Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
The Brandon Sun conducted interviews with all eight candidates vying for three available seats with the Brandon School Division board of trustees during a byelection set for Nov. 4.
The following interviews were conducted throughout this past week and have been slightly edited for length and clarity.
For more information on the upcoming BSD byelection in general, visit bsd.ca/news/pages/school-board-by-elections-2020.aspx.
BS: I have young children myself and I’m very interested in the education system, not just for my children, but for all the children of Brandon.
I want to make sure that our children in the Brandon School Division are given the best opportunities they can. That way they can stand out when they go into post-secondary training or the workforce.
BS: I’m a Red Seal carpenter, which means I have finished all four years of work training.
BS: I understand the importance of all education, because I’m also a civil technician and draftsperson. So I have different areas of education and so I understand the importance of education and starting early.
When I went to high school is actually when I started into the carpentry program with my apprenticeship, and so I understand that getting opportunities early can be a huge advantage, and not just in the trades.
BS: I’ve watched a few meetings here and there when I have the time.
I haven’t personally contacted them myself, but I have been invested in trying to keep up to date with some of the policy changes that they have been doing, as well as just talking to parents who have children in the school division, just to see what kind of changes they would like to see that maybe aren’t being implemented quite yet.
BS: I do think an issue that needs to be brought up is the school lunch program that they currently have in all the elementary schools.
I think we should look at the way other school divisions, even in Westman, handle it. Because, as far as I’m aware, the Brandon School Division is the only one that requires children to be sent home for lunch or for parents to fork out a bunch of cash.
And other divisions, even within Westman itself, allow the children to stay in school. So I feel like maybe the school division can look at those other school divisions and see how they handle that particular lunch period.
BS: I think the expanded learning opportunities would be a very important one to look at, because we want our children in this school division to have every opportunity they can and we want them to stand out, whether they are entering the workforce or they’re entering post-secondary school.
I feel like there could be more ways to partner with universities and colleges to try and give them that foot in the door before they even enter into the school system as well as focusing on real-life opportunities as well.
Because in my home business that I currently have, I’ve run into people that don’t even know how to fill out a cheque and I feel like this is stuff that we could be teaching them in school as well, like personal financing and stuff like that.
BS: I’m really concerned about how they’re trying to potentially amalgamate all of the school divisions and make it one appointed school board. Because if they amalgamate all the school divisions, all of a sudden you lose that local voice and every school is going to look more cookie cutter and you’re going to lose those opportunities that each individual school may have.
And the government is going to be appointing people to the board that will want to represent their voices, but I feel like that will be a poor representation of the stakeholders in each individual school.
BS: Everybody loves to have their taxes lowered, but I don’t believe that cutting funding for the school is where you need to start cutting funding.
It would be great if the Pallister government could give the school divisions more money, because now they only cover around 55 per cent of the current cost of each school division, and the rest is put on to property taxes that the school divisions have to come up with the amount. But if the Pallister government wants to phase out taxes that’s not where they should be starting. They should be starting with figuring out a way to properly fund each school division, rather than making promises of cutting out taxes.
BS: Everybody would like to believe that they do. I think the current government is trying to make it look good on paper for them. I think they are trying to make it look like they are not 10th out of 10 provinces (in education).
Cutting funding is not the way to go. We need to look at individual circumstances rather than the group as a whole, because there’s more than just grades at play when it comes to how we’re ranking against other schools.
I can’t speak for the other candidates, but for myself, I have the time to invest into students and I’m very dedicated to their education. I want to look out for every opportunity they can receive and I will be a strong local voice and consult the stakeholders to what I believe they want to see happen within the school division.
BF: I grew up in Brandon. I attended Meadows School and then Vincent Massey High School and I feel like I had the opportunity to learn from exceptional teachers and now I see this (byelection) as an opportunity to contribute toward high-quality education in our community.
BF: I work at the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation administering the federal government’s homelessness strategy funding.
So in this role I provide analysis of funding proposal alternatives ... to address homelessness, either through building buildings or hiring support workers to address homelessness.
BF: I think my experience working with government programs will be a real asset to becoming a school board trustee.
I’ve also served on the Brandon University’s Board of Governors, which is responsible for the financial governance of the university, and I have a master of arts degree in public policy and administration.
