Seven of nine candidates running in Prairie South School Division’s upcoming byelection attempted to convince voters that they are the best-qualified person to be trustee during a recent forum.
The Moose Jaw and District Chamber of Commerce hosted the forum at A.E. Peacock on Feb. 15. The event was also broadcast on the division’s website. The candidates answered three questions about the board’s role, their thoughts on the new school, and their strengths.
In attendance were Karli Amundrud, Brian Martynook, Sandy Kitts, Tony Dreger, Patrick Boyle, Bruce Fritzler and Sommer Amare. Absent were Shelley Jones and Zachariah Bachmann.
All the candidates’ biographies can be found on Prairie South's website. The forum video can also be found on the website.
Advance polls are Monday, Feb. 27, at the division office from 2 to 7 p.m., while election day is Thursday, March 9, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Riverview Collegiate, A.E. Peacock Collegiate, and Sunningdale School.
One question that candidates answered was their thoughts on the new South Hill joint-use school project.
While there are many views about the project, the main idea should be to keep students’ best interests in mind, said Kitts. This is also a “complex issue” that requires much more than black-and-white answers.
The concept of joint-use schools has worked well in other communities, she continued. She supports the partnership among Prairie South, Holy Trinity and the Ministry of Education even though she doesn’t understand all the project variables that affected their decision-making.
“The new trustee’s job will be to get up to speed on the history, gather input and make decisions going forward that will no doubt have many challenges to yet understand and act upon,” Kitts added.
Dreger admitted that he didn’t have enough information to make an informed comment. Instead, if elected, he would dig into the issue to determine what’s best for South Hill and its students and ask the best questions to make the wisest decisions.
A new school is an opportunity that should be pursued because children deserve the best possible education, and this opportunity doesn’t come around often, said Boyle. He thought the partners needed to move faster to build the school because inflation would continue to increase costs.
“We have some schools that have mould issues, that are breaking down, that are falling apart. This is an opportunity to create a new learning environment for those kids that’s state-of-the-art,” Boyle added.
Fritzler — a former PSSD teacher and principal — said he has taught in those South Hill schools and has seen their condition. He noted that the new school would be 110,000 square feet, hold over 1,100 students and be “the envy of many.”
He wasn’t concerned about the location or possible busing challenges, only that a new building was needed. He thought both divisions would address any outstanding concerns.
“A new facility with modern technology, equipment, gymnasiums, vibrant learning centres, sports fields and playgrounds will be welcomed by all,” Fritzler added. “When the new school is built, it is the children who will win out.”
The divisions may have planned this school for years, but some residents still have concerns and the boards should hear those people, said Amare. She wondered what would happen to the four closed schools and how those neighbourhoods would be affected.
“I believe it is important to discuss these things before moving forward if that is still a possibility,” she continued.
Amare’s other focus is on how the new building would address students’ and staff’s physical and mental well-being and their access to amenities such as outdoor classrooms and arts programs.
Amundrud thought the school’s location was less problematic than the pupils’ quality of education, while she hoped the concerns of South Hill residents had been heard.
She also believed that if the new building didn’t impede educational opportunities, affect student safety and well-being, or negatively affect the divisions’ budgets, everyone should welcome the new venue.
This project is important because it’s unlikely the ministry would have approved separate applications to fix the four schools, said Martynook. The ministry approved this project because of partnerships and efficiencies that ensure the divisions can save money on maintenance costs and direct those savings to the classroom.
Martynook added that he wanted to see the KPMG report that suggested the Westheath location and have public consultations to address public concerns.
Dreger said his strengths include years of volunteering, strong leadership skills, being a hard worker, asking the right questions and continued learning.
Boyle said his strengths are communication skills, connecting with others, understanding others’ viewpoints, experience in municipal and provincial governments, and having three kids in PSSD.
Fritzler said he spent 34 years in education, was president of the PSSD teachers’ association and worked with division administration. He is also welcoming, accommodating, demonstrates leadership skills, listens to others and shows respect.
Amare said she has two kids in PSSD, is on the school community council, helps with fundraising projects, researches health and wellness, and would ask insightful questions.
Amundrud said she is opinionated, enthusiastic, trustworthy, works well with others, communicates well, fosters teamwork, would assess practices, and focus on students.
Martynook said he has sat on many business and community boards, is a team player, has organizational skills, is a good decision-maker and problem-solver, and accepts diverse opinions.
Kitts said she spent 30 years in education, gained governance experience attending PSSD board meetings, served on other community boards, and taught worldwide.