Tensions flare at SKSD meeting as bond vote draws near

The South Kitsap school board is preparing to vote on putting a $271 million bond on the ballot in November, but verbal jabs continue to overshadow hope for a move forward in the district.

Members of the public had a chance to provide final in-person comments at the board’s May 17 meeting following months of in-person and virtual events directed at educating the community about the need for the bond. SKSD has not passed one in 30 years.

Superintendent Tim Winter said the bond addresses high-priority issues. “The need package was much bigger than what we’re presenting here, but what we’ve done is try to put it in a size that makes sense,” he said. “Certainly it’s a large ask to our community, but I think it’s one that’s really important for us to at least address at this point.”

Board president Jeffrey Wilson said he expects to vote on a resolution at its next meeting in June. The board is expected to pass it as nearly all voiced support for the bond. Director Jeff Daily, as he had promised the public at a May 3 meeting, continued to speak against it, citing a long list of potential environmental and construction setbacks that he said could delay projects or raise their cost.

While it continues to be an uphill battle optimism is high for supporters of the bond like John Richardson. “It has something for every school, for every place. We keep talking about wanting to do new things here…but we always run into issues. It’s tough, but this plan is a great idea,” he said.

Astrea Steen, a teacher in one of the portable classrooms at John Sedgwick Middle School, gave support for the bond in favor of the betterment of her students’ education, especially when combating the heat among other outdoor elements. She said, “Trying to ask my students to do their best while sweat is literally dripping down our backs is just impossible.”

Emotions shifted from excitement to anger as the board moved to its public comment period. Several members of the public used the time to criticize either board directors, each other or both. Among the blows were criticisms from Robert Parker, who accused Wilson of leading district proceedings with a double standard and also accused him of laughing at a joke at the expense of one of his fellow board members. “That is a lack of leadership,” Parker said. “This community needs leadership; it needs you to stand tall, not just with the people you agree with.”

Amanda O’ Dell criticized Wilson’s wife Heather, a library teacher in Olalla who has become a regular commentator at board meetings. She claimed Heather’s comments have been unfairly favored, labeling her as “a mouthpiece for her husband and/or this board.”

Heather fired back in her public comment, remarking that she was within her rights to speak. She criticized other public speakers both present and past for violating the terms of the public comment period. “I come up here and speak because I have something to say. I have a voice,” she said.

It’s attitudes and words like that, which Richardson said are harming the district at such a critical time, with both the bond and board elections coming up.

“We have kids and teachers in the community right now, and other adults that I should say in the community as well, who are being hurt by the horrible things that are being said and the attacks that are happening at these board meetings,” he said. “Can we please stop this and get back to what we should be doing, which is working on better education for our kids?”