BF: One thing I really like is that the school board makes their meetings accessible online through live-streaming, so that they’re able to be viewed by anybody in our community. I think transparency is really important, and if I was on the school board I would want to continue that.
BF: I think the board’s doing a good job, but I think there are some issues that are really important that need to be addressed.
One is the difference in on-time graduation rates between Indigenous students and the average for all students. In 2019, on-time graduation rates for Indigenous students was 46 per cent, where as the average for the entire school division was 81 per cent.
So I think putting more investment into helping students who are at a risk of not finishing on time is critically important.
Another issue that I would like to work on is expanding access to French education. I know there seems to be more demand for attending École Harrison than there are spots available, so I would like to look at seeing if there’s an opportunity to reallocate resources in the community to expand opportunities for bilingual education.
BF: I’d like to give three answers.
One is ensuring that the curriculum prepares students to enter the modern workforce and also instills in students a sense of life-long learning.
The second is ensuring that the school system is equitable and responds to the needs of diverse students populations, including Indigenous students, ESL students or students with unique learning needs.
And third I would want to advocate for sustainable funding for the school division.
BF: I think one of my concerns is that, coming out of the throne speech it was announced that the province is planning to phase out property taxes as a source of revenue for education.
Currently, the Brandon School Division depends on property tax for 38 per cent of its revenue. So I think it would be critical to advocate for a sustained revenue source in the best interest of students moving forward.
BF: I think what’s important is that it’s a sustainable revenue source. Whether it comes from property taxes or another source, the important thing is that it keeps up with the cost of providing high-quality education for students.
BF: Obviously, I haven’t seen the (K-12) report, because it hasn’t come out from the review yet, but I don’t support amalgamation. My concerns with amalgamation is that we would lose control at a local level, (we would have) less local say over our school system, and it would be less responsive to the community.
And I certainly think that the school board should be elected rather than appointed because it makes (the process) more democratic and more responsive to the community.
BF: I think that my experience working with … any kind of government funding would be an asset to being a school trustee. And then my also experience being on the (Brandon University) Board of Governors and my past education.
See ‘Q&A’ — Page A6
JS: My decision to run was based on having kids in the system and wanting to make sure that not only my kids but all kids in Brandon are able to access a good education and I would like to be a part of that.
JS: I work for Corteva Agriscience. I’m a territory manager. So my job, essentially, is to manage the business in Southwestern Manitoba. So we sell seed and crop protection products to retailers and I manage the business there; sales, revenue, P&L (profit and loss statements), everything like that.
JS: I’m dealing with numbers every day; cost of goods as well as profit and loss statements, daily business costs, what it costs to keep the lights on for a business. So I think just dealing with everyday business costs keep me very well informed with how the Brandon School Division would have to run their business and the different aspects of their business with different P&Ls and stuff.
JS: I do know some of the members and feel I have a good rapport with some of them.
JS: I think maybe the COVID situation.
It’s a tough one, because I know we run into some of the provincial regulations as well, but I do think that maybe how we are approaching letting parents know that their kids could be in affected areas could be done a little bit better and quicker.
We were part of that with the case at New Era (School). We have kids there and it’s very concerning as a parent, for probably almost a day, not knowing if your children are affected or not.
So if we could look to a system that could have quicker intelligence on that it would be great.
JS: I would say prioritizing all of the children to have a good education. That means being inclusive with other cultures, English as a second language is very important, as well as children with disabilities.
JS: I do think that they want to definitely look at reducing expenses. I honestly haven’t seen the report, but I’m guessing that’s why they’re doing the report, is they need to reduce expenses and I think we need to provide our children with a great education. They’re our next leaders, and if we’re cutting programs and stuff we’re not giving them the education or the opportunities to advance and to take over some of these jobs in the future.
I think that’s going to be the biggest trick, is dealing with budget cuts that the province wants to make to the education system, whether that be salaries, whether that be infrastructure.
But I do think it’s going to be very eye opening when that report does become public.
JS: Yes, I do. I’ll be honest, I’m a little bit sceptical on how that’s going to look. I do know that they mentioned they wanted to do it over 10 years and I looked last night to see what their plan was for 2021, how much they are going to reduce taxes, but I can’t really find anything, anywhere.
