Seismic upgrades, school closures, and aboriginal education were among the issues brought up at a recent all-candidates meeting for School District 68 (Nanaimo-Ladysmith).
About 40 Ladysmith parents and caregivers came out to the meeting, held Nov. 3 at Ladysmith Intermediate School, not only to find out who to cast their vote for but to also make sure Ladysmith’s voice is heard in the term to come.
All 13 candidates were in attendance: incumbents Donna Allen, Nelson Allen, Jamie Brennan, David Muchie, Dot Neary, Sharon Welch, and newcomers Bill Bard, Nancy Curley, Kim Howland, Rosmy Jean Louis, Bill Robinson, Noah Routley and TerryLynn Saunders.
Candidates were first asked what they would do to secure facilities development funding for Ladysmith for projects like seismic upgrades for LIS, which does not meet requirements.
Neary said capital support from the ministry will depend on excess capacity.
“It appears that little has changed in the way that the ministry assesses projects so Davis Road is probably at the back of the queue,” she said. “Until the district deals with our excess capacity and follows through on those decisions, we are going to be waiting a long time.”
Muchie pointed out that the district has already submitted a facilities framework to the Ministry of Education and are currently awaiting a reply.
“We need to stay the course,” he said. “We have to figure out how much money can we get for… the old board office, and can we use that to do anything in the interim.”
The candidates were then asked their approach to school closures. While many candidates were agreeable to the idea of a school closure if the need was warranted, Nelson Allen took exception.
“I suggest to you that we don’t close small schools and divide communities simply because there’s an agenda out there that we should have larger schools,” he said.
Curley said the district’s facilities review, which will be left in the hands of the new board, will help decide the best way to utilize existing facilities.
“There are processes and policies in place to guide us through that review, it includes input from all stakeholders which I consider a very important part of that review,” she said.
“Having said that I will say that I am not afraid to make tough decisions and to stand up and defend them.”
During the audience question period, candidates were asked what they would do to raise graduation rates for aboriginal students.
Donna Allen said there are a number of factors that affect the graduation rate, economic reasons being one. She said it can take time to see the numbers improve.
“It is a concern of ours,” Donna Allen said. “Within our strategic plan which we will be working on, everything will revolve around increasing graduation rates for all students.”
Howland reminded audience members that graduation rates are a high priority for all students.
“We know that our aboriginal students, like many of our at-risk kids, are struggling,” she added.
Howland said there is a need to find ways to engage the students into wanting to stay in school and wanting to engage in being lifetime learners. Part of that could mean changing the school timetable to accommodate the students’ needs and not just the instructors, she said.
“A lot of our students are coming out of our schools not really prepared, and a lot of them are dropping out because of economical issues, they need to help out their families,” she said.
Margie Forster, a parent of three at LIS, said she was glad for the opportunity to speak with all the candidates and is now certain of who she wants to vote for.
“For me, the seismic issue is big for me because all three of my kids are in this school,” she said. “If we have a big shaker, I don’t know if they’ll still be with me and even my kids are concerned with that.”
Elaine Wilkinson, a mother of two, said she would like to see the school board trustees move forward and implement some of the existing facilities plans and put the focus on special needs education.
“I think they need to make some hard decisions, and if that involves making tough decisions that might upset some people, they still need to do that for the greater good,” she said. “We’re down the list, we’re still not getting the new schools that we need.”