The Olympia School District has three board seats open for election on Nov. 7, and new blood is assured on the body because two incumbents chose not to run again. That makes this a good opportunity for voters to shake up the school board a bit.
Unfortunately, there is a chance voters will install a board majority that has children in alternative programs. Those alternatives include Lincoln School’s Options and the Olympia Regional Learning Academy.
A relatively small share of district students are actually enrolled in alternatives, and the school board should have representation from the community that is broader — from five viewpoints if possible. The risk of an unbalanced board has shaped some of our candidate recommendations.
In the position 4 race, we recommend Hilary Seidel over opponent Ann Heitkemper. Though Seidel has children at Lincoln Elementary’s Options program, she is the best prepared candidate to replace Justin Montermini, who chose not to run.
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In the position 5 race, incumbent Mark Campeau faces a challenge from Scott Clifthorne. Both are solid candidates who support equal educational opportunities. But Clifthorne is another Lincoln parent, which along with Campeau’s budget experience helped tilt our recommendation to Campeau.
In the position 3 race, Leslie Huff is the only choice to replace Eileen Thompson, who is retiring. Candidate Katie Bridges suspended her campaign too late to remove her name from the ballot; Bridges then endorsed Huff, whose daughter attends classes at ORLA.
Seidel has been visiting schools to get a look at how the district challenges vary by school. Her day job is at the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, which has given her a good grasp of funding issues facing K-12 school districts.
Heitkemper is a tenured faculty member at the South Puget Sound Community College. She would bring insight into what K-12 students need to learn before showing up at college, often without mastery of basics, and her background in science and public health would provide good perspective on the district’s need for a tighter student-vaccination policy.
Some of Olympia’s schools have relatively low rates of vaccination, in part because parents opt out for reasons other than religious or medical necessity. This puts at risk other students who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.
Heitkemper has more to learn before joining the board. For instance, she supports letting local districts raise more funds by levies. This flies in the face of the state Supreme Court decision in the McCleary case, which said in 2012 that state reliance on voter-approved local levies violates the state Constitution’s mandate for full state funding of basic education.
Seidel is clearer in her support for more help for schools that have more disadvantaged students. Educational opportunity and family backgrounds vary school to school, based on housing patterns.
In the Campeau-Clifthorne race, either candidate could do well. We like that Clifthorne might shake things up a bit on school board that prefers to speak publicly with a single voice. This push for a unified voice goes too far — to the point that individual board members tell or ask the board president before they speak up outside of meetings.
That isn’t healthy. All five board members need to speak up as individuals. Clifthorne, who wants to bring his union organizing experience in Washington and California to spur more public participation in policy debates, would speak freely.
But Campeau, an energy trader for Tacoma Power, is very knowledgeable. He openly admits Olympia schools were slow to recognize the growing numbers of students from diverse, less-well-off families whose needs can be greatest. But he and the current board have begun moving on the equity concerns. They recently hired a new superintendent who is making that a top priority.
The Olympia Education Association decided to endorse Campeau instead of union advocate Clifthorne, because of the incumbent’s support for educators during cycles of curriculum adoption, Campeau’s budget skills that helped the district avoid recession-era layoffs, and the continuity he provides during a time of turnover.
Huff holds a doctorate in education and experience training teachers and working in policy and curriculum areas. This gives her special perspective on the challenges facing educators and students. Like Seidel and Campeau, Huff won endorsement from the Olympia Education Association, which cited her knowledge of the district.
We recommend voters support Hilary Seidel, Mark Campeau and Leslie Huff.