I pay taxes in the City of Brandon, because we own a residence and I also have some farmland in a different municipality where I pay some farm/school taxes, so I think that would be definitely a positive.
But I’m just worried with how they’re going to generate that revenue to run the schools when they’re not going be collecting school tax.
JS: I think the government is doing the best that they can, but … if that’s a "yes" or "no" (question) I would have to say "no."
I think that they need to provide more funding for the schools, for education. There’s been a lot of cuts the last two or three years with programs and buses … and extra programs like English as a second language, for instance, and EAs and disability people. It’s just not good.
JS: I would say I have a vested interest in the school system, because I have two kids in the school system and I want to make sure that our school system produces the best children that we have and that all children have access to a good education.
BM: I choose to run because I have two children in the school division, currently, and because I previously worked in the school division and my background is working with children and their families.
I’m an ECE (early childhood educator) with program management, that’s my original training. So working with children and their families has always been something that I’m very passionate about and I still get to do that with my work at Habitat (for Humanity), but I really wanted to have some type of an impact on the schools while maintaining my current position with Habitat.
BM: Right now I’m a community engagement manager for Habitat for Humanity for the Brandon chapter. Basically, I’m promoting Habitat, working with our volunteers, aiding in family selection and helping low-income working families obtain affordable housing.
Previous to this I’ve had over 15 years of experience working with children and families in various childcare settings. Predominantly it was with the Military Family Resource Centre out in Shilo and also with a local school-age centre as the centre director.
BM: I think these positions definitely lead into ways of being able to really see the impact that it would have on families in the long run. Not just the students and the teachers, but how education goes around in a circle and affects everything as a whole.
BM: I don’t think there has been much of a relationship aside from trusting the process and really viewing what they’re doing and seeing how they’re doing things. I haven’t had much experience with them personally. I haven’t done more than check out the agendas and view the meetings live from time to time.
BM: No. I think everybody’s doing the best they can at this point. Our board is also working with a reduced number of trustees as well, so … they’re following the directions that are brought down to them from the minister of education. And I think having … additional new faces and voices that can be heard from is going to be a great thing for them as well.
BM: The one thing I stand strongly for is the staff and student’s mental health and well-being. That seems to be the biggest thing, whether it’s COVID-related or not. That seems to be something pretty near and dear to my heart.
I know what people can be like when they’re at their best and I know what support they need when they’re maybe not at the top of their game. So I think that piece is definitely a key component.
BM: At this point, with the province, it’s really just … what is our plan behind everything COVID and what are the parameters that we’re putting in place that we’re going to look at? If there’s another shut down are we really going to ensure that our children are seeing success and that we’re not just pushing them off into another year.
BM: That really is two parts. One part is it’s really great for citizens, because there’s less taxes to pay. But the second part is: where do the funds come from then?
Our schools are already on such a tight budget and already have reduced incomes … so my question and concern with that would be: what’s going to supplement that? How are you going to find those dollars somewhere else? And if that does occur and you take away the school taxes, what else is going to be affected, what else is going to be kept because of it?
BM: I think the province has many things that they have to work at and consider and oversee, and I think the people who have the school division’s best interests at heart are the people right here in our school division in Brandon, because we’re the ones who are living here every day and know what’s happening.
BM: My experience comes from truly working with children and their families and being extremely passionate about the well-being of everyone. I’m very transparent in what I do and I think coming forward with a very honest and open nature … I think I would do the job a lot of justice.
LA: I decided to run because I wanted to see about restoring programs that were previously cut by the budget because I did have parents come to me and communicate the impact of losing these programs had on their children.
The other thing is I have a passion for the continuous improvement program that I … was on the grassroots end of it when it was being created. I believe in it strongly and I want to see it through to completion.
The third reason is I had studied and noticed that there was a lot of difficulties with family inclusion with English as a second language students, and we just found that their families were either hesitant to be involved in the school or … where they initially came from it wasn’t encouraged to part of the school.
So those are some of the things I wanted to work on, as well as accountability for the spending.
LA: I was a switchboard operator for the hospital.
LA: I have experience as the vice chair of the parent council of Kirkcaldy Heights for four years, and within that role we have collectively done budgets and had to take into consideration the needs of not only educators but students as well.
So being the liaison I would take that information and I would present it to the school board and to the trustees.
