Three seats on the Sequim School District Board of Directors and a $49.3 million school construction bond pend voter support at the upcoming General Election on Nov. 3.
Brandino Gibson, Citizens for Sequim Schools vice president, and Bryan Carter, a resident firmly against the bond, weighed the reasons driving the proposal at a debate followed by a school board candidate forum hosted by members of the Clallam County League of Women Voters on Sept. 23.
About 60 community members heard the opposing sides of whether a school construction bond is needed.
The proposed bond and anticipated $4.3 million in state matching funds would enable the construction of new high school band, choir and science classrooms, a new elementary school, four more classrooms and a gym at Greywolf Elementary School, repurpose two portions of Helen Haller Elementary School for the Olympic Peninsula Academy and the alternative learning experience program, update the district’s base kitchen that serves 2,800 students within the district and the renovation of the 1979 addition of the Sequim Community School to provide a central warehouse and maintenance facility. The 1948 portion of the Sequim Community School is to be demolished.
If approved, the rate to repay the bond within a 20-year window is set at 61 cents per $1,000 assessed property valuation. Coupled with the Educational Programs and Operations levy, the 2016 school rate would be $2.19 per $1,000 assessed property valuation.
“By voting yes, we give our children equatable schools to meet current class size and educational needs,” Gibson said.
However, Carter doesn’t target the district’s infrastructure as the problem.
“When you go to school, you go there to learn and you don’t worry about the building you’re in,” Carter said.
Having talked with teachers, parents and children within the community, Carter believes “their main concern is the administration, the teachers and the drugs.”
Although he admits some buildings could be “retrofitted and upgraded,” he doesn’t recognize the need for any new buildings. Instead, Carter turns to increasing the maintenance.
Given the aged infrastructure, the costs to upgrade the older buildings to modern standards of safety and to create a learning environment for current and future teaching outweigh that of new construction, Gibson said.
“We’re trying to prepare our kids for the future, but we’re utilizing antiquated equipment and antiquated classrooms,” he said. “Our science labs don’t even work. How can we teach current science in classrooms that don’t work?”
Additionally, the lack of classroom space remains a reoccurring problem and only worsens as state mandates are locally implemented, like all-day kindergarten and eventually reduced class size, Gibson explained.
“We’re continually putting kids in temporary buildings,” he said. “Currently our kids don’t have adequate, equatable classrooms to learn in.”
A total of 29 portable buildings dot the Sequim School District.
“We can continue to ignore these problems but they’re not going to go away,” he said.
Turning to the campaign trail, Robin Henrikson looks to replace Heather Jeffers representing Director District 1, Jim Stoffer and Charla Wright are competing for Director District 3 while William Payne and Heather Short seek the Director District at large position.
The questions asked of the candidates ranged from inquiries about the multi-million dollar bond, campus safety and individual priorities to whether the candidates agree with the Common Core State Standards.
Candidates Short, Henrikson, Jeffers and Stoffer were quick to announce their complete support of the bond, but Payne and Wright expressed more hesitation despite their support of the bond.
“It’s out of my hands and it’s already on the ballot and it’s up to the voters, all of us, to get it passed,” Wright said. “I can support it. I support the changes it can bring.”
Payne wonders “if the community has said no twice by doing it exactly the same way, is the community going to say no again?”
Although he didn’t have the answer to his question, he said “it’s been proposed — so do I support it? I support passing the bond.”
The question of whether the candidates agree with the Common Core, a set of K-12 learning standards developed to delve deeper into English language arts and mathematics, resulted in more differences of opinion.
Both Jeffers and Stoffer support the Common Core State Standards, but feel the district’s implementation of the standards can be improved.
“I have opinions about how things were carried out and implemented with the Sequim School District and some things that I think should have maybe done differently was prior to me being on the board, but as far as my opinions, I support the Common Core Standards,” Jeffers said.
Stoffer also supports the “Common Core and what it will bring,” but like Jeffers, can see potential for better implementation.
“I’ve seen a lot of success with it,” he said. “Our math tutors at the middle school have an excellent program that is raising the math skills of those kids, but what we need from the community is more math tutors to help with that.”
Payne and Wright voiced their lack of support of the standards.
“The quick answer is no,” Payne said. “I don’t support Common Core.”
Putting aside his disagreement with the standards given they’re required, however, Payne too turns to implementation as something that “needs to be looked at,” he said.
“We need to make it successful because we can’t make it go away,” Wright said.
“There are some deficits with Common Core” that need changed, like giving teachers and parents the information, time and skills to fully understand the standards,” she said.
Short and Henrikson were in strong support of the Common Core State Standards, but saw the need for parental support, too.
It wasn’t until Short, who completed Calculus II, recently sat down with her child’s first-grade teacher that she admits she understood math.
“I actually understood the concepts of it,” she said. “I think it’s an excellent curriculum and I support it.”
Without falter, Henrikson agrees with the Common Core State Standards, as it both “increases the use on non-fiction text” and in math, it’s “more rigorous and coherent,” she said. However, she’s fast to point out that parents need ample support in order to help their children learn it.
Despite the differing opinions among the candidates, a reoccurring theme of being a productive liaison between the community and district officials bubbled to the surface of most, if not all, the candidates’ goals.
Following November, those elected will become part of the five-member board that “sets the policies that guide Sequim’s public education from kindergarten through grade 12,” according to the Sequim School District Board of Directors’ webpage. “The Board is the final authority on all matters concerning the district.”
For information on upcoming candidate forums hosted by the Clallam County League of Women Voters, visit www.lwvcla.org.
Ballots for the Nov. 3 General Election are mailed Wednesday, Oct. 14.