POULSBO — Where do the candidates differ on the issues in their bids for North Kitsap School Board District 3?
Voters got their first look June 29 at the Poulsbo City Council Chambers, as the League of Women Voters hosted a candidate forum for April Ferguson, Richard Lockwood and Beth Worthington.
Worthington, as the incumbent, was tasked with explaining and justifying the actions of the school board during the past year. Ferguson, the parent of a child with special needs, spent much her time criticizing those actions. Lockwood, who was seated between the two women, often came down in the middle on issues.
Know what a school board does
Candidates running for office can say many things. Therefore, informed voters need to know just what school boards are legally 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
Ferguson has a background in early childhood education and development and some course work completed in elementary education, sociology and psychology. She is a business owner, former preschool teacher and early learning center director. She is a past member of the Suquamish Citizens Advisory Council and is currently chairing a committee to build a playground for children with special needs.
Lockwood has a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology. His professional experience includes technical requirements supervisor, Strategic Weapons Facility — Pacific, and engineering manager at Goodrich Aerospace, Everett. He is a retired Air Force officer. His public service includes serving as president of the North Kitsap High School Choir Booster Club from 2015-present and serving on the North Kitsap High School Principal Selection Committee in 2016. He also was on the NKSD Community Financial Advisory Committee, 2013-15; NKSD Long-Range Facility Planning Committee, 2014-15 and NKSD Strategic Planning Group, 2014.
Worthington has been a member of the North Kitsap School Board since 2014. She earned a master of science in systems management from the University of Denver and is senior systems engineer for Leidos, Inc. Her public service includes being an examiner, judge and board member for the Washington State Quality Award; serving on the NKSD Budget Committee, 2013-14; and being a member of the Poulsbo Rotary Vocation Scholarship Committee, 2011-12.
Synopsis of candidates’ responses to questions
The following have been edited for brevity and clarity.
What should be the relationship between the board and the superintendent?
Lockwood: The primary role of the board is to hire the superintendent, “not micromanaging.”
Worthington: The board needs to work with the superintendent; should be “five people, not just one, working in concert.” The board is focused on the mission of the district and setting strategic goals. The superintendent is responsible for setting goals related to those strategic goals.
Ferguson: The board represents the people and oversees the school district. “The past board treated the superintendent as equal to the board and unfortunately that led to problems.”
Worthington: The board is focused on the mission of the district and setting strategic goals. The superintendent is responsible for setting goals related to those strategic goals.
Ferguson: “I see a lack of accountability” on the superintendent’s part to teachers and parents. Could benefit from more accountability.
Lockwood: The superintendent needs the ability to direct the staff … and communicate with stake holders. Would like to see the superintendent’s contract extensions shortened from three years to two years.
What is/should the board’s role in addressing problems between the superintendent, teachers and the community?
Ferguson: The current policy is not supportive of public concerns. Board needs to create a policy to better address those complaints.
Lockwood: When conflict exists it “must be communicated in a well and timely manner.”
Worthington: “The board is not a complaint house.”
What is your position on contract negotiations with employee unions being open to the public?
Lockwood: Believes this issue is a “non-problem.” Open contract negotiation meetings might cause more problems than they would solve.
Worthington: Would not support idea at present. Open to looking at the rationale for it.
Ferguson: Salaries are a major expenditure of taxpayers’ money. It’s not required those negotiations be held in secret, it’s up to the school board.
How should you communicate with the large number of community members who do not have children in school?
Worthington: We’ve made some great strides in the last couple of years but still need to communicate better.
Ferguson: Just because a community member might not have a child in school doesn’t mean they don’t have relatives and friends who have children in school. Need to focus on fundraising to supplement funds and more actively involve those people.
Lockwood: Need to develop the passion and interest of community members that I, as a board member, would be supposed to be listening to.
Should community members be allowed to serve on the Instructional Materials Committee?
Worthington: “State law uses the word ‘parents’ not ‘community.’ We have left it that way.” Therefore, while the committee made community input a goal, it did not ask them to serve on the committee.
A new superintendent started July 1. What needs improvement and what is being done exceptionally well?
Lockwood: Strengths include graduation rate of 70 percent; staff of really qualified educators. Weaknesses include a lot of preventative maintenance that had been put off.
Worthington: Graduation rate was actually 85 percent in 2016; five-year average is 90 percent. The top rate statewide is 96 percent. Need to improve communication and community participation.
Ferguson: Relationships do need improvement. Parent and teachers felt ignored. The board “gave [the previous] superintendent a raise and a pat on the back” despite widespread criticism for how she handled teacher concerns and lack of transparency regarding incidents of sexual abuse between students on a school bus.
What are your funding priorities?
Worthington: Ideally, depending on state’s school budget, fund a strategic plan. What are we trying to do?
Ferguson: There are many places we can use our resources better than closing development pre-school for example. District could use its facilities and resources better.
Lockwood: It comes down to people or things. Says people come first; quality educators must be hired and retained. Second is preventative maintenance. Third priority should be to put more emphasis on kindergarten and first grade reading levels.
How can we encourage students who have chosen to go to another school district to return? Is the fact North Kitsap School District did away with its honors course the cause?
Lockwood: We don’t know. We don’t have the data. “The Central Kitsap School District honors course is not the boogeyman.”
Worthington: We do a survey annually. The response rate is not high, but not clear why. We can just keep on trying.
Ferguson: People are taking their children out of the district because they are dis-satisfied. “I know parents who are leaving because the board is not listening. You are [supposed to be] the voice of the community as board members.”
How should a school board hold the school responsible for including a civics curriculum that helps students become engaged citizens [a League of Women Voters’ campaign]?
Worthington: “The board approves, but what happens in the classroom is up to the teacher.”
Ferguson: Need to create incentives and a positive environment. Look at schools that are successful and copy them.
Lockwood: State law says there are four points schools have to cover. It’s up to the board to make it happen.
More discussion of the role of the board as a “complaint house.”
Ferguson: “It’s the board’s job to hear complaints and address them.” Cites example of sexual abuse on a school bus that didn’t become public for eight months.
Lockwood: “The board is a complaint house.” Meetings are the time to hear public complaints.
Worthington: Board is not a mechanism for resolving complaints. That’s up to staff. “There are issues of privacy and possible litigation.”
Lockwood: “I value and respect education.” Wants parents to know he once was one of them. Taxpayers without kids in school, “I’m one of you now.”
Worthington: When re-elected, her goals will be passage of the levy, which is 23 percent of the budget; working for the success of all students; and listening. Believes in data and research and supports the new superintendent.
Ferguson: Will hold the district responsible to the people. Bring a positive atmosphere to the district that will bring the students back.
For information about upcoming League of Women Voters of Kitsap candidate forums, go to www.lwv-kitsap.org.