School District 70 West Coast trustee candidates Sandra Leslie and Sally Mole smile together after participating in an informal forum at the Tofino Botanical Gardens on Saturday. (Photo - Andrew Bailey)

School District 70 candidates hold court in Tofino

“Whichever person the communities choose, they will have a person that will represent them well.”

The West Coast will vote in a new school board trustee on Saturday.

Incumbent Gurmail Aujla initially put his name forward for re-election, but told the Westerly News that he withdrew himself from the ballot after seeing two strong candidates he knew and respected, Sally Mole and Sandra Leslie, were running.

“I put my name in because I was a bit leery of the type of person that might end up wanting to become school board trustee,” he said. “I was very happy to see both of these ladies apply. I’m not going to endorse either one of them. Whichever person the communities choose, they will have a person that will represent them well. I’m really glad with that.”

Aujla said he enjoyed his time on the school board over the past six years, but is looking forward to traveling more often during his retirement. He said he prefers to stay on the West Coast during the summer and his school board schedule did not allow for much travel time during the fall.

“My advice to either of these two candidates is to have an open mind. Go to Port Alberni and remember that we are one district…And, yes, we need to make sure that the West Coast students and the community isn’t left behind,” he said. “Every time that you look at an issue, ask yourself, ‘What can I do to best support the students in this community,’ because really that’s who you’re representing. You’re representing the students.”

Sally Mole and Sandra Leslie both participated in an informal sit down with community members hosted at the Tofino Botanical Gardens on Saturday where participants engaged in a free-flowing conversation to get a handle on each candidates’ priorities.

The most predominant issue raised during the event was the travel time Tofino students spend commuting to Ucluelet Secondary School and whether either candidate would support adding extra grades to Tofino’s Wickaninnish Community School, which currently goes to Grade 7.

READ MORE: Coun. Thicke believes commuting to Ucluelet is hindering Tofino’s students

Both candidates told the Westerly News after the meeting that they would need to hear from a larger contingent of Tofitians to get a better understanding of the travel concerns.

“That’s one that I’m not sure how to solve,” Mole said. “There was some talk about starting school a bit later [in the day], which may be an option. We all know teenagers are hard to get out of bed. I think that is something to be discussed, but in a broader sense because I’d like to hear from other parents.”

She added she would support adding Grade 8 in Tofino so that students are not traveling until Grade 9.

Sandra Leslie said she would need to talk to the school board to determine the costs of adding additional resources in Tofino.

“I know there is travel for many, many students all over the province and is it something that drives families away from their areas as well?” she said. “I don’t know how to resolve that. Having the grade 8’s [in Tofino] and providing them with programming that is done at the highs school would be really expensive, so it’s a big dollars and cents issue.”

READ MORE: No space at Tofino’s school

Both candidates assured they would lobby hard for new schools to be built on the West Coast to ensure students are learning in seismically safe and welcoming facilities and both said having a strong local voice at School District 70 is vital.

“It is the person who is representing the West Coast at the school board table, bringing those issues to the table and having that reasonable, respectful dialogue that shows the remaining trustees what the issues are on our kids,” Mole said. “The West Coast trustee is the conduit for communication, from the board to the Coast and from the Coast to the board.”

Leslie noted the needs of Tofino and Ucluelet’s schools are not the same as in the Alberni Valley.

“We have different needs, we have smaller resources and the West Coast representative is the person who is going to fight to get as many resources as we should be getting and to get the supports as best we can for these small, rural schools,” she said. “I’m interested in getting some more funding and some more supports and looking at some positive changes on the West Coast.”

The election will be held on Oct. 20 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

READ MORE: Tofino graduate earns $40,000 scholarship

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