I also presently serve on a committee for the school division for the Friends of Education Fund. And I’ve had to give presentations to all of the school leaders within the division, and we also had to allocate money and we had a budget there.
So I feel that my experience with being on the parent council and in touch with students, with staff, with administration as well as being in touch with the school division and different programs there, gives me experience as to how it runs and how it functions.
LA: Very good. I think we have fine trustees and I think they have a wealth of knowledge and together everybody brings something different and you can only have the best when you have a collective group of people that each bring something, individually, to the table.
LA: There were some vital programs that were cut (recently) and it did affect students. I had parents tell me that their older siblings were able to use that program and then the younger ones are coming up and it’s not available for them. So they’re kind of falling behind, because they’re not able to have the help that their older siblings had had.
LA: I think, to me, student and teacher welfare and mental health is No. 1. Because without well students and well teachers we can’t have a well learning environment.
LA: It hasn’t come out, so we don’t know our results. It’ll be very interesting when we do get to see our results.
Right now we are 10 out of 10 (in education), so something is not working correctly, and I think that maybe could be fixed with a possible amalgamation, because then you can pool your resources and share amongst the different schools.
I really don’t have a comment on it because it hasn’t been made public yet. But when we do find out I think that’s when we have to put our heads together and really sit down and take a hard look at it and we have to figure out how to fix this. And it may take amalgamation, it may take cost cutting at the top to add to the bottom. Who knows?
LA: I believe so.
Manitoba pays more than any other province, so I do believe it’s going in the right direction, as long as it does not mean completely phasing out school boards, because then you lose the voice and you lose the local representation.
LA: I do.
They were able to find enough money in the budget to give us two more schools. The minister of education had been able to find (that money) due to restructuring somehow. He was able to find enough money to give Brandon two schools. In total, it was six across the province, if I remember correctly.
I know that our MLAs were being a bug in (Premier) Brian (Pallister’s) ear telling him "we need more schools here." And he listened.
LA: Because I have passion for the school division, I have passion for the community, and I have passion for the students and families and I definitely want to see things done for the best of everyone.
BMc: I saw a need in the education system to improve our outcomes, not just for the sake of having grades and marks, but for children’s education when they get outside of school, whether that be doing something in the community and being able to interact with people or being ready for post-secondary education, maybe trades work or working outside of high school.
I think it’s very important to be ready for that kind of stuff, and the more we can have input into the system and find anywhere that needs to be changed a bit, I think that’s an important thing to be looking to.
Being that I also have three kids in the system, that’s kind of my focus.
BMc: I’m self-employed. I’ve got my own small business. I do eaves cleaning. My business is called Reach Eaves Cleaning and I do some other odd jobs at the same time.
BMc: My experience in the work field won’t really bring as much to the table as what I’ve been able to accomplish on boards and committees within the city. So that’s where my main experience is coming from.
Being able to collaborate with other people in different fields to find other solutions to answers that everybody is looking for and it really comes down to putting everybody’s head together and you come to find out that everybody has a small piece of the pie, and once you put all those pieces together you’ve got the whole. And that’s where the best solutions come from.
BMc: My relationship with the board has been OK. I’ve never had any issues going forward with people. I know some of the people on the board and I’m definitely willing and able to adapt to new relationships.
BMc: There’s nothing that I’m fully aware of or nothing I had to be involved in. I think education is always evolving and ongoing as needs arise. Things like (Indigenous) reconciliation is a big part of the education system.
And with the provincial review coming out in the near future, that’s going to be the next focus and the biggest challenge ahead. That’s one of the main things that I’m looking forward to. Getting my feet wet and jumping into that fire.
BMc: That would be it, the education review, which ties into my main thought of outcome-based education: How are we going to prepare our children for the world ahead of them as best we can?
BMc: The consensus I’ve gotten from your average citizen would be that they’re in favour of amalgamating school boards.
If there is an amalgamation, what you’re going to have instead of a board with nine people representing one area, you’re going to have smaller representation, like you would have with an MLA or a ward representative, but on a larger area.
You’re going to find out that each one of those people has more work to do and … they have a lot more mouths to listen to and they have to have their ears open.
Will it be positive or negative? I’m just saying that there’s two ways to look at that. And whatever the challenge is ahead of us, we need to face that head on.
