On Tuesday, Oct. 3, islanders probed local candidates at a forum on the Nov. 7 election presented by the League of Women Voters of the San Juans, including for the San Juan Island School District Board. (Read about the races for the hospital district and the port as well.)
Fourteen races are on San Juan Island and three in the Town of Friday Harbor, though races appear on ballots based on voters’ precincts. Due to timing, four races were selected for the forum. Ballots will be mailed on Oct. 17 and due by Tuesday, Nov. 7.
These school district board races will be on every San Juan Island ballot.
Ruth McKenna and Sarah Werling-Sandwith are running for San Juan Island School District No. 149 Director 1. Since McKenna could not attend the meeting, statements were read, but questions were not asked.
McKenna’s statement, read by the league’s president, said she has 43 years of education experience, which includes working as a teacher, superintendent and California’s chief deputy director of education.
McKenna said she has a plan to increase morale, after the district’s four-day strike, which ended on Sept. 5. (For more information, read “San Juan Island School District teachers’ strike ends.”) The plan is comprised of limiting classroom sizes for English, math, science, and social studies to 15 in all grades; creating incremental raises for teachers with satisfactory evaluation for 17 to 30 years of service; and maintaining and cleaning buildings and equipment.
Sandwith is a district graduate and, for 12 years, has been the manager, lead teacher and family advocate for the local Head Start, a federally funded, early childhood education center for low-income families.
Sandwith noted that the district’s current projected end fund balance of $400,000 is too low; enrollment and the district’s reserve fund need to increase to “keep money as close to the classroom as possible” and meet the district’s goals.
Barbara Bevens and TJ Heller are running for San Juan Island School District No. 149 Director 2.
Bevens explained that she has managed a $21 million budget while working at Eddie Bauer and taught for five years before moving to the island and becoming the Griffin Bay homeschool liaison for seven. She has volunteered for the district, as well as the county’s fair board.
Heller said he is married to a district elementary school teacher and works in technology. His top priority is to maintain the school budget, which he said lost $700,000 in the last few years. (For more information, read “San Juan Island School District budget breakdown.”) Heller said he would cut administrative staff in the district office, as opposed to teachers or their salaries because educators directly affect students.
Both agreed that looking for volunteers and community-funded replacements for missing staff, like an elementary school librarian, is a must.
Bevens noted that the district has already announced that there will be no additional spending, including travel expenses. This, she said, could affect sports, which she explained is the district’s largest expenditure for travel.
She added that finding ways to fix the budget may be trying.
“When 80 percent of what you get is spent on teachers and classified people, the other 20 percent is pretty minimal,” she said.
Classified school employees include food service workers and secretaries.
Heller said that the 20 percent could still be spent more wisely, citing the district’s app, which he noted is sparsely updated, as an example of wasted funds.
“As a community, we have every right to ask the district to spend this money wisely,” he said.
The last day for in-person voter registration, for those not registered in the state, is Oct. 30. For more information on the election, visit www.sanjuanco.com/1292/Current-Election. Read a Q&A with these candidates in this article.