Candidates respond to West Kelowna issues

West Kelowna residents heard from their school trustee candidates at a forum held on Tuesday.

West Kelowna residents got an opportunity to find out more about their school trustee candidates at a forum held on Tuesday at Mount Boucherie Secondary School.

Each candidate was given the opportunity to introduce him/herself and then the microphone was open to the audience to ask questions.

Dan Summers was the first of the four candidates to introduce himself.

For the past 11 years, Summers has been running a small music school. He has experience as a student supervisor at George Pringle Elementary.

Tina Pomponio is a mother of three children who have all grown up on the Westside. She has been involved with parent advisory councils for 17 years, school planning councils for nine years and has been a parent ambassador at Mount Boucherie for eight years.

Jerry Holowchak retired in 2010 after 37 years of teaching in the Vancouver and Kelowna school districts. He has taught kindergarten to Grade 12 at six different Westside schools.

Julia Fraser has been a businesswoman for 24 years. She has one year of experience in the classroom as a substitute teacher in School District 57. She is on the school planning council and is president of the Chief Tomat Elementary Parent Advisory Council.

In the question portion of the evening, a West Kelowna teacher prefaced his query to the candidates by saying that teachers have continually been expected to do more with less. He asked: “At what point are you prepared to stand up to the government and say, ‘There is no more’?”

Summers said that lobbying and squeaky wheels isn’t enough. “I would like to see a tsunami of revolt. I think there’s a lot of just plain silliness going on right now; the public at large has no idea how the budgets have been cut,” he said.

Pomponio said that the school trustees can’t stop lobbying the government for funds.

“When you have $4.7 million cut, which results in 17 teacher jobs lost and 22 support staff lost, that makes a difference in the classroom setting. It makes a difference in what the teachers can provide for the classes,” said Pomponio.

Holowchak said that he’d be open to looking at “outside the box” methods of lobbying the government.

But, for now, he is committed to writing letters and speaking to the local MLA. “At this point, I think all we can do is be the squeaky wheel,” said Holowchak.

Fraser said that teachers need to be given the resources necessary to provide education to children.

“As far as lobbying government, I believe that we can’t be afraid of rejection. We need to be persistent and keep going back until they get it right,” said Fraser.

West Kelowna council candidate Cathy Sinclair was in attendance, and took advantage of her opportunity to ask school trustee candidates, “How will you ensure that all of the schools on the Westside become community hubs? And how will you ensure that learning takes place in these schools from birth into adulthood?”

Summers said that he envisions schools as being a major asset to the communities that they’re in. He also suggested that a school can be lent out to help the community or to help its own finances.

“There’s a potential income generator there, if an organization wants to pay rent on the building or gymnasium,” said Summers.

Pomponio said she supports schools partnering with community groups to enhance services for the community.

“There are lots of programs that we can (host at schools) such as strong start programs, early learning, before and after school programs and many others,” said Pomponio.

Holowchak said his experience working with the Boys and Girls Club was a great example of what the community can do when it partners up and works together.

“I think you continue looking at those service clubs and professional groups and see how they can impact (the community),” said Holowchak.

Fraser said that in order to create community, we need to seriously review the catchment areas.

“I know at least 20 families are commuting their children from Chief Tomat Elementary School area to Rose Valley or Shannon Lake schools. We need to seriously review and consider changing those catchment areas so that the children stay within their community,” said Fraser.

The forum was hosted by The Central Okanagan Parent Advisory Council and the Central Okanagan Teachers’ Association.

See story on B1 about what the Peachland/RDCO West school trustee candidates had to say at Tuesday’s forum.