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Questions, answers for Valley Schools primary: Four candidates—Busby, Hodgins, Kangas, Spring —weigh in on district changes
Snoqualmie Valley voters will choose from four school board candidates in the Aug. 6 primary election. Two incumbents, Marci Busby and Scott Hodgins, are running against challengers Stephen Kangas and David Spring for the District 4 school board seat. Another board seat, District 1, will be on the November ballot, but not on the primary, since only one candidate, Tavish MacLean filed for the position.
The Record asked each of the candidates to state their position on some of the major issues coming before the board in the next term. Each candidate was asked four general questions, and one specific to their campaign message.
Following are the questions, and their answers.
What we asked the candidates
1: The district is going through big changes right now. What is the most important role the next school board will have to play in all these changes?
2. The district’s plan to build a freshman campus at Snoqualmie Middle School has been a divisive issue in the past. Do you support the idea of the campus, or oppose it, and why? How much has this influenced your decision to run for school board?
3. People frequently criticize the school board, collectively or individually, at nearly every board meeting, but what actions of the board, collectively or individually, do you feel should be praised?
4. A proposed 160-unit multi-family housing development on Snoqualmie Ridge could be granted a tax-break that would include the elimination of school impact fees. How do you think this will affect the district?
5-Busby: In the voter’s guide, you are emphatic about helping all students. Do you think students are being underserved by the district now, and if so, how do you propose to address that?
5-Hodgins: You refer in the voter’s guide to a strategic plan for the district to improve learning. Why is this plan important and how would you propose to implement it?
5-Kangas: “Bonds that make sense” is one of your talking points. How would you, if elected, work on a bond that made sense?
5-Spring: You stated in the voter’s guide that you want to restore SMS to a middle school and abandon the freshman campus concept. If elected, how would you begin that process?
1. Empowering the professional educators in our district, both at an administrative and school-based level, is the board’s most important role. Teacher quality is the number-one predictor of student success. Our continued student achievement reflects the quality of our teachers. We annually invest in professional development, which is a hallmark of SVSD. It is money well spent. Not only are we looking at the obvious capacity-related issues, but we have curriculum-related challenges, such as new teacher evaluations and transition to the common core. Those are huge initiatives that need to be successful. The board monitors administrative solutions and committee progress.
2. I support the concept of a freshman campus (MSFC) especially given how important the freshman transition year is to overall high school success. Exciting and innovative new opportunities will be offered at MSFC: 1) STEM, advanced classes, and access to technology to increase students’ academic success and 2) leadership and small-group advisory opportunities to increase their social and emotional growth. Over my term of service, the school board has made numerous difficult and complex decisions. I am running to maintain consistency on the board and to see that the board makes decisions with student interests as central.
3. There will always be critics, but, there is nothing more honorable than working on behalf of children. The board may not always agree, but we are trying to ensure all students receive the best education possible. Whether a decision is unanimous or not, it is necessary for the entire board to work together on behalf of students. I love serving the students. We do the best we can with some difficult challenges and decisions. Perhaps, praise our service. Or better, praise the students and teachers who are currently doing some fabulous things — those are the folks who should be praised.
4. The city taxes and school impact fees are completely separate topics and jurisdictions. There will be no impact fees for the same parcel of land for which a tax-break has been proposed but this is due to the original community planning back in the 1990s not current events. That impact fee determination is the city’s responsibility, as is the tax-break. Ultimately, the school district won’t see fewer dollars because of a city tax break. We welcome students of all race, religion, or wealth and know that families who live in any new developments will bring positive contributions to our district.
5. I don’t think students are underserved. While we push our most advanced and support those who struggle, we cannot lose sight of the middle. The vast majority of our students fall into the middle and we must give our best shot for them as much as for anyone else. In the past couple of years, we have spent a lot of time on Mount Si High School and increasing opportunities for rigor. Who could be against that? But it has been to the exclusion of talk about our other schools and kids who are not looking at attending top-tier colleges.
1. The school board needs to continue to provide leadership in moving forward several important initiatives, including the educational strategic plan and the capital improvement bond. The board must work in collaboration with the district’s superintendent, Joel Aune, to sort out in the budget and educationally, how these teaching and learning initiatives will be implemented. Ultimately, the school board needs to bring our community together in support of a capital construction bond.
2. I support the objectives of the “freshman learning concept.” In my own words, it provides a focused learning and safe environment for our freshmen to ensure their success. I voted for the creation of the freshman campus for one reason only; to relocate a population from the main campus to allow for the high school to be fully renovated. I intend, if re-elected, to relocate the ninth graders back. The goals and objectives of the freshman learning concept will remain intact at the main campus. This also allows for Snoqualmie Middle School to return as a middle school.
3. Although there has been public criticism and intense debate, I believe our current school board is very strong and has a deep commitment to making our school district the best it can be for our children. The school board has provided leadership in the development of an educational strategic plan and a capital facilities improvement plan. It has supported all the district administration’s initiatives for the improvement of teaching and learning. Over the past four years, our district has thrived in success. The performance of our students and schools has been recognized locally and nationally.
