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Snoqualmie School District candidates Marci Busby and David Spring sound off on campus change, class sizes

David Spring, Marci Busby are final candidates for SVSD 410
David Spring, Marci Busby are final candidates for SVSD 410's District 4 seat.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Two candidates, incumbent Marci Busby and challenger David Spring, are vying for votes in the upcoming general election. The two were the top vote-getters in an August primary on the District 4 seat on the Snoqualmie Valley School Board, and are now in the final run for the four-year term which starts Jan. 1, 2014.  A third candidate, Tavish MacLean, is running unopposed in District 1.

Ballots for the Nov. 5 general election will be mailed out this week, and to help inform voters, the Record asked Busby and Spring to participate in a question and answer session, which follows. Both were asked the same four questions, plus one specifically about themselves.

Marci Busby

Q: What do you hope to accomplish, if (re-)elected to the school board? What is your number-one priority?

A: Number one is a new elementary: We are at capacity with full-time Kindergarten starting in 2016 or 2017 (doubling K classrooms). In listening to the community during union negotiations, I heard that class size in our grade schools was clearly a concern. If every class at Cascade View Elementary School is reduced by four students, we will need six more classrooms overnight (the difference between absolute and programming capacity). Although it is complicated balancing building size, teacher hiring, scheduling and administrative overhead, this is an investment we need to make. We need to invest at Mount Si High School, but I do not want over-investment to limit our options at other schools.

Q: The freshman campus has been a divisive issue in the community, and you are a vocal supporter/opponent of the separate campus. What is your support/opposition based on?

A. When programming needed an overhaul and construction options were limited, annexation to create a STEM/freshman campus was introduced. Three years later: enrollment is greater than the verified capacity of MSHS; we’ve confirmed that a MSHS remodel cannot happen with four grades on campus. Annexation and STEM were right on. So is focusing on freshmen in their own space. Multiple experts told the board that attention to freshmen helps establish a strong post-high-school path. We hired a stellar principal who championed the Freshman Campus to increase on-time graduation rates, improve rigor, and build relationships. My support is based on the affirmation of this plan, the input of educational experts and trust in our professionals.

Q: Teacher contract negotiations were challenging this year, as many people stated during and after the contract talks. How would you change the process to make it go more smoothly, and what role would you, as a school board member, play in that?

A. We have the best teachers. I am impressed with their amazing dedication. Union President Lisa Radmer, with the administration, has been tirelessly and successfully working to bring the new teacher evaluation system online. Together, they have created a system that implements the state mandate, meets the needs of SVSD students, and allows our teachers to use it to improve their craft rather than being boxed into a rigid checklist. We can learn from this success and use what we know has worked in this process in future contract talks, such as examining our timeline and beginning our talks earlier.

Q: Public commenters at board meetings have often called for more transparency from the board, more opportunities for community involvement. How much public input should the board solicit or require before making decisions?

A: There are three topics in this question, involvement, input, and transparency. We have a stellar community of volunteers, parents, and business supporters—their involvement leverages everything we do. We need a lot of public input both organized (committees) and unsolicited (e-mails and comments at meetings) to make a decision. Where we can really improve is attracting a larger group of people to join the conversation. We do well on transparency, but can improve. I would like more documents to go online. For instance, the reports we are using to make our current bond decisions, at board direction, are not on our website.

Q. In school board meetings, when expressing your support of the freshman campus, you have said, “we have the time, and we have the space.” Please elaborate on that—when and where you see the district’s capacity?

A: With the current configuration, we have space at MSHS into the next decade. This is not debated. The painful truth is that although a two-middle-school model might not be ideal to some, we are not at capacity. Common spaces are crowded, yes, but not over capacity. Configuration and budget are the debate. I hear members of our community talk about tax burden. I fear blowing our bond capacity on one school, currently below capacity. My preference is concentrating on distributing it amongst needs across the district and investing in buildings for our younger students in our population center.

David Spring

Q: What do you hope to accomplish, if (re-)elected to the school board? What is your number-one priority?

A: My top priority is to increase the graduation rate in our school district. Our graduation rate has fallen to below the state average (77 percent) – despite the fact that our poverty rate is much less than the state average. Our graduation rate is 14 percent below the graduation rate of similar East King County School Districts. The best way to raise the graduation rate is to hire more teachers and lower class sizes—especially in our elementary schools. This includes placing firm caps on class sizes in our elementary schools, middle schools and high schools.

Q: The freshman campus has been a divisive issue in the community, and you are a vocal supporter/opponent of the separate campus. What is your support/opposition based on?

A: There are 315 high schools in Washington state. We are the only one with an isolated ninth grade campus. An isolated ninth grade campus deprives many students of learning and engagement opportunities available only at the main campus. It harms teachers by requiring one in three high school teachers to give up their planning periods to commute back and forth between the main high school and the isolated ninth grade campus. It also harms hundreds of middle school students by forcing them to be bused to overcrowded middle schools that are very far from their homes.

Q: Teacher contract negotiations were challenging this year, as many people stated during and after the contract talks. How would you change the process to make it go more smoothly, and what role would you, as a school board member, play in that?

A: I agree with the teachers that class sizes are too large and we need to have firm caps on class sizes. Our class sizes are among the highest in the nation. A June 2012 study by the Washington State Auditor concluded that our school district has a much higher “administrative overhead” than any comparable school district. Despite this fact, the current school board voted to increase the amount spent on administrators. I will reduce our bloated central administration so we can hire more teachers and reduce class sizes. We should listen to our teachers more often.

Q: Public commenters at board meetings have often called for more transparency from the board, more opportunities for community involvement. How much public input should the board solicit or require before making decisions?

A: The current board decision-making process is fundamentally flawed. Parents are given almost no notice of what decisions are being made at school board meetings. During these meetings, two hours are allowed to hear the positions of administrators and paid consultants. But then parents and teachers are only allowed two minutes to express an opposing point of view. This leads to bad decisions. There needs to be much more balance in order to hear the pros and cons of all options before making an important decision that affects the future of 6,000 students.

Q: You have run for state office, District 5 State Representative, three times since 2007. Why are you now running for school board? And, will you consider running for state office again in 2014 or beyond?

A: I am running for the school board in order to put more teachers in the classroom, and provide a better learning experience for all of our students. I ran for the state legislature for the same reason – to draw attention to the fact that our school district is one of the lowest funded, most overcrowded school districts in the nation. I would prefer not to run for the state legislature. So if anyone else would like to run for the legislature to improve school funding in our state, send me an e-mail. I will help promote your campaign.

 

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