Incumbent Trustee Laurie Larsen speaks while other candidates running for a seat on the Surrey Board of Education listen during and all-candidates debate Wednesday night (Oct. 22).

Incumbent Trustee Laurie Larsen speaks while other candidates running for a seat on the Surrey Board of Education listen during and all-candidates debate Wednesday night (Oct. 22).

Election 2014: Surrey school candidates debate education

Surrey School District 36: Trustee hopefuls talk funding, communication, crime and choice at all-candidates meeting

Improving communication with parents, securing capital funding and crime’s link to education dominated the debate during an all-candidates meeting for Surrey school trustee hopefuls Wednesday night.

About 100 residents showed up at the District Education Centre to hear from those running in the upcoming civic election for a spot at the Surrey Board of Education table.

Twenty of the 23 candidates attended the meeting. Bal Sabharwal, Gary Tymoschuk and Terry Allen were absent due to previous commitments.

The first question put to potential trustees was how they’d better communicate with parents.

Several candidates, including Sukhy Dhillon, Sara Sharma and Patricia Enair said the board needs to be more accessible and use tools like email, websites and social media to engage busy parents. Forrest Smith, who is deaf and spoke through an interpreter, referred to Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s website as a good example of wide open governance.

Rayman Bhuller disagree, however, saying not all parents, especially those with limited incomes, have the technology to be online all the time.

“Real incidents and real problems – they don’t just exist in the web world,” he said, adding trustees need to be on the street, talking face to face with the public.

Other candidates said trustees simply need to listen.

“Parents want to know they’re going to be heard,” said David Matta, “and they want to know the people they elect are going to listen to them.”

Rina Diaz said there needs to be consultation with Parent Advisory Councils or School Planning Councils – something the current board neglects to do, she claimed.

When it came to ideas for securing sufficient capital money from Victoria to build Surrey schools, opinions varied.

Bob Holmes noted Surrey is forced to spend $4 million annually on portables due to a shortage of classroom space and gets no extra compensation from the province.

“The last I heard, the government told boards not to submit capital budgets because there’s just no money,” he said.

Nicole Joliet said government has stripped millions from school funding over the years and then “sneakily” makes trustees make the cuts and submit balanced budgets.

“You know what I’d do?” she said. “I’d submit a deficit budget.”

Balraj Atwal suggested the district get advice from a financial advisor

Incumbent Trustee Laurie Larsen said she repeatedly invited Education Minister Peter Fassbender and Premier Christy Clark – to no avail – to spend a day in a Surrey classroom to see firsthand that space is needed.

Trustees were then asked about the correlation between education and crime.

“It’s not about bringing more police to the streets,” said Harman Singh, “it’s about bringing more education to the system.”

“It’s a lot easier to education our kids now than try to fix them later,” said Jonathan Silveira.

Julie Tapley said it comes down to having the proper funding to offer kids programs that make them feel valued.

“When they don’t have that, the system fails,” she said.

Kirsty Peterson agreed, saying if schools don’t have programs and places where kids can fit in, they’ll turn to people and places outside school for a sense of belonging.

A question about the new BC Education Plan – a provincial move to alter various aspects of education system – elicited few responses from candidates.

“There’s great change coming to our children’s  education system,” said Enair, referring to proposals altering report cards and graduation requirements. “Our parents need to know what these changes are and they need to know how it’s going to affect their children.”

Niovi Patsicakis, a retired Learning Support Teacher, said she feared some changes might negatively impact students with special needs, and that the government’s drive for skills training could curtail academic focus.

When asked how to handle the increased demand for choice programs, incumbent Trustee Shawn Wilson said the board is proud of the programs (such as Montessori, French immersion and fine arts) that are offered. But he said their popularity can often cause the board a real conundrum.

“When you put a choice program in a school, that sometimes means there’s not enough space for neighbourhood children,” he said.

Garry Thind suggested decisions on where to place choice programs be based on the unique demographics, such a language, in specific neighbourhoods.

In closing comments, incumbent Trustee Charlene Dobie pointed out she was the only current trustee who voted against board members receiving a raise this year, and has donated her $600 per year increase back to community school programs. Sikandar Hayat said if elected, he’d donate at least 20 per cent of his honorarium.

The two-hour all-candidates meeting was hosted by the Surrey District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) and moderated by the group’s president, Linda Stromberg.

Surrey residents will have the opportunity to vote for six members of the Surrey Board of Education on Nov. 15. The seventh member is elected in White Rock, where incumbent Laurae McNally has been acclaimed.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Eternity Medical Equipment’s ECAN95 masks have received Health Canada approval and CSA certification. (Eternity Medical Equipment photo)
South Surrey N-95 equivalent manufacturer launches mask recycling program

Eternity Medical Equipment partners with Ontario-based LifeCycle Revive

Surrey Fire Service at a garage fire in the 14400-block of 82A Ave on March 22, 2021. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
‘Perfect storm’ of variants, increasing COVID cases are concerning for Surrey fire chief

Between police and fire, Larry Thomas said there are 8 confirmed cases, 18 others isolating

Emergency crews on scene after a small plane crashed in a grassy area on the northeast side of Boundary Bay Airport Saturday morning (April 10). A freelancer said the plane caught fire and one person was transported to hospital by BC Emergency Health Services. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Small plane crashes at Delta’s Boundary Bay Airport

Plane appears to have suffered ‘significant’ damage, says freelancer

Signage on a South Surrey sidewalk reminds pedestrians to respect social-distancing guidelines. (Photo: Tracy Holmes)
Surrey records 4,400 COVID-19 cases in March

New cases almost doubled between February, March

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

Most Read