4. The city of Snoqualmie has jurisdiction in accordance with Washington state law and by city ordinance to approve and collect impact fees for schools in response to growth. There will definitely be some financial loss to the district.
5. I support the board’s vision for a long-range educational strategic plan. I believe that all decisions related to teaching and learning should be consistent with the plan. The primary focus of the SVSD long-range strategic plan is to implement teaching and learning goals consistent with the national common core standards. The strategic plan should also address capital improvement needs, curriculum adoption and operational objectives, to name only a few, that support the district’s educational goals. The board provides policy. I look forward to working closely with district leadership for its implementation.
1. Sound study data shows the most important factors that affect students’ learning are: 1) effective teachers with the skills to engage students into being excited about learning and 2) reduced student-teacher ratio (class size). The most important role the school board will play for the next several years is reversing the growth in class sizes, boosting student academic assessments to meet government requirements, and the high student drop-out rate. The school board must direct and participate in developing its first strategic business plan. Our kids deserve more excellent teachers, our teachers deserve much better support, and our taxpayers deserve the better return on investment this will bring us.
2. The freshman-only campus idea is an experiment; unfortunately, the results aren’t looking very good so far, from the other similar experiments in Washington and across the nation. Regardless of how we may feel about the chances of it success, it is simply not the time to conduct such a risky experiment on freshmen when it so negatively affects our middle school students. Sacrificing middle school students for a freshman campus experiment, or as one director said, to create room at our high school for future construction that has not yet been funded, will not improve the drop-out rate or maintain and grow students’ academic performance.
3. For the first time in 15 years of attending school board meetings and watching administration, I have witnessed a more proactive seeking of public input into facilities planning. Geoff Doy deserves recognition for his leadership moving the board forward in planning, and (Doy and) Carolyn Simpson for a policy initiative that improves our graduates’ competitiveness for college entrance. The board’s refinement and approval of the “math pathways” policy is also commendable.
4. There is no doubt that the additional students from that housing development will cost SVSD money, and negatively impact the general fund and the number of effective teachers. It will be a net negative impact on all of our students. But, the question is how much of an impact, and how can we mitigate it? A focus by the school board and administration on developing a comprehensive strategic business plan will answer those questions.
5. “A bond that makes sense” is one that appeals to the 60 percent super-majority required for passage. After speaking with thousands of voters over the years, I have gained an understanding of why so many vote “no” on bonds. If elected, I will work to shape passable school construction bonds that: 1) unbundle multiple schools/facilities from huge “sticker shock” proposals that hold one school hostage to another into smaller bites; 2) remove non-academic facilities from new school bond proposals; 3) re-use existing architectural plans and use less expensive materials); 4) avoid using faulty or undefined data to justify the bond; 5) perform more effective voter education via a simple message and enough time and methods to communicate it.
1. There is a three-to-two split on the current school board, with three voting for the status quo and two advocating for a new direction. This election will determine whether our school board continues down the path of failed school bonds, a closed middle school, overcrowded elementary schools, overcrowded middle schools, isolation of our ninth graders and the highest high school dropout rate of any Eastside school district – or in a new direction that provides a better opportunity for every child in the school district to get the education they need and deserve.
2. I have opposed annexation of Snoqualmie Middle School because it forces hundreds of students to attend schools far from their communities and will cause severe overcrowding at Twin Falls Middle School. A separate, isolated ninth-grade campus deprives students of the opportunity for four full years at a comprehensive high school. A separate, isolated ninth grade campus deprives students of activities they need to get into a good college and increases the dropout rate by making it more difficult for tenth graders to make up classes that they may have failed in ninth grade.
3. Last year, I asked the school board to move the public comment period from the end of the board meeting to the beginning of the meeting, so that parents could express their concerns and then go home to take care of their kids without sitting through the entire meeting. The board is to be commended for changing this policy, which has resulted in both increased comments and increased attendance at school board meetings.
4. Statistics indicate that for every two houses built in the school district, one additional child attends school. So 160 units will likely add 80 more students to Snoqualmie Ridge, a community that is in urgent need of another elementary school. However, the tax break is extremely small compared to the cost of building the school, less than 1 percent, and would have almost no effect on local property taxes or the ability to pass a school bond. I do not believe it will affect the district other than bringing in 80 more students.
5. There was no need to annex Snoqualmie Middle School. Mount Si High School will not exceed capacity for several years. All annexing Snoqualmie Middle School did is create 20 empty classrooms at the high school. If elected, I will ask that ninth graders be returned to Mount Si High School and that Snoqualmie Middle School be reopened as soon as possible. We then must have an open, honest discussion about how to provide a long-term solution for the high school. If the Lake Washington School District can build a new STEM high school for $31 million, then why can’t we?
*According to the latest OSPI report card, the district has the fourth-highest dropout rate among the following school districts: Kent, Auburn, Renton, SVSD, Tahoma, Northshore, Riverview, Bellevue, Lake Washington, and Issaquah.
• The Snoqualmie Valley School District Primary Election is Tuesday, Aug. 6. Voting is by mail.