Northshore School District: Trio challenges Buske for school-district seat

There are three expiring seats on the Northshore School District board of directors. However, one race is already decided and voters will have to wait until the November general election to decide another.

There are three expiring seats on the Northshore School District board of directors. However, one race is already decided and voters will have to wait until the November general election to decide another.

For the Aug. 18 primary, only one contest will appear on the ballot, that for the District 1 director seat now held by board member Sue Buske.

Buske is facing a fairly crowded field of three contenders: residents Arthur Hu, Julia Lacey and Jeff Wirrick.

During a July 28 candidates forum, Edmonds School District substitute teacher Lacey said the fact that three candidates emerged to challenge Buske shows the public is ready for a change.

For her part, Buske touted 23 years of volunteering to benefit children and pointed out the current board balanced the district budget in tough economic times without laying off a single teacher.

Held at the Northshore administration building, the district PTA sponsored the forum and supplied most of the questions. Each candidate received one minute to answer.

Besides Buske and her opposition, the candidate panel included resident Sandra Hayes who is running unopposed for the District 4 board seat being vacated by incumbent Gene Hawkridge.

Also answering questions was District 5 incumbent Cathy Swanson and her challenger, Todd Banks.

Among those taking part in the forum, Hu easily was the most animated. He talked several times of his displeasure with state-mandated Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) tests, speaking against outcome-based eduction in general. Hu said children should not be held to some seemingly arbitrary standard.

“There’s probably a few 100 citizens who could be sitting here,” Wirrick said during his opening comments. He further described himself as a “middle-of-the-road kind of guy,” but not very politically correct and more than willing to say what is on his mind.

With budget cuts and monetary shortfalls the norm for the district over the past few years, several forum questions predictably dealt with financial issues. Almost unanimously, the candidates said they would protect class sizes if forced into further budgetary slicing. Even setting educational issues, Lacey talked about classrooms that were physically too small for the number of students assigned.

“We have been slammed with budget cuts from Olympia,” Buske said, addressing Northshore’s current financial condition. She was answering a question on her top priority, which was to find more educational funding from the state.

While the rest of the panel expressed concerns over inadequate funding, Wirrick and Hu took different stances.

“It’s not all about the money,” Wirrick said. “It’s about what you are teaching and how you are teaching it.”

Hu’s comment was similar.

“It’s not about more money, more money,” he stated, adding that with the overall economy in mind, now is not the time for the schools to be seeking huge spending increases.

The various candidates also were asked what they thought of the school budget process completed this year and what changes they would make. Hu first admitted he didn’t pay “super close attention” to the process, but stated he was glad the district did not cut any teachers. Wirrick was glad the board’s decision seemed to reflect public opinion and, like Hu, was happy it protected teachers.

According to Lacey, overall, the board seemed to be moving in the right direction in terms of involving the public. She seemed to like the idea of the online budget survey the schools asked parents and others to complete, but criticized the district’s execution of that survey. Among other issues, she charged questions were leading, that participants were pointed toward the answers district officials wanted.

For her part, Buske said she was glad to have teacher input on district finances, especially cuts, and maintained the board did a better job than they had in the past of including not just teachers, but the general public, in money decisions.

In part, one other question asked candidates to describe what they felt was the proper role of parents in selecting district curriculum and library books.

During the last school year, district officials encountered some controversy when a group of parents complained of the inclusion of the illustrated novel “Persepolis” in district literature classes. Hu said he was surprised to read in the news about what he called “risque” materials reaching the classrooms, presumably referring to the “Persepolis” controversy.

According to Buske, teachers and librarians are experts in their field and their advice should carry a lot of weight in choosing books and curriculum. Buske further said there are collective bargaining issues involved in curriculum selection.

“For me, it’s all about educating kids,” Lacey said at one point. “Everything else is secondary.”

Wirrick urged teachers not to teach to the lowest common denominator, but instead to raise the bar. At another point, he said reading is the key to education.

“If you can read, you can do anything,” he said.