It was billed as an all-candidates election forum, but only two of the four school trustee candidates were present on Wednesday evening.
Around 250 people attended the forum at Centre Stage Theatre in Summerland. The forum was organized by the Summerland Chamber of Commerce and is the only forum for Summerland school trustees in the upcoming election.
Incumbent Linda Van Alphen and Dave Stathers were present, while Peter Waterman’s opening remarks were presented by video. Incumbent Julie Planiden was not present.
Waterman, who has served as Summerland’s mayor for the past four years and as a councillor for three terms in the past, said his experience at the council table has prepared him for a role on the school board.
He said he would like to look at partnerships between the municipality and the Okanagan Skaha School District.
He added that he is familiar with the school system as his wife was a full-time teacher, his son is now a teacher and his daughter is an educational assistant.
“I also want to look after my grandchildren,” he said. “I have four in the system.”
While the candidates were asked question on a variety of education-related topics, the issue of school closures was central.
In 2017, the future of Trout Creek Elementary School was uncertain as the board was deciding whether to close the school in order to trim its budget.
A last-minute provincial funding announcement in early June of that year allowed the board to keep the school open.
Stathers, a retired teacher who taught at Summerland Secondary School for the past 30 years, said he was frustrated by the responses from Summerland’s two trustees when the school closure was being discussed.
“I watched as our trustees began to sit on their hands,” he said. “Our trustees were basically silent. Where were they?”
He said if he is elected, he will work to keep the elementary school open.
“Keep Trout Creek School open,” he said. “I will never ever vote for it to close. That is my pledge.”
Van Alphen, a trustee for the past 16 years, has served in many roles on the board, including board chair from 2014 to 2017.
She said if the issue of closing Trout Creek Elementary School came up again today, it would be defeated and the school would remain open.
“All decisions at the board table focus on what’s best for the students,” she said.
The election will be held on Saturday, Oct. 20, with advance voting on Oct. 16. Voters will elect two trustees to represent Summerland on the school board.
The trustees will serve for four years.
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