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Q&A with the Castlegar school board candidates

The election will take place on April 20

Four candidates are running in the School District 20 byelection to fill the vacancy for one Castlegar seat.

Voters in SD20 School Trustee Electoral Area 2 (Castlegar, Robson, Raspberry, Deer Park, Renata and Paulson Highway) will go to the polls on April 20.

We asked each of the candidates the following questions and gave them 100 words per question to complete their answers.

The answers appear as they were sent in, they have not been edited or corrected, with the exception that anwers over the 100-word limit were shortened.

Why did you decide to run?

Jennifer Burton: I was approached by a few people who knew I used to run some years ago. They informed me about the upcoming trustee election and expressed interest in nominating me. They also know that I have three children in the CASTLEGAR school district. I frequently communicate with the district staff to ensure my children receive quality education and updated IEPs. I have extensive experience navigating the school system and building connections. I am always willing to assist other parents regarding their children’s education and social issues. I am particularly helpful in conflict resolution and maintaining open and respectful communication.

Emily Duggan: I was approached by numerous community members and asked to run. I have been advocating for families in SD20 for the past two years already so accepting the nomination was an obvious next step for me.

Lindsay Kenny: I am a parent with children enrolled in school District twenty. I care about our children’s education and I want to be involved in creating the best possible education system for our children. I believe our schools should be safe and accessible for all students in the Province of BC.

Birkley Valks: Watching my kids, nieces, and every child in our community from Strong Start to high school made me realize how important it is to have a responsible, functional school system. Every kid deserves a fair, healthy, well rounded education.

Growing up, I watched my mom be an active PAC member. I loved that she made a difference, and I would like to do the same. I would like to protect the integrity of our school system from threats such as book bans and intimidation. I don’t want to see our school systems go the way of American school systems.

What skills or experience do you have that would make you a good trustee?

Burton: I have excellent communication and organizational skills from running a successful business with my partner. I’m comfortable with public speaking and handling financial operations. Being a parent to three neurodiverse children has helped me build strong relationships with teachers and district employees, based on honesty and respect. I’m committed to supporting our parent and student community to provide children with the tools they need to navigate the diverse and challenging world.

Support from parents and schools is essential for our children’s growth and development, and I aim to contribute to that support system.

Emily Duggan:I have great organizational skills, management skills, public speaking skills, and I am a dedicated farm wife and mother of two, which means I am excellent at multitasking! I have spent the last two years advocating and representing families in school district 20 giving me plenty of experience with the districts policies and allowing me to get to know the employees. All these attributes added together make me a great choice for trustee.

Kenny: I am a trades Woman and member of local 1003 IBEW Electrical Union. I have held an executive board position for my union and attended various training programs including, CLC Political Action Training Conference, CLC Young Workers in Action, and the IBEW Women in Trades Conference. From 2018-2022 I was elected as a municipal Councillor for the Village of Fruitvale. I Volunteer and Direct local nonprofit societies. I am President of Public Access Protection Society, Sponsorship director for the annual Beaver Valley May Days society and I volunteer for Selkirk Mountain Music society.

Valks: In addition to the competency that comes with being a small business owner, I have developed a wide variety of skills from the volunteer work I have done since my youth through today. I’ve been a hospital “candy striper”, Teacher’s Assistant, literacy tutor, and warming shelter helper. I volunteer on Pride committees, at the Capitol Theater, and with the local Harley Owners Group. What they all have in common is that good people skills and listening skills lead to good connections and good results. Being a dad and step-dad as part of a blended family also really helps!

What is the biggest problem you see in our district, and what would you do about it?

Burton: One common issue in our district is the breakdown in communication between teachers and parents. Schools are understaffed, and staff members feel overworked and underpaid. The district struggles to find qualified support staff, and budgeting needs to be assessed to allocate more funding for additional support. I aim to help parents navigate this process and engage with them and students to voice their concerns.

Duggan: Lack of open and honest communication with parents and guardians. I plan to solve this issue by leading by example for the other trustees by engaging with the public. Speaking with parents and guardians openly about their concerns, questions and ideas on their students educational experience. I will never turn my back or walk out on the public, I will always have the time and an open ear to hear what families need and want from the district to best support all students in the public education system. Transparency in public education is key.

Kenny: The biggest problem is ensuring we’re attracting and retaining enough staff to support special education enrollment. I will encourage the board to lobby the Ministry of Education to ensure there is enough funding and support available for our district to attract, hire, and retain workers.

Valks:An emerging problem since the pandemic, we have seen students’ mental health struggle more than ever, and kids with special needs needing more support. The district only receives a finite amount of money from the Province, not usually enough to meet these increasing needs.

Some things I can do is to encourage the public to engage in strategic planning to help make this a greater priority within the district, lobby the Provincial government to increase funding for more students who need more support, and take every opportunity to keep the focus on this issue in the District.

How would you determine budget priorities, keeping in mind that the majority of the district’s budget is tied up with salaries?

Burton: As a trustee, it is our responsibility to ensure that the budget is strategically planned and the allocated funds are aligned with the district’s goals. This will help in achieving the best outcomes for the students and staff. We need to ensure that our schools are sufficiently staffed and that the staff feels adequately compensated. By doing so, we can provide full support to the schools and maintain a well-staffed environment.

We can oversee the development of a strategic plan. So we make sure the allotment of funds is benefiting our students to the highest degree.

Duggan: I would encourage a complete review of the budget focusing on salaries. I feel our administration employees salaries exceed the reasonable amount that they should be earning. Especially when schools are either going without or having to make do. We need to reevaluate and put school needs first over admin salaries.

Kenny: We need to meet the district educational and operational needs. However, one of the biggest priorities include maintenance budgets. Allocating enough reserve to cover cost to replace ageing infrastructure is essential. Without regular maintenance and replacement of essential infrastructure we will not have a safe and reliable school to teach our children in.

Valks:The whole Board works in collaboration with the district staff, district stakeholders (teachers’ union, staff union, principals, DPAC) and public feedback, using the Strategic Plan as a guide. As a Trustee I would strive to work together with all of these interest groups to make sure spending is done responsibly and as equitably as possible for all of the groups. It is important for the public to know that Trustees do not have individual power to implement specific things. I urge everyone voting this month to read the Strategic Plan on the SD20 website.

How many school board meetings have you attended prior to the election announcement?

Burton: A few. I am able to get the minutes by email and keep up with the topics that are being discussed and ruled upon. Keeping me up to date when I am not able to attend in person.

Duggan: One. I attended a board meeting last school year where the trustees got up and walked out on parents while a member of the community was asking a question. Turning their backs on the public and disrespecting every person who took the time to attend. I have not returned to a meeting because I do not feel that kind of disrespect is acceptable from the very people paid to represent the community. I do however check the meeting minuets online and converse regularly with parents and guardians of the district.

Kenny: None. However, I review the agenda and meeting minutes regularly. I am up to date on the current preliminary budget and strategic plans for this Year. I am prepared to collaborate with the board to review this year’s budget and strategic plans. I support the strategic plan for a safe and caring working/learning environment.

Valks:I have attended all school board meetings since last Fall, and am working on reading all the meeting minutes from the meetings I missed in the past year.

READ MORE: Four candidates on ballot for Castlegar-area school board byelection

Betsy Kline

About the Author: Betsy Kline

After spending several years as a freelance writer for the Castlegar News, Betsy joined the editorial staff as a reporter in March of 2015. In 2020, she moved into the editor's position.
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