It’s a fuller-than-usual election field for candidates running for the Vancouver Public Schools Board of Directors this year, and there’s no exception in the race to fill retiring board member Rosemary Fryer’s seat. Four newcomers are competing, each promising that their experiences and backgrounds best suit them for the role.
The candidates running for Position 5 met with The Columbian’s Editorial Board last week, outlining their visions and priorities for the 22,500-student school district. They are Scott Dalesandro, a retired logistics manager, Jennifer Hawks-Conright, communications administrator for the Clark County Association of Realtors, Tracie Barrows, a school psychologist in Evergreen Public Schools, and Chris Lewis, a certified public accountant.
Barrows said her mission is to support students’ social needs as well as their academic needs. Barrows said the school district needs to provide preventative support for students who have needs outside of the classroom, particularly those from low-income families or those who have mental health needs that aren’t being met.
“Buildings are responsible for food, clothing, meeting social-emotional and mental health needs, and I really feel that my expertise in that area can provide a valuable asset to the school board,” she said.
Lewis, meanwhile, talked about his expertise with budgeting, pointing out his concerns with the district’s decision to use $3.75 million in reserve funding to help cover an estimated $8 million deficit. The district, which has an annual operating budget of about $324 million, has warned program cuts could continue in the future without additional revenue.
“That was a good patchwork, but now we’re looking at the future,” Lewis said.
Hawks-Conright is the mother of four children who have attended Vancouver Public Schools, two of whom receive special education services. She said she’s running to protect the school district’s special education program, and brings a strong understanding of what services still need to be put in place.
“I want to be a voice for everybody and a voice for the community,” she said.
Dalesandro, meanwhile, said he has “no ties” to the school district and is running “for the sake of the community.” Dalesandro said he would prioritize student and staff safety, and ask questions of district officials on taxes and purchases.
“It seems that whatever the school administrators put forward, the board is like ‘OK,’ ” Dalesandro said. “That’s not me.”
The four also weighed in on last year’s teacher union negotiations and subsequent strikes, which gripped Clark County for several weeks. The Vancouver Education Association’s strike was among the shortest in Clark County but resulted in salary increases of about 15 percent over three years.
In answering questions about the relationship between the school board and the teachers union, candidates called for a positive relationship between the two bodies. Hawks-Conright said the union should be able to fight for competitive wages while holding the school board accountable for its budget decisions. Dalesandro said last year’s school board meetings “got out of hand” with union members showing up in full force, and said the school board needed to be more transparent during contract negotiations.
Lewis said “it doesn’t have to be us versus them” in bargaining. But, he said the district was forced to “negotiate blind” with limited information coming from the state about the impact of changes to school funding legislation. That created a losing situation.
“I really felt bad for both sides last year,” he said.
Barrows, who is endorsed by the Vancouver Education Association union, said when she talks to community members, she senses continued frustration and disconnect between the union, the community and the school board. Some of that’s to be expected after a strike, she said, but one of her priorities is to promote communication between the two sides to repair the relationship.
“We’re all on the same team. We’re all Vancouver Public Schools,” she said.
Ballots will be issued on July 19 for the Aug. 6 primary election.