BMc: It is. We’re one of, if not the last, province in Canada to be doing this. So the province taking that oversight and having it less incumbent upon the board to answer and ask for the taxes is going to be a lot easier so we can focus on policy and the direction of education.
BMc: Absolutely. If you look at the PC platform, I believe number one on their list is education.
So I don’t see why they would do anything other than what’s in the best interest of everybody as a whole.
BMc: My experience in the community has always been a favourable one amongst diverse ethnic groups, people in different committees, boards, specials interests.
I like to be involved in what’s going on and I think people realize that I genuinely have a concern for things that are outside of my own personal scope, because it takes collaboration and effort to understand what’s going on out there and see more past your own head.
CE: This is actually something I’ve had an interest in since about six years ago, and I’ve been part of the Brandon School Division as a front-line worker. I’ve been involved with the teachers, the principals, the support staff.
So I’ve done my little way in helping out, but one of the things with this COVID is … that it provided us an opportunity to actually reflect about our lives, about our careers, families. What is a priority and what is important?
And for me, I finally decided that this is the time to actually step in and provide that real inclusion from the point of view ... that diverse communities here need to be represented at the decision-making table.
CE: I’m a social worker. I earned my master’s in social work at the University of Manitoba in 2015 and currently I am the addictions co-ordinator at the Dakota Ojibway Child & Family Services and I co-ordinate addictions programs and services in Indigenous communities all over Manitoba.
There are some challenges, but it’s been a good, rewarding experience.
CE: The experience that I have in teamwork, which involve the work I do as an addictions co-ordinator, will be valuable to achieve results on multiple fronts, including academics, including community services, athletics and art.
Also, the Brandon School Division, they have the Brandon Community Drug and Alcohol Education Coalition and my experience as an addictions coordinator would contribute into that effort.
And when it comes to addiction, there’s a piece that goes with that and that’s mental health. My experience will also contribute to the mental health services that are available for our children and also for the teachers.
As a minority in the community, with my lived experience, with my knowledge and understanding I’ll be able to provide real inclusion and a real voice to issues in the decision-making process at the board.
CE: It’s been great.
From time to time I do call them to ask some questions or to inquire about programs that I think will be beneficial to a certain group of students and also for some voices to be represented with regards to parents who may not really speak English.
And also from my work I’ve had kids who struggle with different kind of issues. So I’ve had cause to reach out to the division for support in providing individualistic services for some of those kids.
CE: For me, I think there’s much to celebrate in the Brandon School Division. Our education system has witnessed great planning from a dynamic board over the last year and the trustees has really worked hard to improve the standards. And they have also been very successful with the pandemic we are currently facing right now.
But because our city is growing and is getting more diverse, I think that voice, that representation needs to be there to accurately represent other diverse voices. I think that will provide a good way solve problems and come out with a good outcome.
CE: I would say the safety of the children and the teachers.
But outside of COVID, the diverse voices, representation and inclusion.
CE: I think we need local voices in the decision-making process.
Without the board, without the trustees, without the local voice, there are so many programs out there that wouldn’t be in play because of the unique diversity of each community.
So I would like to put that out there and make sure that the government clearly understands this is what’s at stake (with regards to amalgamation).
CE: I’m still unclear on what they’re going to replace that with. But, at the same time, this is where we need the collective approach. This is where we need to really have everyone represented and ensuring the interests and opinions of everyone is actually represented here.
The issue of our property taxes, what is at stake and how would that particular property tax be collected? In what form? In what shape?
CE: I think we’re all parents and we all have children in our public school system. I think we all have the best interests of the school system.
What is more important is making sure we’re learning the mistakes ... and to ensure that we hear from everyone and not having a top-down approach to make sure we have a clear voice from us stakeholders before the decision is made.
CE: Because I have the experience, I have the knowledge, I have the love and I’m promising to dedicate my energy and dedicate my skills and dedicate my time to ensuring that we achieve our goals.
I’m very consistent in the message for my platform and there are three (points).
No. 1: to improve the quality of our education and to guarantee a better future for our children.
No. 2: to offer real inclusion.
And No. 3: to contribute to the addiction prevention and mental health services in our school system.
Those are things where I have the skills, I have the knowledge and that I can regularly provide for.
