Mungall promises $100-million increase in provincial education budget, Garbula and Derkx sceptical
An NDP government would add $100 million to the education budget, NDP incumbent candidate Michelle Mungall told a small crowd at an all-candidates meeting on education yesterday. “It would be a targeted budget item so school districts would not have any choice but to put it into the classrooms.”
“I don’t have 100 million to give you,” said Liberal candidate Greg Garbula in response. “But we have the B.C. Education Plan. I know it’s been challenging for the past number of years. As soon as we improve on jobs and economy, our opportunities to do better will improve. We need to invite more families into the area so we can improve the economy.”
“There is no endless pot of money,” said Green Party candidate Sjeng Derkx. “We have to fund schools within our means. I am not going to throw hundreds of millions of dollars around.”
About 35 people attended the meeting, with a few others via live video connection from Creston. Questions for the candidates were submitted by various education-related organizations and by the public. School District 8 superintendent Jeff Jones chaired the meeting.
The candidates’ education priorities
The candidates were given one minute to explain their priorities for public education in B.C.
Greg Garbula: “Our priorities are to look to the future and the eventuality of the way education is brought out and brought to our children, and how our teachers adapt to the latest and newest technologies. We are planning for our children ten years out, and so it is a real challenge to be that visionary, and that’s the incredible job that the board of educations have, to try to figure out where to go. I also think that our infrastructure has to keep up in proper fashion. Even though technology is taking it outside of the school, the buildings still have to be advanced and state of the art.”
Sjeng Derkx: “The priority is to have universal, high quality and free public education at every level—primary, secondary, and post secondary.”
Derkx said the Green Party would eliminate private schools, increase the range of learning opportunities within and outside of schools, increase students’ physical activity, shift decision-making from provincial to local levels, prohibit user fees, and outlaw corporate funding of school programs.
Michelle Mungall: “It’s absolutely in the classrooms—making sure we have better supports for our students in the classroom. We have amazing teachers right across this province, and to give them the supports that they need with assistance, whether it’s teacher assistants or ESL teachers in the classroom, so students can achieve their success. I mean once you support the teachers you are supporting the students. That is our priority and we will see better outcomes in the end.”
The candidates were asked if they would restore to the teachers’ collective agreement the right to negotiate class size. Mungall and Derkx said they would. Garbula said he did not have a definitive answer.
The candidates were asked by the Kootenay Lake Teachers Federation what they would do about the fact that BC has the worst teacher-student ratio in Canada and that B.C. spends $1000 less per student than the Canadian average.
Derkx: “I did some studying this afternoon and the more I read the less I knew. It seems that a fact is not necessarily a fact. I read that there are contract negotiations going on with teachers and they are asking for a 15% increase over three years. According to the teachers federation that will cost the government $560 million and according to the government it will cost $3 billion. That is a factor of 6. That is huge difference. What is the fact? I would have to rely on experts. We have to make sure teachers are well paid but within our means, and I am not going to throw hundreds of millions of your tax dollars around which may not be there.”
Mungall: “I am aware of these facts and I believe that putting $100 million back in to the classroom and supporting our teachers and ensuring that we have better ratios as well as bringing the funding levels up to the Canadian average is the bare minimum goal we should be willing to achieve. Greg talked about how he cannot offer $100 million, but we went out and we found the money. We looked at where we could generate revenue and we prioritized education to put that revenue into.
Garbula: “I, like Sjeng, was looking this stat up and it is a frightening stat, and I looked at the BCTF website and there are pages and pages, and it is obviously a big concern for everyone in this province or anyone that is involved in youth and the education system so I think we can do better. I think we have to try harder to create efficiencies. We have to use technology. There are great opportunities in the future for the improvement overall, even reduction in costs so that we can provide the infrastructure and provide new and improved flexible ways to teach our kids. That is what the future is for education for sure.’
Asked about the fate of Trafalgar School, built in the 1920s and generally considered to be in need of replacement or major renovation, Garbula said a Liberal government would replace the school “within a year or two.” Mungall said replacing Traflagar would be a top priority for the NDP. Derkx said it needs to be replaced but he wonders where the money would come from.
Mungall said an NDP government would do away with the Foundation Skills Assessment that is given to all students in grades four and seven. Garbula said a Liberal government would keep it, and Derkx said the Green Party has no policy on it but he personally disagrees with the way the Fraser Institute uses it.
The candidates grappled with questions about child poverty and whether education dollars should be used to support social needs of children.
“The best way to do this,” Garbula said, “is to create a budget that is attainable and sustainable and that we have the opportunities for revenue improvement. The two opportunities for revenue improvement to create more funding is to have improved revenue from industry and employment, or to raise taxes. The Liberal plan is to raise more revenue.’
Mungall responded by saying “trickle-down economics” does not work and that the NDP would “get more money in to the hands of families. We have identified a family bonus program that would give another $829 per year for child.”
Mungall said the NDP would enhance early childhood education and childcare subsidies.
Derkx said the Green Party would support early learning. “We know that every dollar we put into early learning we get a multitude back in savings later. We should increase our school lunch programs and they should use local food. We should have more affordable daycare. In the long run there would be a guaranteed livable income program which will eliminate the need.
Generally speaking, Mungall’s responses throughout the meeting hinged on her promise of a $100 million budget increase to classrooms, Garbula focused on the need to strengthen the economy and rarely defended the government’s record on education, and Derkx proposed a wide range of fundamental changes to the system.
There will be an all-candidates forum on health care tonight — Thursday, May 9 — at the Hume Hotel starting at 7 p.m.