from new schools to funding teachers’ salaries. Lee said that it is important that local decision-making is rekindled.
“My belief has always been that the best decisions are made closest to where people will live with those decisions,” Lee said. “The challenge for education is seeking the support of appropriate resources that are currently controlled by the provincial government.”
Incumbent Dianne Macaulay, who has served two terms on the public school board, said there is fear that if the provincial government opens up the School Act then school boards may no longer exist as they do now.
“Find out who your candidates are and make an informed decision because there are some really good ones out there,” Macaulay said. “We’re all scared that the board of trustees may go the way of the health board because the minister of education is thinking that people don’t care. So show that you care about your trustees and vote for somebody.”
Dick Lemke, a semi-retired teacher who has served as a local school trustee in the past, said the viability of the school board is a major issue in this election.
“Local school boards work. Local involvement in the education process works and should be left similar to what it is,” Lemke said.
Bill Stuebing, who has served five terms on the public school district board, said since the mid-1990s there has been an increase in centralization and an increase in control of education by the provincial government. He said that can mean that there are provincial standards and curriculum in place, which can be good, but it can be pushed too far and then some of the important principles of public education begin to be endangered.
Candidates are concerned about a number of other issues. New candidate Bill Christie, who has 25 years of experience as a school trustee in B.C., would like to look into high school completion rates and points to special needs students as being another one of his focuses. He also would like to look into having an Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee that could work with the local First Nations community.
Kaliana Johnston would like to focus more attention on mental illness and social issues of children and their caregivers because that can be a big hindrance to learning for students.
School boards around the province have also been struggling over the past year as the provincial government has clawed back money.
Stuebing said funding right now is uncertain and somewhat limited and the provincial treasurer and the education minister have indicated that this is likely to persist. “Erratic funding is one of the biggest problems we can have, even more so perhaps than limitations on funding,” said Stuebing.
Bev Manning, who has served five terms on the Red Deer public school board, said the public school board and district staff have ensured that the school division has lived within its means, but the board needs to be proactive to ensure the district stays there.
Lemke is worried about affordability for parents with all of the extra fees levied by the schools and he said as trustees they need to control this. Although there are programs to help families who can’t afford the fees, Lemke said many parents are too proud to use them.
Other Red Deer Public School District board trustee candidates include: Incumbent Cathy Peacocke, Lianne Kruger, Lisa Johnston and Matthew Chapin.