Trustee Electoral Area 4 candidate Jeanette Selwood and RDEK Area B candidate Stan Doehle received a lot of public backlash and heat during the Southeast Kootenay forum held at the Jaffray Elementary/Jr. Secondary School on Monday, November 3.
The forum was divided into two one hour sessions, with trustee candidates Selwood and Jacqueline Blumhagen answering prepared questions followed by an open forum during the first hour and RDEK Area B candidates Doehle and Morgan Dilts answering questions in the same format during the second hour.
The trustee candidates answered questions regarding labour disputes, provincial government funding, the modified school calendar, the lack of learning assistants and the lack of communication between school officials and parents. But it was the questions relating to Kindergarten and Grade 10 configuration and the provincial government allowing students to attend out of district school that generated debate amongst members of the community.
Selwood maintained that she could not promise residents that she would keep the Jaffray high school running, and would instead determine their continuation based on a cost benefit scenario.
“I wouldn’t do anything to change the policy as it is,” Selwood said when asked what she would do to change the current enrollment policy in British Columbia. “Why should we hold our kids back? We don’t want to limit our kids. Let them thrive.”
Selwood went on to say, “I can’t make a promise to you. I would have to make a realistic decision. I’m not trying to close down a school, that’s not my intent by any means, it’s just being realistic with what is the best for our children.”
Several members of the public expressed their concerns over Selwood’s response, stating that Selwood was essentially voluntarily closing down the school.
Forum moderator and Jaffray Elementary/Jr. Secondary School teacher Randy Reay went out of form during the meeting, stating his own personal opinion on the subject.
“I’ll be honest, I am alarmed at your response. This school is the heart of this community. You take that away and the community has lost its purpose, lost its focus, and this is really a huge issue,” Reay said. “I’m a bit puzzled as to why you would put your name in the ring to represent this area having those sorts of feelings.”
He went on to say, “When you’re going into a battle already willing to give up, you don’t have much of a chance of winning.”
Selwood, however, noted that in order to keep the high school running, she would have to look into the reasons children are leaving, whether it be for mental health reasons or because the school does not provide students with as many opportunities.
“You can’t force them to come; their mental health is more important than attending this school,” she said.
When it came to this issue, Blumhagen sat on the opposite end of the fence, assuring the community that she would do everything she possibly could to keep the high school open.
“I’m willing to exhaust every other avenue before shutting this school down,” she maintained. “Once you lose a high school, you can’t get it back. I will fight as hard as I can to keep them here.”
Although the candidates differed in their opinions in regards to the high school, both trustee candidates agreed that the modified school calendar needs to be adjusted and that they need to work hard to ensure more parents become involved in the school community, even if it entails going door to door to encourage parents to participate in Parent Advisory Council (PAC) meetings.
The RDEK Electoral Area B forum brought forward another set of Southeast Kootenay issues, some of which resulted in the forum losing structure.
Doehle and Dilts answered questions regarding the Official Community Plan (OCP), zoning, infrastructure, ground water and septic problems in Jaffray, tourism and concerns over the Elko treatment facility.
In regards to zoning and the OCP, Doehle noted that zoning has to be re-looked at in order to ensure everyone in the community is paying their proper share in taxes, specifically RV park owners who have subdivided their property.
One gentleman from the audience accused Doehle of preaching zoning enforcement, while not leading by example himself.
“It would be nice if everyone in this community could put all the bickering aside and get along,” Doehle responded.
Doehle and Dilts also spoke about the sewage treatment facility in Elko that was shut down by the Ministry of Environment.
Doehle noted that the facility shut down because the Ministry of Environment found fractured rock, resulting in waste leeching into the ground.
“As I director, I would make that a top priority to get rectified because it is a huge issue in this area,” Doehle said.
In terms of the OCP, both candidates agreed that the plans would benefit from improved enforcement in the area.
“It’s intended to be a breathing document,” Dilts noted, stressing the importance of the OCP reflecting future plans, as the community continues to promote economic development in the area. “[We need to] plan for the growth that is coming, because no matter how much we want to pretend it’s not coming, it is coming and we need to be ready for it.”
Despite the public backlash and controversy between the audience and the candidates, the forum ended on a positive note, with each candidate presenting their closing remarks and encouraging the public to take part in the general election, which is set to take place on Saturday, November 15.