The motion was put forward by Trustee Trent Derrick, in response to the government's poverty reduction strategy launched on March 18, 2019.
"For me, it's that ability to have that (as) part of the poverty reduction plan strategy," Derrick said during the meeting. "There is funding available, but with regards to that, it's going to be part of building partnerships with communities – from UNBC doing research projects, to the City (of Prince George) to the Ministry of Social Development. (Funding) is there and I think it's a great opportunity for us to review what we are doing with our foods and to be able to come up with a report in conjunction with the City to move forward on how we as a community can reduce poverty."
The City of Prince George is actively involved in the province's poverty reduction strategy, including a provincial government-supported First Peoples Hospitality Program that will train up to 20 young adults in areas such as occupational skills, computer skills, hospitality operations and strategies for success, and will also give them six weeks of on-the-job experience.
Through the poverty reduction strategy, the provincial government is aiming in the next five years to reduce overall poverty by 25 per cent and child poverty by 50 per cent. According to government statistics, B.C.'s child poverty rate is above the national average, with approximately 99,000 children living in poverty.
Derrick said research has shown that children who are well-fed have fewer behavioural issues and are better able to focus on learning while in the classroom.
Trustee Sharel Warrington noted that School District No. 57 provides breakfast and lunches at some schools, but not all. Trustee Ron Polillo added that one in five children go to school without being fed properly.
"This is a really important issue," he said. "I agree, I think we do great work within the district but I see this as an opportunity to do better work and maybe enhance the programs that we already offer."
Board Chair Tim Bennett said creating an ad hoc committee will "bring together some of our experts throughout the community and within the District to look at what we're currently doing and where some of the gaps are. Then this committee can work with the board to create advocacy plans, to work with the City, to work with government as to how we can implement the food program."
Bennett said the next step is to develop some terms of reference and determine "who we need around the table." The terms of reference, he said, will be back before the board in the coming months."
Board gets look at Annual Facility Grant plan
Also at the meeting, held on Tuesday night, the board of trustees previewed the Annual Facility Grant five-year plan.
Items on the Expenditure Plan for 2019-2020 include: the third phase of a heating system upgrade at Lac des Bois, a cost estimated at $932,998; a high voltage transformer relocation at Lac des Bois, a cost estimated at $150,000; a high voltage transformer relocation at D.P. Todd Secondary, a cost estimated at $185,000; and parking lot paving and drainage work at the School District No. 57 office, a cost estimated at $800,000.
Items on the Expenditure Plan for 2020-2021 include: the fourth phase of the heating system upgrade at Lac Des Bois, a cost estimated at $841,984; a heating system upgrade at College Heights Elementary, a cost estimated at $426,014; and work to improve the parking lot drainage, paving and lighting at Spruceland Traditional Elementary, a cost estimated at $850,000.
Items on the Expenditure Plan for 2021-2022 include: education change health and safety projects, a cost estimated at $100,000; hazardous materials removal, a cost estimated at $642,998; dust collection system upgrades at McBride Secondary and the School District No. 57 office, a combined estimated cost of $775,000; and unit ventilator replacement and exterior window replacement at Van Bien Elementary, a combined estimated cost of $900,000.
Items on the Expenditure Plan for 2022-2023 include: flooring, painting, roofing and hazardous materials removal at various schools, as well as a $900,000 facility upgrade and parking lot improvements (cost estimated at $567,998) at Quinson Elementary.
Items on the Expenditure Plan for 2023-2024 include gym flooring, hazardous materials removal, painting and roofing at various schools. Work is also planned for Beaverly Elementary, including change room modifications, replacement of heating and ventilation ceiling-mounted units; and replacement of a gym heating and ventilation unit. Exterior window replacement and rejuvenation of the exterior of Hixon Elementary is also on the Expenditure Plan.
For each year of the Annual Facility Grant five-year plan, the total cost is estimated at $3,279,793. The Annual Facility Grant five-year plan is administered through the Ministry of Education.
"The Annual Facility Grant five-year plan will come forward to the board through Management and Finance at our upcoming meeting (on April 30)," Bennett said. "It gives an idea that we have a lot of projects on the go, and the annual facility grant is just a small portion of the work that our School District staff do day-in and day-out in support of our facilities."
Parking solution proposed
Following a presentation by Prince George resident Myrna Lemky to the board regarding parking issues at Heritage Elementary School, Bennett said the matter will be reviewed with administration.
Lemky brought forward a concern about the "very small" staff parking lot at the school, which she said forces some staff members to park on Anderson Street in front of the school. There is no parking available, she said, for parents/guardians or visitors.
"I pick up my granddaughter at Heritage Elementary at 2:33 p.m. but in order to get a place to park I must arrive there almost an hour earlier," Lemky told the board. "Parents or guardians that are not able to get to the school early enough can't find a place to park and therefore are parking under a 'No Parking' sign or are double parking on Anderson Street, blocking one lane of traffic."
Lemky called the current parking situation "a nightmare."
Lemky attended the meeting with Sandra Blackwell, chairperson for the Heritage PAC. Blackwell said the parking congestion at Heritage presents an ongoing student safety issue.
"Now that the weather is warmer, we've got kids on bikes, we've got kids on scooters, and they're in and out of those cars," Blackwell said. "It's just a real fear that somebody's going to get hurt."
Lemky pointed to a possible solution to the parking problem. She advocated for the use of a vacant, unused lot located between Heritage and D.P. Todd Secondary, land owned by the School District.
"This space would make an excellent parking lot and could accommodate approximately 30 vehicles," she said.
Lemky and Blackwell brought with them a petition with 98 signatures of support for the proposal.
Bennett said the matter would be forwarded to Education Services and Management and Finance.
"They will review the proposal, have some conversations with Facilities, and look at the feasibility of that recommendation," he said. "If it's not feasible, they will consider what options we have to address the parking congestion at Heritage Elementary."
Mental health challenges brought before board
Tuesday night's meeting also saw Joanne Hapke, president of the Prince George District Teachers' Association, give a presentation to the board on behalf of School District No. 57 counsellors. Hapke read a statement from counsellors that said, in part, they are "overwhelmed by the needs and high demand for their services and are pulled in many directions to address the referrals from students, parents, staff and administration. Triage has become the norm."
Counsellors, according to Hapke's presentation, are dealing with high demand not only in secondary schools but also in elementary schools.
"This year, there are 17 elementary school counsellors working in schools that have hired them because those principals are seeing the need for intervention at the elementary level," said Hapke as she read from the statement. "However, most of these positions are only one or two days a week. There are 12 elementary schools that still have no school counsellor."
In a handout provided to the board, one School District No. 57 teacher wrote the following.
"I am having significant behaviour problems with four boys in my class. A parent is considering medication but is looking for support to discuss this decision. One of the young boys asked me if there was anyone he could talk to. Sadly, he will go on a long wait list. We don't have a school counsellor at our elementary school."