Politics swung toward education Tuesday night at a Fruitvale all-candidates forum for the village’s mayoral candidates and Beaver Valley school board trustees.
About 70 people sat and listened intently as the microphone made its way from Dick Bilenki, Darrel Ganzert, Kim Mandoli and Vince Morelli – vying for the two School District 20 positions on the board of nine – only reaching former village councillor Patricia Cecchini and 40-year Fruitvale resident Gary Moisson briefly during the two-hour meeting.
Cecchini pointed to her record of getting work done on council for the past three years. Improved walking paths, a revitalized May Days and the village’s green gym are just some of the accomplishments she’s led the former team on.
Moisson listed his many community positions he’s held over the years and his dedication to the community where he lives.
But the spotlight drifted from the mayoral candidates when the floor opened up to the public, who wanted to talk schools.
One man in the crowd pointed out the district’s operational surplus has dropped down to $38,000 this school year from $1.7 million two years ago and asked how future trustees plan on dealing with this dwindling budget.
Bilenki said it’s time the board took politics out of decision-making. He pointed to the choice to keep Castlegar’s older and smaller maintenance building open and closing Trail’s newer and larger one, which is now rented out to regional transportation for $1 a year.
“This is why I say we have to take the politics out of things that don’t affect the students,” he said.
Outspoken parent Roland Vogel wanted to know whether the trustee candidates would like to see the four remaining elementary schools in Greater Trail left open.
“I don’t think the pressure is going to be on closing elementary schools, certainly they are the most vulnerable of the students that we do have and I think they have to stay as close to their homes as possible,” said Ganzert, noting the increase in elementary enrolment since full-day kindergarten started this year.
Facilitator Ron Clarke, president of the Trail and District Chamber of Commerce, sourced a question from a Crowe student that touched on the contentious issue of moving Rossland Secondary School kids down the hill but specifically how Crowe could accommodate them.
“If the future holds – either though enrolment increasment or the closure of another school – that school could easily be added onto,” said Mandoli, who was a trustee at the time when the blueprints for the new school were accepted.
Trustee hopefuls don’t necessarily think closing RSS is the answer to balancing a budget, the crowd heard.
Morelli added the Planning For the Future document can be deceiving because a sale of a school can’t b used toward operational costs.
“If you have a school sitting empty, it’s still costing you money and the value is also going down rapidly,” he said. “I don’t think closing the school is actually an answer to the problem, the problem is funding from the province.”
Area A director Ali Grieve brought the most controversial topic to the floor for the mayors, asking what their views were on the proposed Columbia Gardens industrial park boundary expansion study.
Moisson admitted he was unfamiliar with the study while Cecchini said she’s not in favour of losing Beaver Valley industry.
The two mayor candidates agreed that the most difficult challenge facing Fruitvale’s future council is aging infrastructure.
The Montrose debate is set for Wednesday at the Montrose Community Hall from 7-9 p.m., Trail’s all-candidates forum gets underway Nov. 8 from 7-9 p.m. and Rossland’s is scheduled for Nov. 15 at 6:30 p.m. at the Miners’ Hall.