Though the questions varied, money was the topic that kept appearing in the answers of Penticton school trustee candidates at a public forum Tuesday evening.
Whether they were discussing the school budget, the role of Parent Advisory Councils, technology or other issues, funding and money was an issue never far from the minds of the eight candidates competing for the four Penticton seats on the Okanagan Skaha board of education.
Tracey St. Claire, summing up the role of a trustee, saw the job in financial terms.
“I see the school board as being like managers of a business. You are a board like any other business and there is quite a budget to manage,” said St. Claire. “If you are looking at kids and education, I think you need to look at how you can best get money from that big budget out there into the classroom to help the kids.”
Though he sees the role of a trustee in terms of a liaison between students, parents and the province, James Palanio also said it comes down to funding.
“We need to tell them what we need, whether it is more funding, which we do need,” said Palanio. “We have lost close to $3 million over the past two years.”
More money, too, sums up Cary Schneiderat’s views on what the education system needs.
“It’s a very simplistic answer, but in reality, that is the biggest struggle that we have. The forecasted shortfall for this year’s budget is about a million and a half,” he said. “That, to me, is the biggest issue that a trustee would have; to not only get out there and manage the budget, but to improve the budget.”
Shelley Clark, the only incumbent running for re-election, is no stranger to the budgeting process.
“Yes of course I feel we are underfunded,” she said. “We keep asking and we keep sending more resolutions that we need more money. Every once in a while they surprise us and give us more money. We just keep plugging along and make sure the provincial government knows we care about our kids and that we want as much of the provincial budget as possible for those kids.”
Even while talking about the role of PACs, Kevin Andrews saw education funding as part of the equation. Like other candidates, he has served on the councils while see his son progress through the system.
“Our goal as a PAC is to make sure we are heard, to make sure that every single dollar that can be spent and be directed to the benefit of our children is done so,” he said. “We want to make sure that every student’s needs are met without the money that is available.”
Bruce Johnson, a retired principal, applauded the work of the current board in keeping money in the classroom.
“I think with every budget we have to be very careful in this day and age,” he said.
“The money that we do get, the budget that we do have, must be allocated to student services, specialist teachers, making sure the students in special education are treated fairly and on the other hand, making sure that the enrichment programs also get school district funding.”
Walter Huebert, also a retired teacher, was asked what he saw as the biggest issue in the current teacher contract negotiations. Class size and composition, the number of special needs students in each class, was at the top of the list. But to make the situation better, he said trustees across the province need to work together to get funding increased.
“They can cooperate to put pressure on the government,” he said. “For one school district by itself, it is very difficult, but when all the districts work together to improve those conditions, I think things can go forward.”
Chuck Simonin, asked about the role of the trustee, also summed up the tone of the forum.
“There are tough decisions to be made, there is no question about it,” he said. “The bottom line for me is to make sure that as much of that money as possible funnels down and gets to the students. Whether it is football equipment or lunches or special education help, I want to see it funnelled down until it gets to the bottom line, where our students are.”