POULSBO — The League of Women Voters of Kitsap hosted a candidate forum for the two Central Kitsap School Board District 5 candidates, Eric Greene and Jason Skifstad, on June 29 at the Poulsbo City Council Chambers.
Normally, the league does not hold a forum before the primaries unless there are three or more candidates running for an office, moderator Catherine Ahl said. In this case, the third candidate on the ballot, Bob Grady, has unofficially withdrawn from the race but his name will still be on the ballot, Ahl said.
At first, Greene and Skifstad were so much alike in their views that the only way to tell them apart was that Greene had a moustache. Over the course of the hour, however, some differences did emerge.
Overall, both candidates sounded knowledgeable and professional. Both have, or have had, children in district schools. Not surprisingly, incumbent Greene was better versed in the specifics. Skifstad emphasized that he had been asked to run. He stressed the benefit of skills gained working in the private sector as a financial advisor and attorney and made mention of the fact that he had never worked in the public sector.
Know what school boards do
Candidates running for office can say many things. Therefore, informed voters need to know just what school boards are empowered to do.
By law, the board’s role is to “determine and adopt written policies” regarding educational programs, activities and services for students in grades K-12. They are responsible for “the effective, efficient or safe management and operation” of their district’s schools and “shall be held accountable for the proper operation of their district to the local community and its electorate.” In order to do this, they are specifically charged with:
- Hiring and evaluating the superintendent;
- Establishing curriculum standards in accordance with the law and rules of the superintendent of public instruction;
- Evaluating teaching materials;
- Proposing bond and tax levy initiatives to finance capital improvements (bonds) and education enhancements (levies); and
- Complying with the Open Public Meetings Act and providing “a reasonable opportunity” for public comment and consideration at meetings.
Know the candidates’ backgrounds
Greene has been a member of the Central Kitsap School District school board since 2008. His professional experience includes working as a readiness requirements manager for the U.S. Navy and as a teacher in the Ocean Springs and Oak Harbor School districts. He served for 12 years in the U.S. Navy as a surface warfare officer. Greene earned his bachelor’s degree in athletic administration from the University of Southern Mississippi, according to the Central Kitsap Reporter, June 27, 2008.
In his opening remarks, Greene said he is “passionate about education … Kids come first.” He stressed he is an advocate for technology in schools and that there needs to be more than one educational track, “because one size does not fit all in education.”
Skifstad’s professional experience includes working as an attorney and a financial adviser. He also served as a master writer and public policy research manager at Focus on the Family, “a global Christian ministry dedicated to helping families thrive,” according to the website focusonthefamily.com. He earned his juris doctor degree from Pepperdine University, his master’s in divinity from Princeton University and his bachelor’s in history from California State University, according to the Kitsap County Primary Election Voters’ Pamphlet.
In his opening remarks, he said he was asked to run by County Commissioner Ed Wolfe: “I was tapped because I’m an attorney and financial adviser and have experience in those areas.”
Synopsis of candidates responses to questions
The following have been edited for brevity.
What do you feel is the job of the board as it applies to the job of the superintendent?
- Greene: “To hire and fire the superintendent … [and] to monitor the performance of the superintendent.”
- Skifstad: “The board has one employee, the superintendent.”
What would be/are your funding priorities?
- Skifstad: People and then facilities and programs. Wonders about amount being spend on the latter.
- Greene: Pointed out the district “gets lots of money but by law there are things we have to do and teach.” He said the district establishes goals and objectives and funds them accordingly based on what is available within a balanced budget.
How do you/would you involve community members who don’t have children in school?
- Greene: The board has held focus groups and town hall meetings to involve more publics. “Our success with communication was what allowed us so pass the levy,” he said.
- Skifstad: The board needs to better communicate that “the performance of our schools affects everyone in the community.”
What are areas where the district is doing exceptionally well or that need improvement?
- Greene: The district offers opportunities for staff and students that neighboring school districts don’t. The goal is to educate each individual child by offering the alternatives that work best for them. Greene would like to see more schools of choice. There is a need to increase commitment to use technology to help get the word out to families and the community.
- Skifstad: The district cannot afford to continue to defer maintenance. Skifstad would like to see the board place more emphasis on families and parents, specifically. School programs have a tendency to get bigger and bigger. He’d rather leave money in the taxpayers’ pockets.
How do you assure accurate enrollment projections and having the right number of teachers?
- Skifstad: Right now the board has done a very good job of anticipating numbers and needs.
- Greene: “It’s not just students, staff in other districts want to work here, too.” (Some 100 students in the North Kitsap School District have chosen to go to Central Kitsap schools.)
Does the district offer any specific programs for the children of military?
- Skifstad: Knows firsthand the school district attracts families who have special needs kids.
- Greene: Each base installation has a school liaison officer who provides information to families and there are mentoring programs for military children. Plus, the first budget item at the last board meeting was to allow online enrollment will be especially good for students transferring into the district.
What is/should the district be doing to help educate students about state and local civics (a League of Women Voters goal)?
- Greene: The state has identified proven practices. The district incorporates it into the curriculum and trusts the superintendent, teachers and staff.
- Skifstad: He mentioned his law background. “We just have to be informed … [Young people need to] know the state serves them and not the other way around.”
How can we better engage the constituents and students?
- Skifstad: “Our ‘staff’ is the public.” The public needs access to board members. “Accountability is paramount.”
- Greene: All board members get out into the schools. The board takes public comment at board meetings. Board members do not not discuss the comments publicly at that time, but turn them over to the superintendent following the meeting. (Note: this is common practice at most meetings of public agencies, such as the Poulsbo City Council.)
For information about upcoming League of Women Voters of Kitsap candidate forums, go to www.lwv-kitsap.org.
— Terryl Asla is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.