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Trustee candidates put best foot forward at all-candidates meeting

Langley’s seven would-be school trustees talked about education, bullying, budgets, and new schools during an online forum hosted by TalkLangley on Wednesday.

Hosted by blogger Brad Richert and former trustee Candy Ashdown, the event saw the candidates for the Feb. 27 byelection answer questions about a variety of topics.

“The role of trustee is one of the least understood roles, and yet it’s one of the most important roles,” said Langley East MLA Megan Dykeman at the start of the meeting. Dykeman stepped down as trustee and chair of the school board after she was elected MLA last October, triggering the byelection.

She noted that whoever wins, they will become a trustee in a school district overseeing 23,000 students with a $250 million budget.

The candidates often agreed on the importance of supporting children and teachers, but they attempted to differentiate themselves on a few issues.

“I believe we need to raise the school site acquisition charge now,” said Joel Neufeld, a firefighter. He mentioned several times that the district needs more funding to buy future school sites in Willoughby, and eventually in Brookswood as that neighbourhood develops.

Charlie Fox emphasized his experience of more than 30 years as a teacher and principal in the Langley School District, as well as his time on the Township council.

He also said the key thing for trustees to work on is the school district’s strategic plan, which creates priorities for students and staff.

“The strategic plan really is the core of that, as a trustee,” Fox said.

On his weaknesses, he said “I call a spade a spade, and yeah, that runs you into problems sometimes.”

Asked about appeals from students and parents, Phyllis Heppner said she would advocate for people.

“I go to bat for the one who’s hurting,” Heppner said.

Holly Dickinson emphasized her role as a working teacher, in Surrey, gives her unique insight.

“I live it daily, I’m in the school system every day, I’m working with kids and families every day,” she said, while acknowledging that she would face a few conflicts of interest on some issues and couldn’t vote on every single matter before the board.

Stacey Wakelin, who has been a community organizer, was asked about the pros and cons of social media. She said the upside is greater communication and transparency.

“It’s also a realm that often takes an ugly turn,” she said.

Longtime volunteer and semi-retired accountant Grant Gilmoure emphasized his professional background, saying he would try to make the district’s dollars go further. The trustee’s role is about fiscal and social responsibility, he said.

Alex Joehl, who has frequently contested elections at other levels as a Libertarian Party candidate, said he supports public schooling and his child is in the system. He said he’d ensure that the funding is spent well as he respects the taxes people have paid.

The main voting day for the byelection is Feb. 27, with voting taking place from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Langley Township.

READ MORE: Langley School Board election allows early, mail-in voting

Matthew Claxton

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