School board appoints a new member

River Branch will take her oath of office and join the board at its March 28 meeting.

River Branch, a candidate in last August’s primary election for a seat on Vashon’s school board, has been appointed by the board to fill a seat vacated last month by Allison Krutsinger, who resigned from the board in February.

Branch, a parent of a child attending Chautauqua Elementary School was unanimously selected by the board at a meeting on March 21, after the board interviewed her and three other applicants for the post.

Branch moved to Vashon in 2020. She was a longtime tenured associate professor of film and digital storytelling at Alleghany College, in Pennsylvania; she resigned from that position in 2022.

Other islanders applying for the position included Elizabeth Sheldon, who works as a division director for the Seattle Department of Transportation; John “Oz” Osbourne, a former board member who described his longtime commitment to the district and prior experience as a board member, and St. John Maloney, an islander who works as a vice president of Chase Bank, leading an analytics team, and will soon enroll his child as a kindergartner at Chautauqua Elementary Schoool.

Branch will take her oath of office and join the board at its March 28 meeting.

“We are excited to welcome River to the board,” said board member Martha Woodard, who was elected in November to fill the school board seat sought by Branch in the primary election. “She is a passionate advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and we welcome that perspective onto the board as we seek to best hear from all the different constituents in our community.”

The board commended the other board applicants for their thoughtful answers and involvement in the appointment process, and in an email, Superintendent Slade McSheehy also welcomed Branch to the board.

“With River’s dedication to education and her unique island experiences, I am confident that she will be instrumental in ensuring we live up to our Vashon Promise: every student is welcomed, known, and treasured,” McSheehy said.

Branch, in an email, said that she was honored to have been selected in the process and believed that the district can and should be a national leader in public education.

“Our schools reflect our health and shape our future,” Branch said. “This district deserves a deeply committed and innovative board — a board poised to face the challenges ahead and, simultaneously, to create the opportunities our youth deserve and need. We must sculpt an environment in which all students feel a strong sense of belonging, and a solid sense of support as they navigate our schools and the designing of their futures.”

During her primary campaign, Branch also touted her experience of being appointed to serve on a body that oversaw a roughly $35 million college budget.

“I faced budget shortfalls with innovative, dynamic, and strategic responses in which out-of-the-box thinking allowed us to not only cover expenses but also expand our offerings,” she said, pledging to bring innovative thinking to the board to address its ongoing budget constraints.

Those constraints will once again take front and center at the board’s next meeting, on Thursday, when the board will be asked to approve a broad reduction in force measure that authorizes McSheehy to recommend and implement “reduction and reorganization of the educational program and reduction in certificated staff, and to layoff, reduce, reassign, and transfer certificated staff members” as required to achieve a balanced budget for the district’s 2024-2025 school year.

Also on the agenda for the meeting is a financial report detailing projected enrollment, further consideration of program and service adjustments in the district, and a presentation of fund balance projections by Kim Mayer, the district’s director of business and finances.

According to documents presented at a March 14 budget work session of the board, the district’s 2023-24 budget projected enrollment of 1438 students in the districts; current enrollment, as of February, is 1406. An enrollment of 1399 is projected for the 2024-25 school year — meaning a drop in per-student revenue from the state.

A FAQ published by the district here outlines the rationale for the reduction in force, as well as details the result of other budget shortfalls for the past five years.

The school board’s next meeting will be held from 6-9 p.m. Thursday, March 28, in the district’s conference room at Chautauqua Elementary School. The meeting will also be streamed on the district’s YouTube site. Agendas for all board meetings, with documents to be discussed, are posted here.

Correction: An earlier version of this article inaccurately characterized new board member River Branch’s professional status as “a tenured associate professor of film and digital photography.” Branch is a former tenured professor, having resigned from her position at Alleghany College, in Pennsylvania, in 2022. We strive for accuracy and regret the error.