The other week I sent a questionnaire to every candidate running in the 2021 Langley School Board Trustee By-Election. The questions were intended to be nonpartisan, important, and focused on the future of Langley’s schools. I deeply appreciate the responses received as it would have taken these candidates serious time to respond. I hope that if you like the responses provided that you’ll share the posts of your favourite candidates. These posts are NOT endorsements of any candidate and the answers have NOT been edited. -Brad Richert
What current issues do you see as most pressing on the board?
For the next 18 months leading up to the next general election in October 2022, the most obvious challenge is to get through the ongoing pandemic. We are still in a provincial state of emergency. With Covid-19, the Board’s role is supporting district management, teachers and support staff during this (or any) emergency to support parents and students in any way that we can. I will do that.
Next, we must confirm a real plan for a 2nd high school and 3rd middle school in Willoughby, likely both to be located at 208th Street and 76th Avenue. We also must ensure funding for two elementary schools within Willoughby.
What are the challenges you foresee arising for the board in the next 18 months and the following term?
Similar to question #1, we get through the current pandemic, and support district management, teachers and support staff.
In addition, we must ensure that we continue to be in touch with the community, staff, parents and the Township of Langley to continue to make progress on any policy item, regardless of the challenges the pandemic presents.
What are your top 3 priorities for the remainder of this term?
Given that there are only 18 months left in this term, I want to be a constructive effective member of the team as soon as possible. I look forward to supporting the current Board Chair, Rod Ross. No one can do it alone. I believe we need someone new here for the long-term, but also with tangible objectives for real progress on issues, large and small.
We must immediately start the process to increase School Site Acquisition Charges (SSACs) to the maximum amounts permitted, as other districts and municipalities have done long ago. Development must pay for development, and that is not happening currently in Langley. To complete this process could be up to 18 months, perhaps longer, so we need to get that started right away.
Given today’s market cost of land, the funding model for new schools needed because of development has to change. The current legislation restricting the District’s options to meet its obligations for school needed because of the demands placed on it by development is obsolete. Limiting a school district’s options to recover real-world costs from development, while requiring them to come up with 1/3 of the market value for the new land needed, must be reformed.
Money that could be used for expansions to remove portables or for better playgrounds is instead subsidizing development. This is affecting the quality of education for all students in Langley, not just those in Willoughby. I will do everything I can to change this.
Further, we must confirm a clearer understanding of where we are at with school funding in Willoughby. We need a 3rd middle school and 2nd high school there, and to confirm where the 4th middle school will be located. We must finalize more elementary schools are in the pipeline as soon as possible, such as the one within the Williams Neighborhood Plan, which is about to get started with even more residential development.
Related to that, within this term, especially, we need to ensure we have a constructive, effective voice at the table regarding serious challenges the District will face with school capacity within Brookswood/Fernridge as that Neighborhood Planning process enters its final stages. We must ensure we have a real plan for schools there to support development, and recover costs from it, not subsidize development by deferring other important priorities.
How do you believe the board has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic so far? Do you believe any changes need to be made?
From the many in-depth conversations I have had with teachers and parents, I see the mask mandate for elementary school students as the biggest change we still need.
Other than that, the district has great cleaning protocols in place, clear communication with staff and students, daily health checks for staff and students as well as school specific Covid-19 protocols. Covid-19 is a challenge for everyone, and we should be supportive. There will plenty of time afterwards to learn from it, and improve. The Board must continue to be supportive of these efforts in a positive, constructive way, ensuring health experts, science and community health and safety govern our decision-making to address and get through this pandemic.
How do you plan to foster positive relationships with parents & teachers over the remainder of this term?
Real, effective communication and renewed presence in our community. I have tried to meet with and talk with as many teachers and parents as possible. I want to meet even more, as many as I can, to continue this well after I am elected, if I am. We need to listen, understand issues, and then actually act on making changes as needed.
We need more Board members that will actually do the work, focus on the bigger issues along with the smaller ones. I hear from many that the Board is not as visible to them as they would like to see. We need to change that.
Everyone has specific things they care about and issues their kids and school are uniquely facing. The only way to foster these relationships is to keep the lines of sincere communication open so parents and teachers feel they are heard. I want to do that, and continue to really be in touch with parents, teachers and students.
What sort of responsibility do you believe the board has in the overall community?
The Board of Education is ultimately responsible to represent the interests of parents, students, and teachers, with an active role in ensuring the best environment for learning. Student success must be our top priority, and never far from our consideration on any decisions we make. Trustees must actively engage their communities to build and maintain a school system that reflects local priorities, values and expectations. School trustees must truly listen to their communities, guide the work of their school district and set plans, policies and approve an annual budget and capital plan.
There are just under 1,900 new apartment condo units scheduled to be completed this year in Willoughby alone. The school board currently projects an average of approximately 1 school age child for every 6 condo units – given the recent rise in housing prices, do you believe this is enough? Why or why not?
The long-term trend concerns me. Today, the School District confirms that the numbers are accurate, but will that hold true over the long-term as housing affordability continues to be a long-term challenge for so many?
We are planning neighborhoods and communities in Willoughby based on these numbers, but if the numbers and trends change, we will face serious capacity challenges. Many of the people moving into Willoughby are young couples just starting a family, or with young families. And many will increasingly only be able to afford apartments.
We are already seeing a shortage of space for kids in their local community school, as more density is built in Willoughby than originally projected. As the quantity of children in condo units increases even a small percentage, it will be a serious challenge. We must at least acknowledge this, which I am not sure either the Township of Langley or SD35 staff really is. We must plan for existing school expansions in the future now. I will do as much as I can to part of positive change in this regard.
Do you or have you had children in the Langley school board system?
My daughter Brinley starts kindergarten in the fall.
Are you planning to run for school board trustee in the 2022 general election ?
Why you, why now?
I would bring a unique, different perspective to the Board. As a first responder I see the reality of what real people deal with every day. It would be a true honour to have a chance to serve the students in Langley, and everyone in the school system that ultimately wants to see our children prosper and thrive.
It is time for my generation to step up and have a real voice at the table, to be a real part of the decision-making process that will directly affect all young families like mine for years to come.
My daughter has her entire education career ahead of her. I want to help make things better for her and all the kids like her, as well as all teachers and families in Langley.
It matters to me that we do better, acknowledge and address some of the mistakes of the past. We need to have a plan to move Langley into the future. We are a changing, evolving community with growing urban centres. I think that not all of our elected leaders, or former ones, truly understand this. We must progress, move forward, and do things differently, think differently. I want to be a part of making that happen.
Thank you Joel Neufeld for your responses and good luck on the rest of the campaign!
I invite my readers to join us for the “Meet Your Candidates” Live Event at TalkLangley.com on February 17, 2021, 7:00-9:00pm.
The event will be hosted on Facebook Live Stream by former Langley School Board Trustee Candy Ashdown and myself, Brad Richert, with opening remarks by former Langley School Board Chairperson Megan Dykeman, MLA (Langley East). We hope to see you there!
Authorized by, Brad Richert, registered sponsor under LECFA, 123-456-7890