Quality vs. cutbacks is issue
for school board candidates
By Chris Woodall
Whistler's three candidates for two school trustee seats agree that maintaining quality education despite a tight budget is the next board's biggest challenge.
Newcomer Andrée Janyk is up against incumbents Ele Clarke and Laurie Vance. Election day for the Howe Sound School Board positions is the same day as the municipal election, Saturday, Nov. 16.
Each candidate was asked what they saw as the issues before them; their thoughts on the high cost of teacher/staff wages; and their qualifications for school board trustee.
All three candidates were also asked about the trend for schools to rely on public donations — from individuals or businesses — to supplement school supplies.
In alphabetical order, here are their views on the issues.
Ele Clarke — At the end of her first term of service, Clarke says it's important the school board have experienced trustees to take it through the next mandate. Building strong policy on which to base its decisions is an important issue for Clarke.
"The school board is starting a policy review process and I hope to be part of that process," Clarke says.
Money is high on the next board's agenda.
"It's pretty evident we'll be faced with more budget cuts. The problem is that with increasing classroom sizes, we have to keep the level of education up," Clarke says.
"We need to make ourselves very clearly heard in Victoria that we need more money," Clarke says, making note of Whistler and Pemberton's immediate needs for new elementary schools, as well as Whistler's need for an addition to its high school.
A suitable site for new school construction is the stumbling block. "We need to work with other levels of government, including the municipality, to find other sites and keep costs down for those sites, Clarke says.
Donations for extra things the schools need is okay with Clarke, but donations shouldn't fund essential courses.
Whistler schools currently have a good relationship with parent groups, Clarke says, but she'd like to improve that relationship.
As for corporations getting involved in the schools, through donations or direct activities, Clarke would like to see a policy developed to guide what can or cannot be accepted.
School boards find they are in a squeeze between what the provincial government agreed to pay B.C. teachers and what the B.C. government gave school boards to cover those wages. But Clarke won't begrudge the educators' pay rate.
"Teachers are fairly paid," Clarke says. "We have really wonderful staff and I think they are doing wonderful things in our classrooms.
"It's a hard job and demands lots of responsibility," she says. "The government has made a lot of changes in how education is delivered without a lot of time for teachers to adapt to those changes."
Clarke is a former teacher, having taught Grades 4-7 and 10-12. She also has two adult children, both married.
"I have a lot of experience with school boards, so I understand the role of the board and how decisions are made at that level," Clarke says.
Clarke also has experience in sales and marketing in the private sector.
Andrée Janyk — Her experience as a director on local and district parent advisory councils will help the school board continue to meet its challenges in the next few years, says the mother of three children, aged 16, 14 and 11.
Janyk's grass roots involvement also includes being a volunteer coach of soccer and track & field teams, as well as a professional coach at the Whistler Mountain Ski Club.
Janyk has been involved as an instructor of fitness and leadership programs at Capilano College. Her post-graduate work includes studying six years at the University of Brussels. Janyk is currently self-employed.
"Education is exciting these days," Janyk says. "Many of this district's needs are being met on paper, but it is so young it doesn't have the resources of other districts."
Janyk's parent advisory council work means she knows Whistler's schools. "To me the student is the centre of the system," Janyk says.
The school board could be more responsive to the community it serves, Janyk says, developing inclusive policies that combine the needs of parents, students and educators.
As for teachers' wages, Janyk says it's normal they would make up the bulk of the school board budget.
"I value our teachers," Janyk says. "Always putting the blame (for school board budget difficulties) on their salaries as the problem is not correct."
When parents volunteer time or money for school extras, that sits well with Janyk, but if those donations start covering essentials, "that's when we have to start asking questions why tax dollars aren't covering basics," Janyk says.
Corporate donations should be encouraged, too, but Janyk says there should be guidelines. "I'd like to pull a committee together of parents, students and the board to come up with ideas (as to) what those guidelines should be," Janyk says. "We have to be very aware of what's involved."
Laurie Vance — "I think it's important to run again because I believe I know the background on how the district operates. I can use that to help take the board through the next phase of its existence," says the mother of three.
Threats of amalgamation with other school boards and being able to re-organize the board without impacting on the classroom are other issues for Vance, who's day-time job is sales manager for Mountainside Lodge.
The integration of social services for children, youth and families in the new Ministry of Children and Families will also be an issue for Whistler's school board, says Vance. "By working with the various health agencies and service agencies for children, we want to ensure they will still be getting those services, but outside the education budget."
Growth of the community, leading to new schools, is another issue. "It doesn't seem to matter where you are in B.C., there's growth, but it's certainly an issue here," Vance says.
Getting affordable, serviced land is the key. "There's very little public land available," Vance says.
When it comes to teachers' wage agreements, the provincial government seems to fall into the practice of settling the collective agreement, but doesn't provide enough money for the school board to budget for the increases, Vance says.
"There aren't any avenues for us to go get additional money," Vance says.
Donations to schools are valued, Vance says. "It's really important we involve the community and parents in the schools, but we have to be cautious with the type of partners we have."
The main features of that caution are the appropriateness and equity of the gift, Vance says.
"We don't want have and have-not schools," she says, although all the district's schools have "incredible opportunities to create those kinds of partnerships."
Parents are strongly involved in Whistler's schools, Vance says, but "we have to find ways to make parents more comfortable in our schools."
An open and accessible adult education program is needed in Whistler, Vance says.
Young people coming to Whistler should have an opportunity to go back to school in a comfortable adult setting, or should be able to take courses for college credit, Vance says.
"I don't want to see young people at loose ends," Vance says. "It's one of my personal goals to create an atmosphere for life-long learning."