News / Calgary

Calgary school trustee candidates call for funding, parent input

A quintet of trustee candidates quarrelled little but discussed much during the lone forum ahead of a Calgary Board of Education byelection vote.

On April 13, voters in Wards 11 and 13 will select a single replacement for Sheila Taylor, who vacated the seat last year to run for MLA.

Much of the conversation, as it did during the 2013 municipal election campaign, centred around lack of student funding. It was particularly timely, however, as the provincial budget tabled last Thursday offered no additional dollars for student growth and cuts into support for vulnerable student groups, like aboriginals and English-language learners.

"We continue to be underfunded, we continue not to have the support staff that we need, the support for kids with special needs, the huge workloads for teachers," said candidate Julie Hrdlicka, a social advocate.

School council executive Victoria Morgan reiterated calls for the province and boards to fund learning necessities, stating she recently learned of one parent council that was asked to help fund additional toilets in their building.

"Let's take the same approach as the corporate world and let's look closely at where we can cut," Morgan said. "Travel, hospitality, off-site meetings and employee training — all nice to have, some may say important to have, but (it's) hard to convince me that it's essential to have while our budgets are being reduced."

Sean McAsey, a former real-estate broker, strayed furthest from the common script of lobbying the province for additional dollars. He vouched repeatedly for partnering with the corporate world to fund programs and facilities.

"We could increase school fees for our students but there would be public backlash and that would create hardship," he said. "Private partnerships can ensure there is funding available for upgraded technology, to purchase the necessary textbooks and hopefully to even contributing other resources to enhance learning for all students."

Drawing on connections and past efforts was a common theme for fellow candidate Karen Lloyd, who, up until recently, served as the face of the Calgary Association of Parents and School Councils, which hosted Tuesday's forum.

She said parents are busy and engaging them needs to be more convenient.

"They don't have time for the 1964 model of going to a regular meeting and hauling themselves to this and to that place," Lloyd said. "We need to take the school and the meetings to them."

Wilf Phillips, a retired teacher, vouched for creating a system that supported "lifelong learners" and said in-school decisions should largely be left to principals.

Roughly 80 people attended the forum, dwarfing turnout at some of forums held during the 2013 campaign.

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