Candidates for the school district’s Smithers/Glentenna/Driftwood area laid their thoughts on the table at a Nov. 14 candidates forum.
The format allowed each of the four candidates to make an opening statement, followed by five questions presented to them by the moderator, and then the floor was open to questions from the public.
The candidates are Lara Collingwood, incumbents Kim Martinsen and Frank Farrell, and Victor Jim.
Concerns over the district’s budget were front and centre for many attendees.
Once person asked Martinsen if budget trouble in the school district is systemic or if there is a plan to address it. He was referring to the school district’s last budget which, while balanced, did required a dip into the district’s surplus.
Martinsen said that the district is doing “far better than other districts are doing,” and added that all school districts are short funded.
She praised the administration for their job in balancing this year’s budget.
Saying that the board’s hands are tied, she added “We have to find some way or getting more funding or having it looked at.”
Farrell also replied to the question, saying that a problem they have with government funding is that sometimes it’s not predictable and they need predictably in developing future budgets.
Another person asked if candidates if they would support a call for a provincial review of the funding formula.
All candidates said they would support that.
One of the questions presented by the moderator was how the candidates would support students in their role.
Collingwood said she would be an advocate for fitness, saying that there is a connection between a healthy body and a healthy mind.
Jim said he would speak his mind and do what’s best for everybody, but especially students.
“Last time I was a trustee I used to tell me fellow trustees I’m not here to make administration or principals look good. I’m here for what’s best for the kids,” he said.
Martinsen said that a trustee is an advocate for the needs of the community and in that role participate in budget meetings and monitoring financials.
Farrell said it is important to be open-minded and be rational in decision making.
Back to the issue of the budget, candidates were asked if they would support submitting a needs budget to the government.
None of the candidates said it would be a good idea to do that only because no one thought it would help.
Martinsen said that with the funding being allocated to the district, they have to, by law, balance their budget, and can really only request more money from the ministry.
“I’m not sure that [needs budget] would be the approach,” she said.
Jim said that the government is as stubborn as he is and that they can talk about a needs budget until they’re blue in the face but the government is always looking at its bottom line. He said he doubts that the government would respond in a positive way to the district doing that.
Farrell said he gets the impression from the government sometimes that he gets the impression the government considers education funding a “burden” and thinks there’s not an understanding that funding is actually an investment.
Collingwood said that while there are obviously needs from all different parts of the district, they can take suggestions on what those needs are but they still have to work within the budget they have.