Q&A with San Juan Island School District Board candidates

Four candidates emerged after the primary on Aug. 3: Ruth McKenna and Sarah Werling-Sandwith for San Juan Island School District position 1, and TJ Heller and Barbara Bevens for position 2.

Both positions are non-partisan, with four-year terms.

The Journal asked the candidates a few questions as they gear up for the Nov. 7 general election.

For more information, visit results.vote.wa.gov/results/current/sanjuan. Read more about the district’s budget in this article.

Ruth McKenna

Position 1

Journal: Why are you running?

RM: I am running for director 1 to be able to contribute my knowledge and experience in school district improvement here in my local community. I retired last year after 43 years in education as a teacher, superintendent, California Department of Education chief deputy, and WestEd’s director of district Services. As director 1, I hope to devote time and energy to school district policies that will secure the educational future for island children.

Journal: What is your biggest concern about the school budget?

RM: The school district budget is made up of roughly 80 percent state and federal funds and 20 percent local funds authorized by island voters. With such a big stake in the budget, island voters should make their priorities clear in the election of district directors. If elected, I will work hard to achieve the following budget goals:

• Limit class size to 15 students in English, social studies, mathematics and science classes in all grades.

• Add salary steps for teachers with satisfactory evaluations for 17 to 30 years of service.

• Add staff to clean, maintain, and repair school buildings and equipment to the highest standards.

These goals address root causes for teacher dissatisfaction – inadequate salaries and better working conditions. Getting these issues resolved is my top priority, and hopefully, the priority of island voters.

Sarah Werling-Sandwith

Position 1

Journal: Why are you running?

SW: I decided to run for a position, because I would like to offer the San Juan Island school board a new perspective through the lens of a parent, Head Start teacher and family advocate.

I want to continue taking an active role in our island community by supporting education, while building honest relationships and strengthening communication amongst all stakeholders.

The decision to run was easy, and I am confident I can bring a thoughtful approach in developing a sustainable budget, and to the process of decision making for the San Juan Island School District.

Journal: What is your biggest concern about the school budget?

SW: Public education is currently in an age of dwindling resources and an increase of needs. I am most concerned that the existing San Juan Island School District budget is lacking sustainability. I would like to see a greater transparency of the district’s finances made available to the public, as we need transparent communication about what happened and how we got here.

We cannot change what has happened, but we can create a sustainable budget to ensure that we collectively use this experience as a catalyst to guarantee a fiscally sound school system for in the future. If we don’t, I am concerned we will not be able to successfully implement our plans and achieve district goals for student achievement.

Barbara Bevens

Position 2

Journal: Why are you running?

BB: The School Board has long interested me as a “next step” in my life. Since I started teaching I always believed that I would further my career in education as a member of the board. The process intrigues me and I have more to give to and for the students of our district. I have lived my life always hoping to make a difference each day, and this is where I would like to continue to try.

Journal: What is your biggest concern about the school budget?

BB: There is never enough money. The most pressing concern today is the vagaries of the legislature’s funding concept (budget) and what the State Supreme Court and ensuing lawsuits will do to it. Resolution will take years longer than it already has, if indeed it ever happens. In the meantime, if what has recently passed remains law, this year remains basically static, next year we will perhaps be receiving minutely more funding from the state, but at the expense of losing our own local levy dollars which are being “reallocated” to equalize other districts’ funding. Since virtually all of the money allocated by the state (approximately 80 percent of our revenue) currently goes to paying salaries, we will have to continue to aggressively search out other revenue sources to cover the remaining 20 percent of expenses because the state is still not doing its paramount duty to fund education.

TJ Heller

Position 2

Journal: Why are you running?

TH: I bring a fresh perspective to the board and believe I can make a difference.

Journal: What is your biggest concern about the school budget?

TH:The amount of money in our reserve fund continues to dwindle. According to data provided during a special budget workshop on Wednesday, Sept. 13, our reserve fund is projected to be less than $400,000 at the end of our current fiscal year, reflecting a fund balance of 3.51 percent of expenditure total. At the end of the 2015-16 fiscal year, the reserve fund totaled $1,111,769. Within two years, our district has burned through over $700,000 of non-budgeted expenses, essentially spending more money than received for two straight years. Waiting for our state legislature to resolve the McCleary ruling has definitely played a role in district budgeting, but we need to be fiscally responsible. Stabilizing our budget and replenishing our reserve fund, continuing to spend wisely on our students education, and providing living wages for teachers, para-educators and support staff is a paramount concern in planning future budgets for our district.


Contributed photo Ruth McKenna is running for position 1.

Contributed photo Sarah Werling-Sandwith is running for position 1.

Contributed photo Barbara Bevens is running for position 2.

Contributed photo TJ Heller is running for position 2.