Cowichan group of four say no amalgamation

Following an emerging trend around the Valley this election, four candidates have joined to present a united front in their campaigns for school trustee.

Former trustees Deb Foster and Ellen Oxman have teamed up with Kayla Barrett and Connie Buckner and as Your Four were out for the all-candidates meeting at Lake Cowichan’s Centennial Hall Oct. 29.

They came out, guns blazing, against the rumours of an amalgamation between the Cowichan Valley and Nanaimo-Ladysmith school districts.

Deb Foster said keeping public schools closely connected to their communities is essential if students are to reach their fullest potential.

"Keeping your kids at the Lake is a priority with you, I know," she said. "I say no to amalgamation with the Nanaimo-Ladysmith district!" Ellen Oxman said she enjoyed the challenge of chairing the school district finance committee and she "kept my campaign promise to put forward a needs budget."

She urged the audience to step up and vote.

"This is your chance to get the board to work with its partners," she said, adding, "I know many here are worried schools here at the Lake are being left behind."

Kayla Barrett, who has lived in the Cowichan Valley all her life, brings to her campaign a background of working at the Clements Centre with special needs people.

"People have been coming to me with concerns about public education," she said, adding that she is noting a troubling increase in parents either home schooling or moving their children into private schools because they are dissatisfied with the public system. Connie Buckner, a 25-year resident of Chemainus, is calling for a "comprehensive audit" of all school district finances to "look for efficiencies" that might free up money for classrooms before taking those ideas to the community.

She also wants to "stop amalgamation plans" with the Nanaimo school district.

"They’ll put our children at the bottom of the list," she said.

Asked if they thought sending in a deficit budget that resulted in the firing of the board actually brought any benefit to students, the four trustees were

adamant. "Yes," said Foster. "It made B.C. aware of the lack of funding for public education, of what’s happening in classrooms."

Oxman said that previous boards had only paid lip service to the concern about lack of enough funding.

"We were ahead of our time and had tremendous support for our action."

Barrett agreed.

"Someone stood up for students. It’s important to have someone go to bat for them," she said.

Buckner said there had been "a lot of rubber stamping" before the last board took its stand.

"I’m not sure how they could have balanced a budget without impacting students. When you get funded with a shortage to start with, how is that possible? I don’t know how that puts students first," she said.

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