Sequim residents will soon vote for two new school board members this November.
The Sequim Sunrise Rotary Club held a short forum on Friday, Sept. 8, at the Sunland Golf & Country Club to get a first look at the four school board candidates running to fill the positions for director district No. 2 and director at large, position No. 4.
Both positions serve four-year terms on the school board and currently Michael Howe holds the director district No. 2 position and Brian Kuh is serving as the board vice president and director at large.
Jon Kirshbaum and Kuh are running for the director district No. 2 position and Nola Judd and Brandino Gibson are running for director at-large, position No. 4.
Each candidate was given three minutes for opening statements, followed by a question and answer segment with two-minute responses and two-minute closing statements.
Kuh was appointed to the school board as the director at large replacement for Bev Horan in May and was later voted in by the board as vice president.
He said it is his desire to serve on the school board with three children in Sequim schools and added that his work with the school board has been an extension of his expertise and experience as the executive director of the economic development council in Jefferson County.
Kirshbaum has educational and professional experience in the Chicago public school systems in the areas of educational administration, project management, analysis, school support services, system-wide re-engineering and strategic planning. His priorities are concerned with, “individual students, their parents, and the concerned citizens of the entire Sequim School District.”
Judd has experience in the clerical field for companies such as General Electric and Boeing and raised eight children — five that attended Sequim School District. She is running to, “reciprocate for the service that the school school boards have done for my children throughout the time we were raising them.” She said she would bring to the board the concerns and perspective of a parent and grandparent.
Gibson moved to Sequim in 2009 and adopted a daughter in 2003. He wanted his daughter to go to a good school system coming from an area in California where there was a lot of gang issues. He is retired from the U.S. Air force and earned a degree in education development, saying “for me the development of education is about developing our youth for the future.”
Gibson said he believes his background in educational development and vocational education brings a different perspective to the board.
School facilities, teacher pay
When asked if candidates believe Sequim school facilities are adequate, Kuh, Kirshbaum and Brandino all agreed they do not think Sequim School facilities are adequate.
Kuh emphasized a focus on getting students’ career and college ready and said in order to update facilities he believes, “we have to pass the bond,” he said. “And seek equity in funding from state level, but the way we’re going to build schools here is through a bond.”
Kirshbaum believes the state of Washington constitutionally must fully fund K-12 instruction, and said, “there has to be disparity between what the state provides and what the local people provide.”
Brandino believes the future of education is very technologically based, “we have inadequate schools in science labs built in 1960 and yet we are trying to teach our children how to advance,” he said. “We need some new facilities.”
Judd said she was unsure of how to answer the question because she is not acquainted with the conditions of all the schools and wanted to reserve comment on the issue until she knows more.
Rotary member Brian Jackson asked the the candidates how the district could better adapt spending with Sequim teachers receiving seven percent less pay than surrounding districts, such as Port Angeles School District.
Kuh said as far as teacher salaries go, there is a notable difference across local districts.
“Yes, the gap exists, and that’s public knowledge,” he said.
Kuh later clarified his statement on his campaign Facebook page and said the “gap” is in reference to the gap in pay between Sequim teachers and local school districts and did not make a comparison to Sequim schools’ administration pay.
“While it is true and unfortunate that our teachers are paid less than these districts, I also noted that a similar gap exists at all levels within our District – including the administration,” the Facebook post said.
“I did not respond by comparing Sequim teacher’s compensation to our own administration, as I believe it’s a fruitless pursuit to do so,” it continued.
“Based on my own observations, that kind of narrative only serves to divide our District’s staff, and is otherwise drawing false comparisons.”
He said while the gap in teacher salaries exists, “it’s not an excuse; our teachers deserve equality across the board and in the region.”
Kirshbaum said, “I think that is somewhat of a function of the representatives of the individual unions and deferring increases to meet hard times.” He said he doesn’t like to compare pay across districts, adding, “it doesn’t have to be in just Clallam County; I think there are different industrial community differences that make up voter acceptance of proposals for salary increases.”
Judd said she attended the last school board meeting and heard many teachers and advocates for teacher pay trying to get a message to the school board that the district is behind in wage support. “My gut feeling is our teachers have been trying to keep the lid on not increasing their wages, but now as a consequence they are way behind other school districts in that area,” Judd said.
She said she is unsure of how to solve that problem, but believes the district, “has got to come up with something that can be relied on (to fund teachers) or we’re going to lose quality teachers,” she said. “They will not stay if they cannot support their own families.”
Brandino said he does not like the idea that Sequim schools are behind in teacher pay and said, “it would be interesting to be sitting in that room (district adminstration) to look at the full numbers and make a determination on where we do stand.”
To learn more about the candidates, visit https://wei.sos.wa.gov/county/clallam/en/Elections/pages/onlinevotersguide.aspx