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West Vancouver trustee debate draws few

Cuts to libraries and classroom support concern

APPROXIMATELY twodozen parents, teachers and concerned citizens shuffled out of the November cold and into Sentinel secondary's theatre for the West Vancouver school trustees debate Thursday.

Incumbents Cindy Dekker, Jane Kellett and Dave Stevenson cited their experience and accomplishments, while candidates Carolyn Broady, Christine Banham and Reema Faris each made their case for a chair on the five-seat board.

Responding to a question from the audience, the candidates addressed the difficult prospect of closing a primary school with low attendance.

Faris said a school ultimately would have to be put to a cost/ benefit analysis. "There is a part of running a school that is a business," she said.

Banham said the board may need to be creative as community demographics change and enrolment dwindles.

"How can we better use those resources so they're fully used by the full community?" she asked.

Broady acknowledged that as difficult as the situation may be, each school depends on enrolment.

"Unless the children enrol there, it's not viable," she said. Longtime incumbent Dave Stevenson said the move to close a school should be a last resort.

"There is nothing harder on a community than closing a school," he said. "Currently we're working to make it work."

Sentinel athletic director Glenn Johnston stepped to the questioner's microphone and asked why no trustees had supported teachers during the protracted labour negotiations with the provincial government.

"We were really disappointed that we didn't have any trustees . . . at the bargaining table," he said.

Dekker said the trustees were comfortable letting staff do the bargaining, a position echoed by Kellett.

Asked which program candidates would like to see restored to full funding, Stevenson, Broady and Kellett said libraries.

"We have had to make cuts in the library and it has hurt," Kellett acknowledged.

Faris and Broady both listed classroom support as a top priority. "The first thing that needs the most attention is the children in the classroom with special needs," Faris said.

When making her opening remarks, Banham listed financial literacy as her primary qualification while discussing the importance of knowing how to deal with the $63-million operating budget. "As a banker I know how to read the numbers," she said.

Faris focused on technology in the classroom. "The world still operates on the basis of human connection," she said. "My vision of learning in the 21st century is not of a student huddled in front of a computer."

Kellett cited high enrolment, innovative use of technology and the hiring of a new superintendent as the accomplishments of the current board.

"We must do a better job of helping our secondary students explore (career opportunities)" she said, discussing the board's priorities in the next term.

Discussing the future of West Van schools, Stevenson said he'd like to begin the discussion about using different methods, possibly including increased online learning.

"We potentially could have webinars or larger ways of distributing services," he said.

When asked about advocating for funding from Victoria, Kellett and Stevenson both said timing and discretion were critical.

"I'm not sure that being terribly, terribly outspoken helps the district in the long run," Stevenson said.

Broady encouraged the board to: "Think outside the box for other ways to get a message across." Broady said the best advocates for increased funding may have been in the audience. "The most powerful voice is the parents' voice."

"You can't act as a maverick," Faris said, "but that's not to say you accept being silent."

The election is scheduled for Nov. 19.

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