There’s always intrigue on the eve of any election. As we head into the final days leading up to Tuesday’s general election in Clark County, there is one issue that has piqued my interest more than any other.
In this space or any other, I have never told anyone how they should vote, and I don’t intend to start now. That said, I think this column contains information every voter should have. Do with it as you wish.
There are many races on the Nov. 5 ballot for positions on area school boards, including three positions in the Vancouver School District (VSD) and two in the Evergreen School District (ESD). I’m guessing that because of recent issues with funding our public schools, and last year’s teacher strikes, there was no shortage of candidates. For example, in an era when it seems as difficult as pulling teeth to get an adequate amount of candidates to file for elected office, each of the three VSD races had four candidates participate in the August top-two primary election.
Earlier this month, the president of the VSD Board of Directors, Mark Stoker, shared his thoughts with our readers about what he felt was an issue in the races for the open board positions in that district. Stoker wanted it to be clear that he was writing as a long-time resident of the district and his views were not meant to represent the district or his fellow board members. Here’s a link to Stoker’s opinion piece:
Stoker was troubled by what he perceived to be the involvement of the Washington Education Association’s involvement in local school board races.
“For months now, I have been telling anyone who would listen that there is a statewide effort by the state teacher’s union (WEA) to promote and support union leaders to run for positions on local school boards,” Stoker wrote. “Sure, they will say they’re in it for the kids, and greater transparency and accountability, and other buzzwords they think the public will get behind. For me, the motivation is obvious; gain control of local school boards and influence bargaining and budgeting in a way that favors union objectives. These would be the proverbial foxes guarding the hen house.
“In my 12 years on the Vancouver School Board, I have seen such efforts in the past,” Stoker added. “The spouse of a local union executive ran against me and lost several years ago. Recently, Wendy Smith, an Evergreen school teacher and union activist, ran and won, a position on the Vancouver School Board. However, I never expected the union to admit to the plan and try to capture a majority of the board.”
Evidence of the plan?
As far as his claim that union leaders have admitted to the plan, Stoker offered this as evidence.
“Recently, Evergreen teacher’s union immediate past-president, Rob Lutz, who is also the spouse of current VPS Board Director Wendy Smith, posted the following on his public Facebook page commenting on the resignation of a Tumwater School Board member: ‘Getting to be the sounding board for a school board director who is not afraid to make noise while in the minority, makes me keenly aware of Director Davis’ account. However, in the case of VPS, Wendy and I decided to fight, instead of quit [sic]. These things are exactly why we are fighting to take over the majority in VPS, and ask you to elect Lisa Messer and Tracie Barrows. Furthermore, after we get Bethany Rivard elected in Evergreen, if that board ignores her too, I’m coming for the two seats up in that District in 2021!”
Wendy Smith’s position on the VSD board is not one of the three involved in this general election. Messer is facing Kathy Decker in the race for Position 4 and Barrows is vying for Position 5 against Chris Lewis. Incumbent Dale Rice is being challenged by Kyle Sproul in the race for Position 1. In the ESD board race Lutz referenced, Rivard is challenging incumbent Rob Perkins for Position 2.
Other evidence, not cited by Stoker, that the WEA is admitting to its plan to capture majorities on area school board’s is the WEA’s own 2019 Summary of Actions Report from their most recent Representative Assembly. Here’s a link.
You will see the following items:
- Item 38 on page 11, directing WEA to “advocate for member involvement as legislative district precinct committee officers (PCO)”
- “New Resolution No. 7” on page 23, adopted to direct that WEA, “Supports and encourages interested members to run for school board seats and other local public offices ..”
The WEA has issued endorsements in each of the VSD and ESD races as well. Here is that link.
You will see that in the ESD, the WEA endorses Rivard in her race against Perkins. In the race for Position 4, the union endorses Rachael Rogers over Divya Jain. In the VSD, the WEA endorses Sproul over Rice in the Position 1 race, Messer over Decker in the Position 4 race, and Barrows over Lewis is the race for Position 5.
It is also worth noting that the WEA has made cash contributions to at least one local candidate (Rivard $500). The WEA also sent Sproul a $500 check but Sproul has since returned the check. Most of the remaining VSD and ESD candidates selected the mini reporting option, which allows them to not disclose their individual contributions as long as “neither aggregate contributions nor aggregate expenditures exceed the amount of the candidate’s filing fee provided by law plus a sum not to exceed five thousand dollars.”
Thoughts from the candidates
I found this issue to be compelling enough to seek the thoughts of the VSD and ESD candidates to see how they were addressing it in their campaigns. As you might imagine, the responses differed greatly.
Dale Rice, incumbent, VSD Position 1: “The clear answer is Yes. You see, not just teachers, but union executive board members running for election all over the state. While my opponent is not a union member, she is endorsed by VEA and that calls into question her independence. I am not backed or funded by any union. I would never accept money from them, or accept their endorsement. That would show potential bias to one employee group over another. Approximately half of VSD employees are teachers, the other half need equal attention as well. Favoring one group over another is simply wrong. A board member needs to represent the entire Vancouver School District; the students, the taxpayers and all staff members. It takes the whole system to serve our students in the optimal way. Teachers are not the whole story (my wife was one of them), but they are an important part of the story.
Teachers still need students transported to them, the students fed, and their classrooms maintained in order to function. A board member should be advocating for all employees equally for fair and competitive wages. No one should be left out. The district spends 85 cents of every dollar on all the people that operate the system. When the district’s budget is exceeded, someone will lose a job to favor those who received the raise. Worse yet is that some services will be lost, class size will increase if teachers go, or support services for students will be lost by cutting programs designed to help students but are unfunded by the legislature. The pie gets divided differently, and some are cut out. This is not a good way to run a district. Everybody wants a piece of the pie, but it has to be proportional for all to have the whole system be preserved and improved.
Vancouver Union members and Evergreen Union members all belong to the same state union, the WEA. Since the two large districts here in Vancouver are adjacent to each other, they compete for the same teaching staff as well as other staff members. In short, if Vancouver teachers get a raise, then Evergreen teachers will soon get a raise with the next bargaining session. Both districts are competing with each other for staffing so salaries often move in a similar direction over time. Having union executives on school boards creates a conflict of interest. It is the proverbial fox guarding the hen house.”
(Read more from the other candidates on the article page at ClarkCountyToday)