This week, we bit off a bigger story that we could chew, in planning to cover all the candidates who have filed to run for public office on Vashon. As it turns out, a total of 26 candidates filed to run for election to various boards, governing everything from our small cemetery and airport districts to those that claim much more of our tax dollars.
That’s a lot of aspiring local politicians to cover in one issue of the paper, so we’ve decided to spread out our coverage over the coming weeks. We’ll start, this week, with a crowded field of candidates seeking to serve on the Vashon school board.
What happens in school board meetings matters, and every member of our community, whether they have children or not, has much at stake in terms of who will be overseeing the administration of the district.
After all, the district claims the biggest piece of the pie in terms of islanders’ tax revenue, garnering 22.41% to fund our local district and another 25.18% going to the state school fund.
Our district has also factored much in the news this school year, as we have done our best to cover deeply concerning teacher investigations as well as thorny budget shortfalls.
While we thank the departing members for their service, we also eagerly anticipate seeing what a new board will be able to accomplish. But we don’t envy those who are elected. They have their work cut out for them.
Follow the money: last fall, a financial consultant, hired by the district, revealed that since the 2020-21 school year, the district had been deficit spending — projecting that its fund balance, by the 2023-24 school year, would have been almost halved during that time period. The consultant also found, in a comparison with four other comparable districts, that Vashon had the second-highest teacher salaries as well as the lowest fund balance in the group.
In advocating for salary raises across a broad range of staffing categories, since 2020, Superintendent Slade McSheehy has repeatedly advocated for and won board approval for the raises — even for those administrators and district office staffers who were already earning the highest salaries in the district, including the district’s top earner, himself.
His rationale? The raises are necessary to attract and retain top talent in the district.
And yet, the 2022-23 school year saw a high turnover of that top talent, with the resignations and replacements of the district’s financial chief, its business and finance director, the high school principal, and both the principal and assistant principal of Chautauqua Elementary School.
Another key departure in this school year was that of Brandy Fox, the district’s longtime capital projects manager, who contracted with the district through her company, CPM Seattle Inc.
It has been unusual, and disruptive to the district to lose key people with a deep understanding of the workings of the district, and to have to orient and hire so many new staff members for those posts.
At the same time, we’re also concerned by the disappearance of some electives in next year’s school schedule, including the popular French language program, as well as cuts and/or changes to the Spanish program and library programs in the district.
We’re heartened that many of the school board candidates, in their statements, appear to be laser-focused on what matters most to the district: true equity and opportunity for all its students, as promised in the district’s arching new strategic plan.
The district’s current ideas to cure its financial woes, in part, by increasing class sizes and narrowing choices for elective classes don’t reflect the goals of that plan — there is just no way around that fact. Either students come first, or they don’t.
We hope a new school board will be able to stabilize the district and get it back on track.
But other races on November’s ballot are also important, so we’re eager to introduce readers — or re-introduce them, in the case of incumbents — to those who will be on the ballot in November.
Vashon Park District will see a contested race for its board, with incumbent commissioner Bob McMahon facing a challenge from islander Mike Spranger. Voters will also be able to choose between two candidates, Deborah D. Brown and Catherine L. Sullivan, for the Cemetery District commissioner post currently held by Jay Hanson, who is not running for reelection.
The ballot will include two new candidates, Sarah Day and Bill Hamilton, seeking to fill the seats of current Vashon Health Care District commissioners Eric Pryne and Don Wolczko, who are not seeking re-election. Day is running to fill Pryne’s seat; Hamilton is seeking Wolczko’s position. Both are unopposed.
At Vashon Island Fire & Rescue, three current commissioners — Brigitte Schran-Brown, Jim Whitney and Candy McCollough — are also running unopposed to retain their seats on the board. The November ballot will show Adam Knez opposing McCollough, but Knez said last week that he had withdrawn from the race, for personal reasons.
Leadership is important, and we are deeply grateful to the islanders who have come forward to serve this community.