MLA meets with SD5 board

Two sides discuss priorities to Southeast Kootenay school district.

Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett met with Trustees of School District 5 (SD5), Southeast Kootenay last week as part of the Board’s initiative to both keep the the elected representative up to date on district operations.

The two-hour conversation covered topics such as the replacement of Mount Baker Secondary School and Project Heavy Duty and other challenges facing the district.

Frank Lento, chair of the Board of Education, said the meeting was very productive and noted that Bennett was up to speed on the agenda items, which made for a serious conversation on priority issues.

“It’s not always about agreeing with one another, it’s about listening to one another and building upon the common ground we share and that’s what this meeting was about,” said Lento.

“It was great, the dialogue we had was great. Bill’s a forthright guy, but he understands some of the challenges that face us and it was a good meeting.”

There has been an effort underway to get Mount Baker replaced with a more modern building.

“I believe we have a good working relationship with our MLA that goes back to my early days on the Board when the replacement of Mount Baker Secondary School became our District’s top replacement priority,” said Trustee Chris Johns, the chair of the SD5 MBSS Replacement Committee.

Lento added that there is no new update on the plan to replace the school.

“He [Bennett] is going into meet with caucus and they have some special meetings that are going to take place here. He’s still very supportive of the replacement of Mount Baker,” said Lento.

“He has been all along, but given the economics of the province and the priorities of where we are—he’s going to revisit with the ministry people and see where Mount Baker’s at.”

Also on the agenda was the ongoing issue of education funding and the newly legislated Bill 11.

Bill 11 was carried into legislation on May 14th, 2015 and contains several amendments to the School Act, Teachers Act and Advanced Education Statutes Amendment Act. This legislation has been an issue of concern for School Boards, the BC Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) and the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils (BCCPAC) since it was first introduced to legislature on March 16th.

“We raised issues that are of concern to us, things like the freeze on exempt staff salaries—our employees are CUPE and our teachers get increases, so our exempt  people haven’t gotten an increase so that was a concern brought to him,” said Lento. “Of course, the protests of Bill 11, that was a concern, but it was a very amicable meeting. I think everybody felt it was a good discussion.”

The Board also brought up the success of Project Heavy Duty, a program that is a partnership between SD5, College of the Rockies, WorkSafe BC and the local heavy equipment industry that provides Grade 12 students with hands on experience with various types of heavy equipment. The project has been running for a number of years in SD5 and complements the province’s focus on trades training.

Lento says the Board and the MLA plan to meet again in the near future. “We believe it would be beneficial to keep in more regular contact, especially as we work to move forward with Mount Baker replacement.”