Trustees talked overcrowding and portables at an all-candidates meeting in Queensborough

School trustee hopefuls did their best to sway voters gathered at the Queensborough Community Centre on Monday night for one of the final all-candidates meeting of the election season.

At the meet-and-greet-style event, the 14 candidates present had five minutes each to tell the audience why they should be elected to the New Westminster school board. The event was organized by the Queensborough Residents Association in an effort to get more residents engaged in the upcoming election, according to Laurie Moore, president of the association.

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Moore said the association chose the introduction and meet-and-greet format because of the number of candidates running in the school board race.

“We want everybody who is on, to have equal time,” he said. “It gives people a chance to figure out who’s who.”

In attendance were Anita Ansari, Dee Beattie, Danielle Connelly, Gurveen Dhaliwal, Alejandro Diaz, Lisa Falbo, Mark Gifford (incumbent), Lisa Graham, Mary Lalji (incumbent), J.P. LeBerg, Scott McIntosh, Maya Russell, Cyrus Sy and Steve Tsonev. Absent were Doug Woodward and Cathy McCallum.

While everyone has their own priorities they want to tackle if elected, there was one issue everyone agreed needs immediate attention – overcrowding in schools, especially at Queen Elizabeth Elementary school.

“What we saw was development happening and portables coming in at the same alarming rate. What I’m not OK with the portables is that they do come out of operational costs, and I really strongly believe they need to come out of capital costs. We shouldn’t be taking money out of the classroom to fund the classroom itself,” said Dhaliwal, who is running with Team Cote.

Connelly, who is running with the New West Progressives, agreed, adding that portables are not acceptable learning spaces for students and staff.

“I have a lot of friends who are teachers in this community, and they’re expressing concerns about the teaching conditions in portables with no covers over the doorways and kids having to interrupt class time to go to the washroom (and) inequitable access to technology,” she said.

Independent candidate Diaz pointed to Queensborough’s growing student population and said it is outpacing the rest of the city.

“This issue will be around for the long term. We need more learning spaces now and in the future,” he said.

Enrolment at Queen Elizabeth Elementary has been on the rise in recent years. There are now a total of seven portables and two modular buildings at the school, and district staff expect this year’s population to surpass 450 students.

The New Westminster school district has asked the provincial government for $18 million for a 12-classroom addition to Queen Elizabeth Elementary School. The project would also include a new gym and neighbourhood learning centre space.

The expansion project is the district’s number 1 priority, as outlined in its five-year capital plan.

Highlights from the candidates:

Anita Ansari (Team Cote): “I want to nurture the learners in our community.”

Dee Beattie (Team Cote): “I worked as a literacy support worker helping children with learning disabilities, and I can say there’s so much more that we can do to help these children.”

Danielle Connelly (New West Progressives): “Each community in New Westminster has different and unique needs and all of them must be heard and all of them must be addressed equally.”

Gurveen Dhaliwal (Team Cote): “The gaps that I experienced growing up are the ones that I continue to see today, which for me is a large reason why mental health and ensuring that we’re providing an increase in support services for our students and families is my biggest priority.”

Alejandro Diaz (Independent): “We have to make decisions in the here and now. … I will listen to all parties involved so when I make a decision it will be an informed one.”

Lisa Falbo (New West Progressives): “We want to work with the province and city council to bring world-class education to children as well as work with them on such matters as mental health, child care, traffic and amenities.”

Mark Gifford (Team Cote, incumbent): “There’s a lot to feel good about, but much work remains and we can’t lose momentum.”

Lisa Graham (Independent): “We see overcrowding in our schools across the district, but in Queensborough the situation is critical.”

Mary Lalji (Independent, incumbent): “I will fight for what the students, parents and teachers want, even if it might be an unpopular idea for some of our stakeholders and other trustees.”

J.P. LeBerg (New West Progressives): “I’m certainly going to work hard to make a difference going forward.”

Scott McIntosh (Independent): “I started seeing how much building is going on, suites, high-rises, and I don’t really see schools being built.”

Maya Russell (Team Cote): “I have seen many, many children wait for years for learning assessments that we should be able to access in a public system.”

Cyrus Sy (New West Progressives): “We need to expand opportunities and programs for kids to help them find their passion in learning, especially in the areas of science, math, arts and trades.”

Steve Tsonev (Independent): “What we all want to do is help the children have a better opportunity to advance themselves and that cannot be done in a portable – it just can’t.”

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