Opinion

Trustee criticism gets support

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“If any candidates (school board) plan to be hurtful bystanders,  instead of going to the wall for public education, they shouldn’t be on a ballot in November.” – Along the Fraser, July 31 issue.

I ended my last column with this challenge. I’d hate to see the same budget rubber stampers get back in, or new ones replace them.

We need trustees with the guts to go to the wall for public education, vote against crippling cutbacks, even if it means offending their task masters in Victoria. I hadn’t actually expected to hear from anyone like that – but I did.

Pat Furnass is a first-time trustee in Hope and Jodi Wickens is running in School District No. 43 in Coquitlam. The former left a comment at the end of my column. Wickens tweeted the piece.

“I agree,” wrote Furness. “And, I’m a trustee and always get voted down.”

I wanted an insider’s opinion. Why, I asked, do so few trustees – the folks we trust with public education – sign off on music and art programs and fail to support class size and composition limits?

“It puzzles me,” says Furness, a retired nurse.

“What the teachers are asking for is not unrealistic. The government can put money into LNG which will be a big bomb, but not the kids, our future.

“Class size should be reasonable. More and more special needs kids are not getting the help they deserve. Teachers are taking time away from the normal kids because there’s too many special needs in classrooms. If I was a teacher now, I’d say the hell with it because no one else seems to care.”

Furness says the non-supportive attitude on her board came as a surprise. “This is my third year. You find out how some of the trustees think. In August, our board voted not to give teachers advance pay. The rationale? Because if we did, and they got another job, we won’t get our money back.”

Furness, (wfurness@telus.net) who’s walked the picket line with teachers, says she was challenged by a retired teacher who said  she shouldn’t do that.

“I like to be supportive of my employees,” she replied. Teachers are trying to get back what was taken from them, stripped from their contract. They’re not getting a fair deal. This government doesn’t think the laws apply to them. What kind of public officials are we if we don’t support the laws and teachers?”

“I think your article is bang on,” said Wickens, (jbtwickens@gmail.com) a self-employeed behaviour interventionist who works with autistic children in SD 43.

Wickens says she has “fire in the belly” to fight for adequate public school funding.

I reminded her that a lot of candidates – even retired school teachers – say they’ll fight the system – but become complacent once surrounded by long-term trustees and administrators.

“I’ve thought about that and it scares me a bit, but I’ve never compromised the person I am. I’m loyal to my values and beliefs. That’s missing in today’s society. And, there’s a possibility for a complete turnover on some boards. That’s what I hope happens in Coquitlam.”

Wickens says the board “has become too complacent accepting the status quo from senior administration. It seems like a lack of real passion. A lot of our board aren’t current. They’re not in the trenches.”

Wickens promises to be involved in schools, and be a “creative” problem solver if elected. She wants to find ways to make inclusion work for all students, while tackling complacency among trustees.

“Our board’s been asked to publish a needs budget along with any balanced budget. Boards could do that as a piece of advocacy. I don’t know why they don’t. It’s another form of complacency.”

I wanted to know if she’d approve more cuts to essential services and programs.

“Our classrooms, families and students deserve better. I advocate for reinstating funding. I wouldn’t vote for anything that hurts kids,” she said.

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