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Voters send 3 newcomers to SD43 board of education

Finances will be first order of business when Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, Coquitlam, Anmore trustees return to the board table

An injection of new blood around the School District 43 board of education table could provide some lively discussion in the coming weeks as retirements and one election upset put newcomers into trustee seats.

In Coquitlam, newcomer Jennifer Blatherwick polled second after incumbent Carol Cahoon while another incumbent, Barb Hobson, returned to the board, to be joined by another newcomer, Craig Woods. Chuck Dennison was not returned to the board after a single term.

In Port Moody, Keith Watkins and Lisa Park were returned to the board table.

Ad in Port Coquitlam, Michael Thomas was reelected while newcomer Christine Pollock was elected for the first time; she effectively replaces Trustee Judy Shirra, who didn not run for reelection.

The small changes should offer some new perspectives around the board table but the newcomers aren't inexperienced in education matters: Woods was the District Parent Advisory Council president; Pollock is a retired SD43 education assistant; and Blatherwick has volunteered for a number of school programs and was recently awarded a Sovereign's Medal for her community work.

As well, three of the newcomers were endorsed by CUPE Local 561, which represents the district's support staff.

Issues such as trustee pay — the highest in the province — trips to the People's Republic of China funded by its government to support the international education program; a new childcare task force; a parent code of conduct; and possibly even the Sexual Identity and Gender Identity (SOGI) 123 curriculum, an issue raised by some conservative groups in the election, may come up for debate in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, Kerri Palmer Isaak, current board chair, was elected by acclamation in Anmore/Belcarra.

Election results show that voters were for the most part satisfied with the status quo, likely on the basis that the district finances have been stable and improving.

When trustees get to the board table for a meeting Nov. 15 of the finance and audit committee, they’ll be rolling up their sleeves to get an understanding of the district’s current fiscal position and the need for more advocacy so the province provides full funding for teachers and education assistants required to meet the Supreme Court of Canada ruling on class size and composition.

As many as 30 teachers and four education assistants were added this fall, and the district has converted 119 rooms to create 64 classrooms over the last two years, including 16 this summer; it also relocated 15 portables and added two more.

But while new rooms are in place for students, according to SD43, the province has not completely funded the teachers and education assistants that were hired, resulting in an approximately $800,000 shortfall. The province hasn’t completely funded all the classroom conversions either, requiring the district to put up $5.2 million of it own capital reserve money for the work.

More details on these issues and more are expected to be discussed in the coming weeks and the first public working meeting for SD43 trustees will be Nov. 20.