Q&A with School Board Candidates: local taxes, communications, and policy making

This November 7th, two Snoqualmie Valley School Board positions are on the ballot, including Position 1 currently held by Tavish MacLean. Melissa Johnson is challenging him for the seat.

Although candidates must reside in within their director district boundaries to run for the position, ALL Snoqualmie Valley School District registered voters cast ballots in each school board race.

We asked Melissa and Tavish three questions and they both graciously submitted their answers in order to help voters understand their positions and priorities. In the next few days we hope to publish answers to the same questions from Marci Busby and Gary Fancher who are running for Position 4.

Ballots for the November 7th General Election should be mailed this week. They have to be dropped at a ballot drop box or postmarked by election day.

[The answers were posted alphabetically, determined by using the candidates’ last names.]

According to WSSDA (Washington State School Directors Association), one of the schools board’s main functions is to create policy for the district. What SVSD policy that doesn’t currently exist would you like to create and why?

Melissa Johnson:

A policy that commits the board to systematic strategic planning based on assessment data and measurement against a concise list of clear, meaningful targets.  If we do not recognize that we have performance gaps, we will not make any significant improvements.  If we agree as a community that we want our district to be competitive with our neighboring districts, we need to be measuring ourselves against their performance, not just the state average.  These “test scores” are actually children in our district, and when our “scores” are lower than neighboring districts, what this really means is that we have fewer children able to pass the Washington state math and reading tests, which are now required to earn their high school diplomas.

It’s not about our district achieving the highest test scores, it’s about each child passing the state tests and being well prepared post- graduation, regardless if their plans include a 4-year college, 2-year college, military or career.  The strategic planning that supports this policy needs to include support and leadership from the board and should be based on other “best in class” examples.

In addition, the plan should be comprehensive, ranging from student access to critical classes, establishing a community support group that provides tutoring and mentorship options and implementing a type of No-zero/50-floor policy that encourages students to challenge themselves while providing a safety net if they do not excel.

We have made progress by implementing a strategic plan, but if we truly want to fulfill our vision of being “The best School District in Washington State by any measure,” we need to start by genuinely recognizing our areas of opportunity and acting upon them.

Tavish MacLean:

In the development of policy, the school board sets direction and goals and then reviews the recommendations of the Superintendent and administrative staff on policies for adoption and implementation. The Snoqualmie Valley School District has well over 300 policies and procedures covering a wide range of school operations that are reviewed and modified as necessary.

While there’s not a new policy I have in mind for creating, there are several policies I’d like to review with my fellow board members and Superintendent for potential modification, including:

Policy 2414 on Community Service – to evaluate how we’re encouraging community service for all students, not just those in specific clubs; organizations.

Policy 2422 on Homework – to evaluate how we’re implementing consistent guidelines on the amount of homework given, the % of a course grade determined by homework, and the ability for late work to be turned in.

Policy 2423 on Curriculum Pathways and Benchmarks – to evaluate how we’re serving students demonstrating advanced competency in language arts in middle school and how we’re monitoring progress across all areas (Math, Science, Social Studies, English and World Languages)

Community members have expressed a desire for better communication from the district. What would you do to enhance communications?

Melissa Johnson:

Transparency. There is a shared concern by parents and stakeholders in the community, myself included, that the district communicates what they want us to hear – versus what we should be hearing.

To most effectively “educate all of our Snoqualmie Valley children to prepare them for college, career and citizenship,” our district needs to be fully transparent when it comes to any information or decisions made by the district that directly impact our students.

It currently feels as though the community is forced to perform their own research or directly contact the administration in order to get the complete picture on many areas of interest. This burden should not fall on the community, it should fall on the administration.

Tavish MacLean

I would also like to see improvement here, and raised this issue in a work session earlier this year. My fellow board members agreed and as a result the District is conducting a thorough review of communications right now.

Every piece of communication is a touch point with our customers: students and families. Every touch point is an opportunity to reinforce the values of the District. The newsletter and web site articles are done with care, but other pieces such as math placement and unexcused absence notifications may come across as draconian and heavy-handed (words I’ve heard from parents) – and I would argue that they don’t reflect the culture and values of the District.

When reviewing the various pieces and methods of communication for effectiveness and consistency, we should ask ourselves these questions:

  • Is the vehicle and frequency effective (e.g. email, text, letter, social media, etc.)
  • Does the tone represent the values we stand for? Is it empathetic as if speaking to a customer, or does it come across as bureaucratic?
  • Is the message clear, and does it offer ways to find more information?
  • Does the timing provide readers with enough time to ask questions and take appropriate action?

I’m confident we’ll identify some great ways to enhance communication with the community.

Do you agree with local state legislators that SVSD should be lowering its local levy rate below the new state cap of $1.50/1000, which they say will still give the district additional funding and could offer taxpayers a modest tax reduction?

Melissa Johnson

I do agree with Sen. Mullet and Rep. Graves and Rodney.  Our district will be receiving an additional $20 million from the state after next year, which will be funded by new state property taxes. This gives our district an extra $2 million in funding even if we do not run a local levy.  If we do run a local levy at the max, we will get approximately $12 million in extra funding.

My question is what do we need this money for?  We clearly need to ensure that we have enough money to fairly attract and retain our teachers.  In addition, we need to be certain that we can properly fund all programs that are contributing to student success.  But I am not supportive of a “Tax to the Max” attitude that our district, and others, seem to have.

If the school board agrees to support a local levy rate that equates to ½ of our current levy, our schools will still receive a significant increase in funding, ensuring that we will have enough budget to fairly compensate our educators and properly fund our programs, while providing some tax relief to property owners.  Furthermore, the district has the responsibility to 1) Allow the school board to take a deep dive into our current and future budget 2) Explain to the community where it plans to spend the levy dollars, 3) Update the public on where the dollars end up being spent.

Bottom line: I believe through careful budget planning and with millions more in funding we can more fairly compensation all employees, improve student outcomes and give taxpayers who generously approved our recent large school bond a modest tax break.

Tavish MacLean

I’m thrilled that the legislature has come through with additional funding after years of encouragement by our State Supreme Court, teachers, families, and school board members like me. Local legislators’ ‘back of the envelope’ math makes sense at face value, but the challenges are:

  • While we will receive more funding, we will have more expenses, such as a much-deserved salary adjustment for teachers.
  • We don’t yet have clarity on the requirements associated with the funding, nor do we have a new model defining ‘basic education’ (student/teacher ratios, admin support, counselors, nurses, librarians, secretaries, etc.).
  • The old funding model was inadequate, requiring the SVSD to maximize local levy funding and rely heavily on PTSAs, the Snoqualmie Valley Schools Foundation, teachers, and parents to make up the difference.
  • If we lower our local levy and neighboring districts do not, it will be more difficult to offer the same type of programs and recruit top-notch teachers to our district.

I intend to strike a balance – looking for ways to reduce the local levy without putting undue risk on the quality of education we provide our students, which is my primary responsibility. A board work session on levy planning is set for 5:30PM on October 26th at Snoqualmie City Hall and the public is invited to attend.

Comments

  1. Derek Peterson says

    It seems as though Melissa is saying what she thinks people want t hear while Tavish is being much more thoughtful with his responses. I feel strongly that our elected officials should listen to feedback but also do what is in the best interest of the community and, based on their responses, it sounds to me that Tavish would be a better representative for our community.

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