JG: Well, for me it wasn’t just looking at it from a "this year" perspective. I’ve been watching everything with regards to the development of the school board and the trustees over the last few years and decided at this time that it was the time.
I’ve looked at not only the responsibilities of the board, but also where the division is sitting right now and over the last couple of years when we’re looking at cutbacks annually through the government, having to make those fiscal decisions that really affect not only the division but the tax base as well.
So as somebody who doesn’t look at everything just through one set of lenses, I try to really look at all avenues and when I really talk about a 360-degree approach it’s really looking at the effects of every angle that the division is where it’s at. But also where it’s going, where it’s driving to. And I think that we need to be proactive in the settings we’re looking at right now.
I believe that my experiences and knowledge will come to a valuable use at that table when we really look at where we’re going with our future.
SUN: What do you do for a living?
JG: Right now I am the Ohitika/Ogichdaa warrior wellness co-ordinator with the Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services. So I’m working to develop and delivery land-based activities for healing and wellness for Indigenous men in our First Nation’s community and in our urban centres of Portage, Winnipeg and Brandon.
JG: One of the biggest things that I look at is my delivery of action has always been the delivery of compassion that I bring forward. And when I look at the nature of things we are doing here in the role I do with my job is very much looking at the care of individuals … and care of the direction of moving forward and where we’re going with that.
And how important it is that we create that dialogue and voice around the need to talk about men’s wellness and, in this case, to keep that dialogue and narrative going on around the transparency of that board and how we’re reflective to not only the demands of our community but the demands of the schools.
JG: I believe that I’ve had a great working relationship with the board over the past few years. I have been heavily involved with their Indigenization strategy over the last few years, especially with my last role as Aboriginal community co-ordinator with the City of Brandon.
And it is really something that we look at year over year and really when I look at important things happening right now, just look at the last metrics that were shared at the last board meeting in the area of graduation rates. And for me, when there was no response coming when they mentioned that our Indigenous graduation rates were sitting at half the amount of our regular students, nobody asked a question of "why?"
To me, I was dumbfounded as to not understand why we’re not asking questions into areas of development that we can be more resourceful in understanding what we’re doing and how we can make better moves forward.
JG: I think that right now, especially with remote homeschooling, I think that we could have done a better job in looking at all the accommodations that come with that.
It’s a troubling time right now for living within our new normal of a pandemic and watching our surrounding regions really start to be affected again.
Brandon was hit, we went through our own bout, but we’re not out of the gates yet and I think that we have to be very cautious about that we are living under a pandemic. It’s not going to disappear tomorrow, and that we need to really make sure that we haven’t left the drawing table of what remote learning looks like and what that secondary plan looks like in the case that we should move into a different cautious zone for our region.
JG: One of the biggest things that I look at is just ensuring that we’re holding ourselves accountable to the fiscal responsibility of the division.
That, to me, is something that we always look at and as somebody who also looks at our tax base as well on an annual basis, we got to understand that we also play a big role in that as well in the community. It’s not just property taxes that we look at, but it’s those school taxes that we look at as well and how that affects our everyday citizens.
JG: I’m quite curious to see and hear a little bit more about Manitoba’s plan. I know that when we look at the direct responsibilities and the developments of that plan. … I did not take part in the survey for that plan, so I really want to make sure that we’re looking at the metrics of what came out of the results of that plan and how we’re looking how that affects our division here in Brandon and how we can make accommodations to better set ourselves up for a better working future.
JG: I’m somebody who likes to look at everything at the table, whether it’s a good decision or a bad decision I want to make sure that we have all the information in front of us, that way we’re making a well-informed decision.
JG: I think our provincial government has looked at education, but I think education needs to be looked at a lot more importantly. It’s one of those areas that we can’t take for granted. Education is a right.
I think that our province really needs to understand that as much as we are looking at things from an economic delivery of things across the board, we have to look at the root and that root is education and our children are going to be part of that economy in the future. And if we’re not looking at our responsibility from a provincial perspective, we need to make sure we are putting the right parameters in place so that we are not missing all avenues for our children.
JG: I’ve got nothing but love for the other candidates out there. I wish them well. I’m not in it for a popularity game. I just want to be the best representative for the community and bring those concerns to that table and act as a proper board (member) should.
» Twitter: @KyleDarbyson
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