Voice: Is new parent group a rebranding?

A civic political organization is wondering if a new parents group in New Westminster is merely a rebranding of the school board.

Parents For Public Education (P4PE) held its inaugural meeting at Douglas College last week. The organization was set up because the district’s accumulated deficits had caused the community to lose confidence in the board. Organizer Kelly Slade-Kerr said P4PE would be looking to support school trustee candidates who could bring strong skills and passion to the board.

Voice New Westminster organizer Patrick O’Connor applauded P4PE, but he’s also skeptical. Three current board trustees ran under the Voice banner in the 2011 civic election while the other four were backed by the New Westminster and District Labour Council.

“We want to be optimistic about this development, they’re saying much the same thing we’ve been saying for years,” said O’Connor, who is also a BC Liberal organizer.

“We’re encouraged by this, but the cautionary note we’ve been drawing is a number of them have been [connected with] district labour council candidates. And that we see has been the main problem on the board and it emanates from that.”

Those connections include two P4PE founding members, Rebecca Maurer and Maya Russell, working as ministerial aides when the NDP was in power provincially.

About 40 people attended P4PE’s first meeting last Wednesday.

“People weren’t as concerned with the type of cuts the district was making, they understood that. They were more concerned with the provincial funding. What people want to see amongst our district is strong advocacy with the provincial government for more funding,” said Slade-Kerr, an employment lawyer.

O’Connor, however, thinks P4PE’s formation may be an effort to distance themselves from the problems of the current board while having a similar agenda.

“Is this genuine upset about what’s gone on, or is this just a rebranding of the district labour council and saying it’s all the province’s fault for not funding education,” said O’Connor.

"There are a few members in our founding group that have had connections to the NDP in the past. The majority do not. We come from all different backgrounds," said Slade-Kerr insisting it's their identity as parents that is the common bond for the founding members. "We have no connection to any of the current labour council trustees on the school board."

Slade-Kerr said it's hard to deny the lack of sustainable government funding has caused problems for school districts across the province. But the crisis that motivated P4PE's formation was the stewardship of those resources by the trustees and administration.

Slade-Kerr added P4PE would like to see trustee candidates with a broad range of skills and experience so those resources can be managed more effectively.

She denied P4PE has a political agenda. "Our agenda is child-focused decision-making." Parents are best suited for that, she said. "The only special interest is in our role as parents. It's not a political agenda, except our special interest in children might be categorized as political."

Slade-Kerr said P4PE will be holding more meetings and hopes to find some representation in Queensborough.

“We decided to help identify candidates that might run in the election and have the skills that we think are attractive on our board and then support those individuals with endorsement for elections,” said Slade-Kerr.

She added she and some other members of the steering committee are considering running for the board.

“I expect all that will fall into place in the next one or two months,” said Slade-Kerr. “I love New Westminster, I’m proud to live here and I think it’s important to have a district that we’re also proud of. I think I could bring experience and skills to the board that haven’t been at the table to date.

“We are very excited about the direction this is going. I think it’s very exciting for New Westminster schools.”

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