The Carlington Summit

Andrew Lam, who has served the Carlington area for the past three years as trustee on the English public school board (the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board or OCDSB), has decided not to run again in the November elections.

It's not the low salary ($5000 a year) or the late-night meetings, the constant phone calls or the tough decisions on school closures. Lam says that his day job with Agriculture Canada has taken him travelling much more than he expected, and he doesn't think he can do justice to both commitments. “I can't serve the people as I would like to,” he said in a phone call from Vancouver in mid-September, the day after he'd been at a tense late-night meeting at General Vanier School in the east end of the ward, one of nine OCDSB schools under threat of closure.

Lam, a dedicated member of the former Carleton Board of Education who lives south of Baseline, quickly became very familiar with issues in River Ward (the ward in which Carlington is located) when it was added to his zone for the 1997 elections. The zone boundaries have been re-drawn yet again for the 2000 elections for a slate of 12 trustees, and River Ward becomes a school board zone all by itself. Although Lam does not live here, he says he would have run in this zone if he felt he had time to do the job.

“Andrew has been a gentleman; he was always there for us,” says Brian Gifford of the Bayview School Council. “He would make the follow-up calls to the Board and get the answers for us. He always did more than you expected, and you could count on his word.”

Gifford decided to run in order to follow very much the same course as Lam: putting children first. “There has been too much emphasis on the cost and not enough on the quality of public education...I'd like to help this Board move away from its rules-based culture to more of a client service orientation.”

Because Bayview works so well as a primary French immersion school, Gifford is particularly anxious to stop the Board from closing neighbouring General Vanier, a measure which would nearly double the enrolment at his children's school.

Debate within the Board is being stifled, from what Gifford has seen. “The people who are on the front line now feel limited in what they can share with us (parents); we can't identify issues so we can't identify solutions. That has nothing to do with the ministry, that's something within the Ottawa board.”

As for the province, Gifford believes that “many of the changes put forward are on good principles but the means by which we are to get there are largely untested. There are so many practical problems with the funding formula. Either the province hasn't been willing to listen, or we haven't been able to communicate the impact effectively.”

A chartered accountant who works as a management consultant to government departments, Gifford hopes to be able to introduce some flexibility into the way education is financed. “We need to enter into a debate on what we should provide for our children, and then ask what is a cost effective way to deliver that. We'll never know how cost effective we can be if we don't have the flexibility. The standard testing ought to let us identify the success stories and how those boards have delivered their success. We can adopt the practices that work.”

If elected, Gifford would continue Lam's tradition of meeting monthly with representatives of each school council in the zone. He would also flex his work time to permit a half day a weekin the schools. “I have no doubt it is a challenging task, but I feel compelled to come forward at this time. I want to make public education work as well as it can, it ties in to my identity as a Canadian. I want to see that our children are exposed to all walks of life and get a greater appreciation of who we are as a collectivity.”

First to register as a candidate in the zone was Jeremy Sztuka, a second-year commerce student at Carleton University. He feels he would bring a special energy and perspective that is lacking on the current board of education.

“It's been many years since the people on the current board were studying themselves...Three years ago I was in high school in the Upper Canada School Board,” says Sztuka. “I was on my high school council, involved in school wide councils and sports and the school newsletters... Right there, I'd bring a lot to the table.”

Only having lived in Ottawa a year, he isn't yet familiar with the schools in the zone other than Brookfield high school. “One of my good friends teaches English as a second language and I believe the interaction with people from all sorts of backgrounds is an important advantage for Ottawa students.”

Sztuka also notices that “the Ottawa board has a lot more program and they've had a lot more cuts. How to restore those programs without more funding is a challenge, but when there's a will there's always a way. You can do it if you really want.”

As for the talents he would bring to the board, Sztuka says that he has “a strong ability to listen through a long meeting or read a very long text and simplify it, synthesize information quickly and effectively.”

If elected, Sztuka believes he would be able to devote 20 to 30 hours a week to the role in addition to the time he spends at his studies and a part-time weekend job. “It's a given that I'd be attending meetings with the other trustees, but I'd also like to visit some high schools and elementary schools and give motivational talks to the students and answer their questions.”

Sztuka frequently made presentations to the Upper Canada School Board when he was a student at South Grenville High School. “People wanted me to run for student member of that board, but I would not have had a vote.” He looks forward to getting to know more about the Ottawa board.