School trustee candidate give opinions on kindergarten and middle school at Oct. 11 forum

The feasibility of continuing all-day kindergarten, bullying of both students and school staff and attracting and retaining teachers were among the topics tackled Oct. 11 by 10 of the 11 school trustee candidates at a public forum attended by about 50 voters.

“Parents right now are also facing cutting kindergarten to half-days,” said aspiring trustee Lindsay Anderson when asked about the biggest issues facing the school district.

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But the two incumbent trustees at the forum said they don’t see how they can avoid eliminating all-day kindergarten, which was only available at some schools and isn’t funded by the provincial government.

“The decision that full-day kindergarten would have to be cut certainly wasn’t made lightly,” said Don Macdonald, who is nearing the end of his first term on the school board. “Full-day kindergarten is a very expensive program and its funded entirely off the municipal tax base.”

His school board colleague Leslie Tucker concurred.

“The direction that this government is going now will not lend itself to that,” she said. “Our concern is not even losing full-day kindergarten, it’s losing basic programming. Realistically, I know that it can’t be done.”

While most of the candidates seeking elected office for the first time were in favour of all-day kindergarten, Saima Aziz said she thought half-days were sufficient.

“It is my belief that two or three hours is enough for them,” she said.

Macdonald said it would require the School District of Mystery Lake (SDML) to raise its portion of municipal taxes by 18 per cent to continue funding all-day kindergarten.

“I can’t think of a way of doing it that wouldn’t cause pain,” he said. ‘We don’t have a million dollars worth of surplus programs lying around.”

Caroline Winship, who ran for school trustee in 2014, asked if a policy had been established regarding home-schooled students participating in some programs, an issue that she knows intimately since her son was not allowed to participate in the Grade 6 band program several years ago.

“I’m not opposed to people participating in specific programming,” Tucker said. “It also depends on numbers. They have to be worked out kind of individually.”

“The parents pay taxes, not only property taxes but the education portion of the taxes,” said Peter Aarinola. “We are talking about fairness.”

“I don’t’ see any issue with why a child being homeschooled couldn’t come to the school to participate in gym and music,” said Anderson.

The financial challenge of running a school system at a time when provincial funding is decreasing was also a topic of discussion.

“I know that the schools are seeing a decrease in students,” said Samantha Scibak.

“It’s been cut and it might be continued to be cut but what’s expected remains the same,” said Samantha Chartrand.

“The option of collecting additional revenue out of the tax base frankly really isn’t there,” said Macdonald. “It’s very much an exercise of learning to manage with what we’ve got.”

Susan Oxford suggested perhaps that some legal cannabis tax revenue might be directed towards education

“I see a tax stream there that could perhaps be tapped into,” she said.

In addition to bullying of students, the topic of teachers and school staff being criticized on social media was also brought up.

“It just seems like they’re intimidated by parents and I don’t think that’s right.” said Anderson.

Dealing with the source of the complaints and having better communication were suggested remedies.

“Having been a teacher myself I’ve experienced this,” said Jill Quilty. “In my experience what I’ve found is that the more engagement you have between the school and … all the stakeholders involved, the better these things turn out.”

“Us as a community have to take responsibility and report to the administrators of these pages what we see until they get the point and start moderating themselves,” said Oxford.

Macdonald said that district tries to shield students from cyber bullying.

“I’d hope we could do it for teachers, educators, anybody involved,” he said

An audience member asked why, if districts are being asked to cut administrative costs, the SDML has two superintendents.

“The financial implications of having two superintendents as opposed to a superintendent and an assistant superintendent is almost negligible,” said Tucker. “When we implemented that it was to get rid of a hierarchy. It was an idea and an experiment and to my knowledge it’s going very well.”

Candidates ere also question about support for a middle school

“I would be in favour of a middle school but I would have to see the budget,” said Anderson.

“It is not something that will happen immediately, it’s something that can be looked into in the future,” said Aarinola.

“The main concern I would have is where you would put it,” said Macdonald, noting that the most obvious solution would be to convert an existing elementary school into a middle school. “If I lived in a neighbourhood that got [its elementary school ] converted [into a middle school] and my kids weren’t in Grade 7 or 8 I would be less happy about it.”

Tucker said individual bargaining between districts and teachers was key to the SDML attracting and retaining teachers.

“The provincial government is moving towards provincial bargaining and that will paralyze us in respect to attracting and retaining teachers. We have to have a really good contract or we’re not going to get any teachers here.”

Macdonald said that while salary might bring people to town, it would be other aspects of northern life that would convince them to stay

“Certainly the contracts a big part of what initially attracts people here,” he said. “I still think Thompson does a good job of welcoming new people.”

Scibak said making sure teachers have a good quality of life was key and that professional development days could be devoted to their self-care.

“Just to increase overall wellness for teachers would be amazing,” she said.

A mayoral candidates’ forum will be held Oct. 17 at the Ma-Mow-We-Tak Friendship Centre at 7 p.m. Election day is Oct. 24.

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