What about NWSS?

Future of high school ‘steals the show’ during all-candidates meeting

Parents got a chance to grill local school trustee candidates on Wednesday night at New Westminster Secondary School.
The site is ground zero for the one of the most-pressing education issues in the city
“The replacement of NWSS has stolen the show this election, and perhaps rightly so,” incumbent Jonina Campbell said.
The issue emerged as a key topic at the all-candidates meeting, held by the district parent advisory council, attended by 11 of the 13 school trustee candidates seeking election on Nov. 15.
“If we wanted a smaller school, we would have it built by now,” incumbent Michael Ewen told the crowd of about 50 who turned up.
“How long it’s taken, it’s an embarrassment,” incumbent Casey Cook said.
The average high school costs $60 million to build, while the NWSS replacement is currently estimated at $110 million, Cook told the crowd.
Campbell laid out the details of the project as it stands, explaining the district could build around the old cemetery (on the site) because of a series of land exchanges between the city and the school district that make for a buildable footprint. The school is set for 1,900 students.
“What we are trying to determine right now with the ministry, in terms of risk money, is what they need to know for us to move forward,” Campbell said, in response to a question from an attendee.
One attendee asked what New Westminster and District Labour Council endorsement means and for endorsed candidates (Campbell, Ewen, James Janzen, Kelly Slade-Kerr and Mark Gifford) to stand. Janzen, also an incumbent, described them as “independent” candidates who share some campaigning costs but are not part of an organization.
“We share the same values, we like one another, we get along. We work well together,” Janzen said. “I don’t have any obligations. Have I signed any forms, have I made any promises to anybody? The answer is a very clear no.”
Parental engagement was another key topic for candidates – many of whom said they wanted to increase it.
But parent Mona Boucher said when she tried to read to French immersion students at her child’s school she was told that wasn’t allowed because the “union is blocking it.”
“That’s why I am struggling with voting for labour-endorsed candidates,” she said.
Ewen questioned why her offer was denied and said there needs to be an answer.
“I find it confusing frankly, why that would happen,” he said, noting he has parents in his Surrey classroom all the time.
Another attendee asked about Chevron funding, which was a controversial issue in the Vancouver school district where the board rejected a half-a-million dollar donation for students. Other school districts, including Burnaby and Surrey, have accepted the oil company’s donation.
Cook said he would be OK with it if there were no strings attached.
“I’m on record or at least on Twitter,” he said, “given the conditions of the money attached specifically to Chevron, if there is no strings attached, if there is no presence in the classroom, if there is no presence in the school, I have no problem with accepting corporate money. It has to be free of conditions.”
He said the district seeks money on an ongoing basis from corporations.
Jeremy Perry told the crowd there is lots of room for improvement in the school district and it should look to neighbouring districts to see what they are doing right.
He also took issue with the fact that there is currently no Wi-Fi service for students at the high school, saying he was “surprised” it didn’t have it.
Incumbent MaryAnn Mortensen said there have been problems in the past, citing lack of communication and deficits.
See more from the meeting at www.royalcityrecord.com.

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