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Variety in Okotoks trustee candidates

Education: Four running for position on public school board
NEWS-FSD trustees_1
The Foothills School Division Okotoks ward trustee candidates, from left, Sharon Nichols, Glenn Stieben, Lisa Penzo and Adrianne Nogier. (Photos submitted)

The platforms for the four candidates for the Foothills School Division Okotoks ward trustee range from staying the course and continuing the work over the past two years to slashing educators’ salaries.  

Incumbent Sharon Nichols is running against Adrianne Nogier, Lisa Penzo and Glenn Stieben for one of the two seats for the Okotoks ward in the Oct. 18 election. 

“I think I have the experience, the skill and the knowledge to continue to contribute making a difference that is positive in Foothills School Division,” Nichols said. “Quality education really matters and I think I have the ability to promote that and open up opportunities for our students in the future.” 

She said as a former teacher and the incumbent she has a strong background to deal with the issues ahead.  

She said the division continues to face budget restraints. 

“We have been doing a very strong job in making sure we are advocating that the funding needed is there and the education dollars stay in the classroom and not be diverted into areas like transportation and in recent days, health care,” she said. 

“The issue that will continue is how are we going to get the funding we need to continue to support the programming we need so our parents and students are working in optimum conditions for quality education.” 

She said the division is also continuing its work for lifelong learning.  

“So that by the time they are creating those life choices, students have had experiences like the arts, music construction all the skills that are needed,” she said. “We need to open up opportunities from the earliest stages (for students) to develop that potential.”

Stieben said his main concern is about what he calls two-tiered kindergarten with the full-day program at the division. Students’ families who are in full-day pay $250 a month.

“The kids who don’t have $250 a month go home, the people with the money go to school all day,” Stieben said. “There should be zero cost."

Stieben, a real estate agent, has publicly published the cost for a teacher as $125,000. He based that number on the $250 fee a month fee to cover the expense of a teacher for the full-day kindergarten programs in the Foothills.

He would aim to have that cut to $120,000.

However, a Foothills School Division statement stated the average cost for 2021-22 is $93,350 + benefits at $11,874 (12.7 per cent) for a total of $105,224.

The top salary for a teacher with six years of recognized schooling in Foothills is $101,012.  

The provincial government pays 10.87 per cent to the ATRF for teacher pensions.

Foothills School Division’s contract with teachers expired in August.

The division does not negotiate directly with the Alberta Teachers' Association. It negotiates for teachers’ salaries and benefits with the ATA through the Teachers’ Employer Bargaining Association which consists of representatives from the 61 school boards and the provincial government.

A trustee would need the support of the ATA, the provincial government, approximately 50 other boards as well as his or her fellow trustees to begin direct negotiations with division teachers.

Stieben said he will work to have the cost of teachers cut.

“I think I do have (that authority),” he said. “I can cause enough trouble that they are going to bend.”

Penzo has been involved with the Foothills School Division as both a parent and a member of school council. She is former council chair at both École Percy Pegler School and the Comp (she presently has a son at the Comp).

“I value public education and the right for everyone to have a strong education,” Penzo said. “I feel I can be a voice for all the stakeholders, the students, the parents and the school community.”

She said she feels the present board has a good vision for the future, including its strategy on not piloting the K to Grade 6 draft curriculum.

“I believe the draft curriculum needs a more careful look at the dissemination of the program,” Penzo said. “In order to maintain the opportunities for our children to have a well-rounded public education.”

She said she struggles with the idea of piloting and then introducing the curriculum, tentatively scheduled for the start of the 2022-23 school year, while dealing with a pandemic and then post-pandemic situations.

She said she would advocate for further funding for public education.

“It’s about being the voice and being aware and not stopping (to advocate) as well as working with other boards,” Penzo said.

Her bio on the FSD candidates website states “she excels in creating strong teams by providing leadership and mentorship to the organizations in the area of healthy child development, program planning, instructor and leader training.”

Nogier, who has two children going to Big Rock School, said she has concerns about the number of former teachers on the board.

At present, all five trustees are former teachers.

“(I am running) just to have a parental role in the board,” she said. “It is to have a good mix of different ideas and different places rather than teachers – coming from the outside of the school.”

She said at present she has no major issues, she wishes to assist, especially with a possible new curriculum.

“I like our school,” said Nogier, who runs a home cleaning business. “I am not particularly in favour of the new curriculum. My being part of the board I can voice the opinion of a parent’s concern.”

Larry Albrecht, the other Okotoks trustee and the chair of the division, is not seeking re-election.

In the other wards, incumbents Jack Molyneux (Black Diamond, Turner Valley, Longview) and Theresa Letendre (Millarville, Priddis, Red Deer Lake) are in by acclamation.

In Heritage Heights-Blackie-Cayley, John Evans and Toby Kliem are running. The winner will succeed Bill Young.

In High River, Philip Irwin and Fred Woods are running for the seat.