More than 50 people braved the torrential downpour to hear what Langley trustee hopefuls had to say on topics of the Willoughby slope, resources for special needs, the sale of schools and how to pay for better education at an all-candidates meeting at the Langley Seniors Resource Centre on Thursday night.
The meeting format was unique with two Langley teachers, Darren Storsley and Jonathan Dyck, moderating the forum put on by the Langley Teachers’ Association.
They asked all 14 candidates who were present to leave the room and they were called back one by one, to answer what is the most pressing issue in education today and what have they done or going to do to help.
Incumbent City trustee Candy Ashdown answered resources for students with special needs.
“The amount of students with special needs has increased but we have less special education assistants,” said Ashdown.
City candidate Shelley Coburn said space in schools and school configuration is most pressing.
Incumbent City trustee Rob McFarlane said he would keep focused on student achievement and school capacity.
For the Township, 12 people are running for the five seats available at the board table.
For Township trustee hopeful Lorraine Baldwin, it is “the chronic underfunding” of education that has led to the issues of not having enough schools to house students, lack of full-time librarians and cuts everywhere.
“We need to band together with other districts like Surrey and demand education be funded properly,” said Baldwin.
Incumbent Township trustee Megan Dykeman said the problem is the transfer payments from the federal government to the provincial have been shrinking.
“We need the province to demand more,” Dykeman said.
Incumbent Alison McVeigh said Willoughby schools are near crisis with overcrowding, and that is the most pressing issue.
Incumbent Rod Ross said Willoughby slope is near crisis but he has “challenged the board to think differently.”
Over the summer Ross said he wrote a five-page document on the Willoughby facilities challenge titled “Is there another way?” If re-elected he said he would ask the board to look into corporate sponsorships to help with funding issues.
Township candidate Pamela Rose-Combs said she wants to see no more surprises like Willoughby slope.
“We were all taken by surprise by the slope. Let’s not let it happen again,” she said.
Township hopeful Lisa Moore found out with her children with special needs that there is only one psychologist to serve Langley school district.
“We had a three-year wait to see the district’s psychologist. That is one area where we could hire a psychologist and get children help in a timely way,” said Moore.
Township candidate David Tod has been in education for 30 years and said a student given a behavioural designation doesn’t designate that student any SEA time. He is tired of hearing there is no money for education.
“Do we want a watered-down Dogwood?” Tod asked.
Township candidate Suzanne Perrault said she would like to see a thorough assessment done of each schools’ needs and then collaborate with school partners and foundations to see where funds could help.
Current Langley City councilllor Rosemary Wallace is running for a trustee position in the Township.
When asked how could the education be improved without new funding, she suggested empty schools could be looked at to be sold off.
“There are schools in Brookswood and Murrayville that have sat empty for a long time,” said Wallace.
Trudy Handel, candidate in the Township, said selling off those properties could come back to bite the district in 20 years.
“We could have the same problem in Willoughby but in reverse in those areas,” said Handel. “We need to look into big corporate sponsorship.”
For some candidates, it isn’t a matter of funds, it’s a matter of the province’s priorities.
Township candidate Kristine Ketter said the province is “so quick to tell the districts to manage their funds creatively. They are the ones who should manage their funds creatively.”
In response Coburn said, “The money is there. It’s what they value that is the problem.”
Corporate sponsorship to help fund education brought mixed emotions for the candidates.
“Corporate sponsors have helped make the hot meal program that feeds hungry students,” said Wallace.
McVeigh agreed that corporate sponsors can really make a difference.
“Through the Langley School Foundation, we have many corporate sponsors give money with no strings attached, and they don’t ask for advertising. But it always has to be on a case by case basis,” said McVeigh.
Ketter said any sponsorship would “have to be scrutinized.”
Baldwin would be “very wary.”
“I work for a multi-national corporation. They rarely do something for nothing,” Baldwin said.
“The bigger issue is we shouldn’t be forced into commercializing education,” said Tod. “Coke may be out, but now they just sell high-priced water.”
Ross pointed out that the board of education already has a policy on how to handle corporate sponsorship.
Coburn warns that sponsorship also can lead to an unequal playing field for schools, depending on the strength of the PAC.
“A vocal and active PAC would get the funding and smaller, weaker ones would be left behind,” said Coburn.
McFarlane doesn’t think all corporations are evil.
“A local body shop donated significant money to pay for school playgrounds and how many people can name that body shop?” McFarlane asked.
Lawrence Chen, a Surrey resident running for one of the Township seats, was not in attendance.
DPAC is hosting an all-candidates meeting for school trustee candidates on Thursday, Nov. 6 at Christian Life Assembly.