A fuller-than-usual slate of school board candidates this week outlined how their lived experience will serve families in Vancouver Public Schools, Clark County’s second-largest school district.
The four candidates for Board of Directors, Position 1, met The Columbian’s Editorial Board on Thursday. Dale Rice, the incumbent, Kyle Sproul, a business professional with a background in marketing, Caressa Milgrove, a Vancouver mother and public schools advocate, and Thomas Higdon, a Vancouver resident, will face off in the August primary. The top two finishers will advance to the Nov. 5 general election.
Rice, an investment adviser, has been on the school board for 29 years. He said he’s running to help the district “continue to be fiscally relevant and appropriate to all the needs of all the people.” He highlighted his experience helping negotiate bond rates for the district as it pursues construction of new campuses.
“I want to make sure we get the lowest rates to the taxpayers,” he said.
Sproul said she’s motivated by the achievement gap in Vancouver Public Schools, particularly between its northern campuses in wealthier neighborhoods and its southern campuses in more-diverse, low-income neighborhoods. Sproul, who has children in the district, talked about recognizing those disparities during her experience volunteering at her children’s schools.
“If … you look at performance numbers north of 78th Street versus south of 78th Street, we are educating two different populations and we have two different sets of performance data,” she said.
Milgrove talked about her work championing a school lunch duration bill, which, in its final form in the state budget, will allow school districts to enter a pilot program extending how long students have to eat while at school.
“I see it as a symptom of a larger set of issues where a lot of time pressures have been put on other parts of the day,” she said. “Student wellbeing is really not being focused on.”
Higdon said he has no experience with Vancouver Public Schools, but is running on a platform of promoting “traditional education,” focused on “durable values” rather than what’s “fashionable.”
The editorial board pressed the group on its stance on last year’s teacher strikes, which kept students out of school for several days and resulted in double-digit-percent pay increases for certificated staff, including teachers and counselors. Vancouver Public Schools was one of the first local districts to settle with its teachers, beat only by the Camas School District a few hours earlier.
However, the district is now facing multimillion-dollar budget deficits. District officials have since toned down rhetoric blaming the deficit on salary increases, but over the summer had warned of such a possibility.
Rice blamed a “muddled mess” of information for last year’s contention, saying the district never had as much money to spend on raises as the teacher’s union said it did. Still, he added that the district “has to have fair and competitive wages” for its teachers, so the salary increases were an inevitability.
“The reality is we’re going to do it anyway, so do it now and figure out what we can do to sort it out,” he said.
Sproul, who was co-endorsed by the Vancouver Education Association with Milgrove, echoed Rice’s comments, calling the issue a “public relations battle.” She said the district has to pay salaries that attract a strong talent pool, but said she wished negotiations had been more open and transparent throughout the process.
Milgrove, meanwhile, said she whole-heartedly supported teachers in the ongoing strike, bringing water, snacks and sunscreen to union members on the picket lines.
“Without educators in the building, all you have is a building,” Milgrove said. “The people that are giving my children their education is the teachers. They are doing the work. They are providing the education that the next generation is going to have. I think that needs to be honored.”