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Rotarians open early forum for school board candidates
by MATTHEW NASH
School board candidates ushered in their election season early at the Sequim Sunrise Rotary forum on Aug. 5.
All candidates — incumbent Walt Johnson, opponent Stephen Rosales and unopposed incumbents Sarah Bedinger and John Bridge — came to the event although there are no school races until the Nov. 8 general election.
Johnson and Rosales traded quips about public board meetings and what the role of the board is in the community.
Rosales, a Sequim Food Bank and Sequim Boys & Girls Club volunteer, said when he moved to Sequim he wanted to know how to get parents involved. He suggested assigning a school board member to each school.
Johnson, a third-term candidate, said that is a big mistake.
“When a school board member shows up in schools and starts giving orders, it works against the way a system needs to work,” Johnson said. “We’re not micromanaging.”
Rosales earlier called out the board for holding a retreat at Johnson’s house, which he felt didn’t make the meeting accessible to the public — even though Rosales himself didn’t attend.
Johnson said citizens did attend and that the environment was appropriate for the work session.
Rosales tied his argument into parent involvement, saying they are essential to students better understanding how their education ties into college and/or a career track. He’d like to hold board meetings around town to bring more awareness to school issues for parents.
“Most of the people out there don’t know we have a school board or the people on it,” Rosales said. “We need to put a face on the school board so that it gets more out there.”
Bridge, a former fourth-grade Helen Haller teacher running for his first full term after a successful two-year bid, disagreed with moving meetings.
“People get confused where we meet if we move it around,” Bridge said.
Bedinger, a third-term candidate, said she encourages everyone to come to board meetings.
“It’s really your responsibility as a citizen to come to those meetings,” Bedinger said.
She feels what the high school is doing now with bridging high school students to post-graduation is good. She mentioned The Den, a once-a-month first-period program where an advisor helps students to understand requirements for education and to create a portfolio of work they’ve done.
Johnson said he agreed with Bedinger’s comment and didn’t add anything further.
Bridge said he’s not sure what other programs could be added unless it’s in-turn because it’s hard to fit in more with the requirements set already.
Bedinger said a new position focused on districtwide professional development and the school board’s test score goals could help increase graduation numbers this year.
Rosales said Sequim High School staff has done a good job with graduation rates and compared to Port Angeles the numbers are about the same despite Sequim’s enrollment being significantly less.
Johnson said he didn’t have proper data on graduation rates and couldn’t answer.
Solutions sooner than later
When asked what could be solved in the next two years, Bedinger said schools are a bureaucracy and act slowly but she does approve using reserves to bring back laid-off teachers. She said the district isn’t at the same staff level with retirees and some para-educators not returning. She added that if the district did work toward something else this school year, it would be passing a capital projects levy.
Johnson said the school board’s business is not to solve specific problems in the school district but to support the superintendent and the professionals in the district in identifying the problems.
“We’re not as close to the day-to-day operations as the professionals,” Johnson said.
Rosales called himself a dreamer and envisions
Sequim having all-day kindergarten programs. He wants the district to find alternative ways of funding, such as advertising on school buses, because state and federal funding is not reliable.
“We have to find a way to fund education,” Rosales said. “We’ve got to draw a line in the sand and stop backing off.”
Bedinger said no candidate is against programs like all-day kindergarten but the district is limited in the dollars it receives. She used the example of First Teacher, which is not funded by the district but uses the Sequim Community School.
“Unless a group steps up and says we want you to do this with the funding we receive, it’s not going to happen,” Bedinger said.
Rosales said cutting funds to First Teacher was unnecessary because other cutbacks could have been made such as stopping the quarterly board newsletter sent to households in the school district’s boundaries.
Bedinger said the newsletter fits legal requirements for when the district chooses to ask for a levy or bond because it must inform the public about its actions and happenings.
Candidates spoke favorably about the Olympic Peninsula Academy, a home-school program, when asked about its role in the district. Candidates advocated decreasing the waiting list for applicants.
Both Bedinger and Bridge said if elected, the four-year terms might be their last.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.