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Board hears strong opinions on soon-to-be-open VPS seat

Vancouver Public Schools board candidates and community members urged district directors on Tuesday not to appoint current candidates to a soon-to-be-open seat.

Michelle Giovannozzi announced in June that she’d be stepping down from Position 4, effective July 31, triggering an appointment process. Giovannozzi had previously announced she wasn’t running for re-election. The board is slated to select her replacement by Aug. 21, just weeks after the primary election.

This is no ordinary year for school board elections. Twelve people are running for three seats on the school board, an unprecedented number for a school board race. Only one of them, Dale Rice, is an incumbent. Under Vancouver Public Schools’ policy, anyone who lives in the Vancouver school district can apply for Giovannozzi’s job, including those 11 newcomers.

Theoretically, that means a school board candidate could end up in the seat.

But doing so, commenters at the school board meeting said, could sway the election and give an edge to whoever is selected. Caressa Milgrove, who is running for Position 1, is one of seven school board candidates who signed a petition to the board encouraging it to appoint a “caretaker,” or interested community member who can serve on an interim basis.

“It’s essential … that this is the community’s choice,” she said. “Not the board’s.”

Kathy Decker, a teacher who is running for Position 4, said the Vancouver Public Schools board has an “image problem,” and that the community feels unheard and disconnected from the district.

“There’s a lack of trust,” she said. “If you choose to appoint someone who is running as a candidate, you will reinforce that disconnect.”

Several teachers also attended Tuesday’s meeting, clad in their trademark red T-shirts. Kari Van Nostran, president-elect of the Vancouver Education Association, also said the board must communicate more with the community before making decisions, calling this “the next opportunity for the board and the district to do it right.”

“Please respect our community by allowing us to vote in November for the candidate we prefer without any sway or influence from the board or the district,” Van Nostran said.

School board member Wendy Smith, a teacher in Evergreen Public Schools, was the first to publicly raise concerns with the appointment process. Last month, she urged her fellow board members not to consider applicants whose names will appear on the general election ballot. Doing so may lead to the perception that the school board is trying to sway the election, she said. Political consultants interviewed by The Columbian agreed that it could give a school board candidate an edge in the upcoming election.

Ballots will be mailed to voters July 19. The primary election is Aug. 6.


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