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Questions fly at board forum

Candidates on both sides of the two contested board races for Snoqualmie Valley School District shared their views on budgets, priorities and controversy at a Sept. 30 forum hosted by the Snoqualmie Valley PTSA Council.

Exchanges heated up in the final round of the night, when candidates had the chance to grill their opponents. Paul Houldridge and Scott Hodgins, running for the district 1 seat, and Kevin Bardsley and incumbent Craig Husa, seeking the district 3 seat, each fired a single question at their counterpart.

Trading answers

Bardsley challenged Husa on what he would do to change "the public perception that the school board is ran as a 'good old boys' network that favors a few and is only directed by those few."

"I've heard that perception in the past, but I haven't heard that recently," Husa replied. After this election, four of the five board members will have served two years or less, he noted.

"That doesn't strike me as a good old boys network," Husa said.

Transparency is the key to fight such perceptions. Husa said that requires being out in the community and schools, listening and reacting to what everyone needs.

In his turn, Husa asked Bardsley to clarify his position on whether education is improving in the district. Bardsley's Web site questions whether added costs have improved local education.

Student numbers, budgets and staffing numbers have all risen in the past decade, Bardsley said.

"I would think that our children's education would have improved," he said.

However, Bardsley said he was struck by how many residents approached him during his campaign with concerns about the state of education.

"The one statement that continued to come up was why our children can't read, write or do math," he said. "They can talk on cell phones and play computer games, but when asked (for) simple math facts, they couldn't answer."

Houldridge challenged his opponent to say what he would do to combat a "growing sense of distrust" in the district. Hodgins, who has been involved with district for a decade as bond and levy chairman, replied that it's hard for him to understand that perception.

"I feel very satisfied," he said. "Where we started in the district, and where we are now, we've done amazing things.

"I will tell you that we've had a lot of change," Hodgins added.

The growth in the district, he said, has generated a lot of anxiety, and the board has to show leadership in those times.

Hodgins challenged Paul Houldridge to tell what volunteer activities he's been involved in that have helped educational programs.

Houdlridge replied that he spent a day in class as a Watch D.O.G., or dad volunteer, at Opstad Elementary School. He's also a Scout leader.

"I don't believe that a position on the school board has to be earned by prior volunteer efforts," he said.

Houldridge said he knows that the board involves a huge volunteer effort, and said he's willing to put in the needed time.

"This position is important," he said. "I can bring passion."

Controversy

Husa and Bardsley weighed in on the role of the board in Day of Silence — the day where students refrain from speaking in solidarity with gay, lesbian and transgendered concerns.

Husa reminded listeners that the Day of Silence is a voluntary club-organized activity. The board's role, he said, is to ensure that education is not disrupted.

For Bardsley, the board's role is to approve policies presented by the superintendent, but also to listen to the community.

"If a policy needs to be adusted, it needs to work through the system that's in place," he said. "We need to make sure that if we have a policy, it's enforced, and acceptable to the community."

Hodgins and Houldridge were asked for their views on what social issues are appropriate for high school students to study and debate.

The two candidates agreed that social issues should be debated in the context of teaching and learning, such as in a Current Issues class.

"The key is to allow students to learn," Hodgins said. "Where we get mixed up is in dealing with tolerance." He said he would support any program, whether it comes from students or the administration, that deals with tolerance.

Houldridge said the district already has policies on controversial issues and club conduct.

Study of controversial topics "needs to be done in a way that's appropriate and doesn't disrupt education," he said.

Communication

A recurring theme of the night was improving communication with Valley residents.

"There definitely needs to be better communication from the board out to the rest of the community," Houldridge said.

Due to his involvement in Scouts, Houldridge said he's rarely able to attend board meetings. He wants to see board meetings and committee meetings recorded and put on the Web, "so everyone can see what is going on."

Minutes, he added, should also include more detail.

"There are a lot of fantastic groups in the Snoqualmie Valley, that have parallel missions supporting the health, welfare and education with our youth," Husa said. "We need more partnerships with those organizations."

He cited work with Si View Parks, the Snoqualmie Valley Community Network, and the new Vista Volunteers program as examples of partnerships connecting the district to the community.

"The only way we can achieve all our goals is through the strength of these local organizations," he said.

Legislation

Response from candidates was mixed on House Bill 2261, a recently passed education reform bill that would commit the state to pay for six classes a day for middle and high-school students, gifted education, and other areas.

Husa called the move a good step forward, but added that "we have needs today. I don't think anyone thinks our work is over."

Bardsley dubbed HB 2261 a "Lego approach to how schools are run," and sees good and bad sides. He likes the reduction it seeks in K-3 class sizes but wonders what it would mean for high school size — the model high school for the bill had 600 students.

Hodgins and Houldridge were both skeptical of Initiative 1033, the latest Eyman initiative.

"It's going to translate into a loss of money for schools," Hodgins said. "I'm not into that."

Houldridge said he pays more property tax than ever. But he agreed that I-1033 would hurt schools.

"If it hurts our schools, it's not a good thing."

Houldridge and Hodgins also addressed the idea of switching morning start times for secondary schools and elementary schools. They agreed the matter is worthy of discussion, but needs more study and must be looked at regionally.

• Ballots for the Nov. 3 election will be mailed Wednesday, Oct. 14. Board members Marci Busby and Dan Popp are unopposed in the election.

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