An all-candidates forum for rural school trustee candidates became an opportunity to revisit previous school board decisions.
The forum was held at West Bench Elementary School on Oct. 11.
Two candidates are on the ballot for the Okanagan Skaha School District’s rural school trustee.
Ginny Manning has been a school trustee for the past 16 years and has served as board chair for four years and as vice-chair for four years.
“I believe that every child deserves a good education,” she said.
Kathy Pierre has spent more than 20 years working in education. For the past seven years, she has been the director of education at the Penticton Indian Band.
“I am very passionate about education,” she said. “It has been my life’s purpose.”
During the question period, previous board decisions were questioned.
One of these was a substantial pay raise given to Superintendent Wendy Hyer.
During the school board’s past term, teachers received a one per cent pay raise following a strike and support staff had their pay increase 1.2 per cent. Hyer received pay increases totalling 23 per cent.
Manning said Hyer’s wage had earlier been frozen and after the wage freeze was lifted, she was offered pay raises twice but turned them down.
“We felt this was a way of dealing with a valued employee,” she said, adding that Hyer had not received a raise for the previous six years.
Pierre said Hyer’s wage increase appeared excessive.
“The optics of that whole situation didn’t look good,” she said.
The board’s decision to close West Bench Elementary School also came under fire.
That decision was made in 2015 to address concerns about school district finances. But after the decision was made, provincial funding became available to allow West Bench Elementary School and Trout Creek Elementary School in Summerland to remain open.
Manning, who voted in favour of the school closures, said conditions today are different from 2015, when the funding was not yet available.
“We’re in a very different position now than we were in 2015,” she said. “We didn’t have anywhere else to look.”
She added that trustees must consider all options when making decisions about the schools in the district.
“Closing schools is never, never, never a first option,” she said.
Others in the audience said the school is important as a community building.
Manning and Pierre both said the facility is important to residents of the area, but Pierre said the school board’s priority is the education of its students.
The election will be held on Oct. 20 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The school board will consist of four Penticton school trustees, two Summerland trustees and one trustee representing rural areas.
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