On entourage of approximately 15 people headed to Prince George last Friday to voice their concerns at the College of New Caledonia (CNC) public forum. The forum gave community members a chance to voice their opinions about the proposed changes. The forum was held on March 27.
First speaker for the Burns Lake group was Lynn Synotte, Project Planner and a 25 year employee at the Lakes campus.
Synotte stated to the board of directors “The Lakes campus has never run a deficit and during most of my years, the campus has even returned money to offset the infrastructure. The Lakes campus base budget is 45 per cent and our cost recovery programs are 55 per cent of our total operating budget.”
She continued to say, “CNC Lakes has always supported non-traditional students to fit within a traditional college system ad these students find success. Our family programs, our academic and personal counsellors and staff have responded to the ups and the downs in our community.”
Her closing comments were, “We realize the college is in a deficit situation and their needs to be addressed but standardization is not the answer. Each community within the college region is different. Board members who are from a small community will recognize the impact they will have on our college, you are cutting programs in Prince George but you are cutting out the heart of Burns Lake.
Mayor Luke Strimbold took time to attend the public forum to stress to the board the importance of the local CNC.
He said, “Our college has influenced our community for decades and it has the ability to have a positive impact on the future of the Lakes District. On behalf of the community, our concerns are what decisions are being made and how they are being made. I know from personal experience that our local college has worked and continuously works extremely hard to build trust amongst students, First Nations, business leaders, and the community as a whole. But today I see that trust quickly diminishing because decisions are not being made close to home and a new education philosophy is being implemented without the community’s input.”
He went on to say, “Standardization and centralization – these are words going around in our community. Not one of our communities are the exact same as one another and the students have a wide range of diversity. I understand that the College of New Caledonia is facing some tough times. But the solutions that are most successful are those that consist of an inclusive approach. The new approach where decisions are being made by senior executive out of Prince George and no longer being made in our community is simply not acceptable. We want to be part of the solution. We want to know that decisions are being made locally and that we are able to walk into the college and speak to a decision maker.
And you as a board and your senior executive are pushing a different philosophy. I believe the people of Burns Lake will support me when I say that we want to work with you to define what education looks like in our community.”
Strimbold finished his comments by putting a question to the board, “One of the questions I have is whether you as a board and senior executives are interested in changing your approach and conducting meaningful consultation and working with us to develop a unified vision for education in the Lakes District?”
Monty Palmantier, Education Director for Lake Babine Nation (LBN) also spoke to the board on behalf of his Nation and the community. “Today I am here wearing my hat and speaking on behalf of Lake Babine Nation to express my concerns about the impacts that CNC Lakes, and particularly the First Nations communities are facing in light of decisions being made by the senior administration and the board of governors of CNC.”
“While I cannot presume to speak for the other five First Nations in the Lakes District, you can be assured that their experiences and concerns care similar to those held by LBN. Our partnerships with CNC Lakes has been brought to regional, provincial, national and international arenas where we have put CNC Lakes on the map in terms of what makes for effective and reflective programming that has resulted in successes for students. With the cuts that have been identified and in some instances acted upon already, everything that we have worked towards that has made for successful programming at CNC Lakes is in jeopardy and puts us back to where we were 20 years ago.”
Palmantier closed by saying, “ I do not have all the answers; however, in the spirit of true partnership, what we need to do is collectively roll up our sleeves and come up with solutions together. In all honesty. Providing multiple stakeholders from the Lakes District only 20 minutes to petition the board of governors, as we are doing today, in my mind is only the beginning of the work that we have in front of us. Meaningful engagement and authentic partnerships, such as has been our experience at CNC Lakes is what is needed.”
Other local speakers showing support at the public forum was acting chamber manger Susan Schienbein and Priscilla Crouse Aboriginal Liaison for CNC.
On April 24, 2015, the CNC board of directors will vote to approve the budget and the proposed changes. Henry Reiser, CNC President said that depending on the outcome of the voting, some of the layoffs may be rescinded based on what programs are being suspended.