Residents and Surrey school trustee candidates sit together during roundtable discussions during the Downtown Surrey BIA’s trustee all-candidates meeting on Friday, Sept. 28. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

SURREY ELECTION

VIDEO: Surrey school trustee candidates speak with parents, retired teachers, residents

‘Informal speed-dating’ style all-candidates meeting hosted by Downtown Surrey BIA

The Downtown Surrey BIA hosted an all-candidates meeting for Surrey school trustee hopefuls Friday evening (Sept. 28), and many discussions surrounded securing more funding, overcrowding and choice programs such as French Immersion.

Twenty trustee candidates were in attendance, but there are actually 30 candidates running for seven spots on the board of education. One of those seven spots is for the White Rock representative.

The BIA also hosted a mayoral debate and a councillor debate on Wednesday and Thursday nights.

Downtown Surrey BIA CEO Elizabeth Model said the association was aware beforehand of who would be attending because people had to RSVP.

RELATED: Surrey’s mayoral candidates civil at the Civic in Whalley

“We tailored it to the number of people that were going to show up. Obviously, we couldn’t do this type of format if you had 500 people, it just wouldn’t work.”

Candidates had one minute to explain their platform and why people should vote for them. Then they were asked one question by Model. Following this, the meeting moved to an “informal speed dating” portion.

Questions in the first portion of the meeting ranged from how to recruit more French language teachers; what trustees’ priorities would be and how they would implement those priorities; and what would trustees do to make sure all students’ — especially those with special needs — are met.

Following the introductions and questions from the BIA, the trustee candidates then got to spend six minutes at a table answering questions from attendees before moving on to another group.

“We felt that we wanted more of a grassroots approach to it, so we came up with this idea of speed dating with your candidates to get them to really open up and have that roundtable feeling (and to) get more of a family discussion,” Model told the Now-Leader after the event.

The Now-Leader sat in on a couple of tables as candidates rotated around the room.

Lack of extra funding

The first group consisted of candidates Jasvinder Badesha, Mary-Em Waddington and Gordon Hepner. One attendee asked about the candidates’ plans to advocate more funding, specifically the fact that Surrey students receive $2oo less in funding for vulnerable students compared to students in other municipalities such as Vancouver.

Mary-Em Waddington, who is running under the Surrey Students Now slate, said the lack of funding has been traced back to the CommunityLINK program.

“That’s a program that provides extra funding for our youth and a lot of it, in the case of Vancouver, is because they have so many different cultural activities… That do provide supports and also (to) a higher low-income population particularly in the Downtown Eastside. They seem to get more funding because of these vulnerable populations, but Surrey also has vulnerable populations particularly in the Guildford and the Newton areas and the equity needs to be across the board because we have the same issues for our students.”

Waddington added that the Surrey school district has a larger student population and larger school district.

When asked how to get that funding, independent candidate Badesha said there needs to be more pressure on the MLAs.

“I think we are not being heard as Surrey residents. We are being ignored and I strongly feel it’s like discrimination (compared) to other school districts.”

Badesha added that he feels the district’s case on the lack of additional funding is not being presented properly.

French Immersion

At another table, that included independent Julia Poole, Surrey First Education incumbent Bob Holmes and Dupinder Kaur Saran of ACT Now Surrey, one parent asked how the candidates would address the needs for French Immersion in the district, such as stabilizing the programs instead of continuously dropping or moving the program.

RELATED: Surrey school board wants to expand French Immersion program

RELATED: French Immersion enrolment down in Surrey: report

Poole said it was a logistics problem because there is not enough room in the school because children in the area need to be able to attend the school in their community. Saran said the French Immersion programs should be in a centralized location.

Holmes said the board is looking to add new programs into new schools “because we have a huge French Immersion program that we’re not filling right now.”

He said he would love to never have to move a French Immersion program, but “you can never say never.”

But, Holmes added, “what do you say to parents in the area who have to walk by a community school and go to the next one because there’s no room in that school because of choice programs?”

Downtown Surrey BIA CEO Elizabeth Model said the BIA wanted something different from the mayoral and council all-candidates meetings, so they came up with the “informal speed dating.”

Addressing, educating about violence

Surrey First Education incumbent Gary Tymoschuk and Sonia Andhi of Surrey Students Now were asked what they would do as trustees to address the issue of violence and whether they would begin to educate parents about teaching their kids to “direct them on the right path.”

RELATED: Anti-gang rally draws thousands to Surrey City Hall

Tymoschuk said the board of education has already been addressing the issues of violence with initiatives such as the Wrap program. He said the board is always looking at ways to expand the program, but it always boils down to funding. Tymoschuk added that the Wrap program is designed to continue to grow.

Andhi said she sees “a lot of untapped resources.”

“There’s a lot of programs that are working in silos and it really is about creating that platform so that we can work collaboratively because there are a lot of resources,” said Andhi, adding that the board “can’t keep waiting for funding.”

As for educating parents about keeping their children on the right path, Tymoschuk said all schools have a parent advisory council and there is a district parent advisory council. He added the board and school district staff make themselves available when they’re invited to educate the parents.

here was a very good session in the DPAC… It was a compelling presentation to parents and, in fact, it was a former gangster who spoke and said, ‘Here are the things you need to look for in your son,’ so we provide those kind of things. But, unfortunately, it boils down to funding and it boils down to a needs basis,” Tymoschuk said.

“The sad thing is, you know how big Surrey is — that event I’m talking about, there might have been 60 parents there.”

Andhi said it’s about putting a challenge out to the community. She said while parents are saying there needs to be a change, they have to be participants themselves.

“They can’t expect the schools to do it all,” said Andhi adding that it’s about the parents reaching out and wanting to get involved as well.

Overcrowding

Attendees at another table asked Dean McGee of Proudly Surrey and Waddington of Surrey Students Now whether or not they, as trustees or as a school board, would stand up and say something about new developments and overcrowding in schools.

RELATED: Surrey school trustees want to see reliance on portables reduced by 50% in five years

RELATED: Surrey school district’s portable count rises to 333: Allen

McGee, who works in construction, said one day he was at work and his employees were building a water main and he said he had a “flash” that no houses would be built until the workers had finished the water main, the road and the sewers.

“But they’re going to build those houses where there’s no schools,” he said.

McGee said schools need to be planned for future populations, instead of being built “just big enough.”

“That means changing the way the funding goes with the province and keep hammering on them with the province that Surrey is different from, basically, everywhere,” McGee said.

In Vancouver, he said, if that district needs to rebuild a school for seismic upgrades, they can get “all the students into an empty school down the road.”

“Surrey is not like that and it’s never been like that.”

Waddington said the city’s relationship with developers needs to be looked at. She said that by the time the province approves a school for the number of homes for a new development, the developer comes back to continuously amend the development.



lauren.collins@surreynowleader.com

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