With a historic municipal election just weeks away, two incumbent school trustees and two hopefuls campaign for a seat on School District 58’s Board of Education. Along with four mayoral and eighteen council candidates, they form one of the largest pools of candidates the municipality has ever seen. With voters facing a wide variety of choices, the Herald looks to engage candidates and showcase their responses to the community’s question.

This week, the candidates for School Trustee answered a question regarding what they thought to be the biggest challenge SD58 could face in coming years. Their responses, in random order:

This week’s question: What do you see as the biggest challenge the school district is facing moving into the next 4 years?

 

Robert Leech:

“The biggest challenge to School District 58 is financial. As all costs rise it is imperative that the District continue to maintain the quality of education our children now enjoy. Where possible, the District will need to improve program offerings to meet society’s ever changing demands.

As salaries rise to offset inflation, it will be a significant challenge to retain current staffing levels, and acquire additional staff that may be needed to provide new programs. In addition to salaries, it is expected that costs such as teaching materials, school maintenance and custodial expenses, capital asset acquisitions, school renovations, and bussing costs will increase.

The School District Trustees, staff, and the provincial government will need to work cooperatively to develop the strategies necessary to meet the challenges that must be addressed. 

It is my hope that the citizens of Merritt will put their confidence in me to help address this challenge over the next four years.”

 

John Chenoweth:

“One of the biggest things to really focus on in the initial year to two years is to ensure that children have not lost a lot of learning due to the pandemic, flood, and fires. That’s one of the top priorities right now, and I know our Board has been working hard on that along with faculty and staff. Beyond that, as British Columbia moves into a new phase with truth and reconciliation, I think it’s really important that we get back to some normalcy around addressing that whole concept within our system after all the disruptions we’ve had. Those are the two things I would focus on.”

 

Gordon Swan: 

“The biggest challenge the school district is facing moving into the next four years is ensuring we have the financial resources needed to deliver the programs and services your children deserve to thrive in an ever-changing world. Just as small business owners have increasing employee costs and tax burdens and as everyone deals with increasing costs at the grocery store or gas pump, we also deal with those increasing costs and they are not fully funded. We have a graduation rate of over 90% and maintaining that takes resources as it takes an individual pathway for each student to reach their full potential. We support meal programs for our most vulnerable students, buses that need fuel and soaring costs for classroom supplies. We are still recovering from the flood and need to ensure funding continues to be available for both restoration costs and mental health supports and services. We are a great little district, and with your support on October 15, I will ensure our voice continues to be heard.”

 

Justin Jepsen: 

“There are a number of challenges facing our School District as we move forward into the next 4 years. Some of the challenges I can see are:

 

  • Attracting and growing the right people to fill important positions throughout the District

 

  • Acting on the items laid out in our 2021 Strategic Plan, which has been interrupted due to Covid-19 and the Atmospheric River event

 

  • Planning for the possible implementation of affordable childcare within the school system

 

  • Efficient allocation of funds towards playgrounds and infrastructure, including partnering with the City of Merritt where appropriate

 

  • Improved communication between Schools and Parents/Guardians

 

  • Highlighting the good work that is happening within our schools so that our community can appreciate the effort of both staff and students

 

The biggest challenge we face is securing adequate funding. We must advocate for the staff and students of SD58 and lobby the Ministry of Education for the funding that will allow us to deliver all the programs that our students deserve.”

 

To view the weekly question asked to council and Mayoral candidates, along with all of the Herald’s coverage of this election, view the ‘Civic Elections’ tab on the Herald’s website.

The municipal election will take place on October 15, and will see Merrittonians elect one Mayor, six Councillors, and three School Trustees to a four year term. For more information on the election, visit www.merritt.ca/election22.