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

This November 7th, two Snoqualmie Valley School Board positions are on the ballot, including Position 4 currently held by Marci Busby. Gary Fancher is challenging her 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 Marci and Gary three questions and they both graciously submitted their answers in order to help voters understand their positions and priorities.

Ballots for the November 7th General Election have been mailed. 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 Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA), one of the school 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?

Marci Busby:

The Board’s role is to develop policy based on state, federal, and district needs or mandates. The SVSD has hundreds of policies and procedures in place. The Board of Directors set the vision and goals for the district, and consults and reviews potential policies or policy changes or updates with district administration. Policy 3123 Early School Leavers, which was last adopted in 2008, might be an example of a policy that may be reviewed and updated as a result of the work being done by the On-time Graduation Task Force. Currently, I do not have a policy in mind that needs to be written. I do not believe in writing policy for policy’s sake.

Gary Fancher:

Having over a decade of policy experience, the problem with so many policies in our district is the lack of public awareness and board assessment as to their implementation. The policies should be evaluated regularly to determine whether they are needed and whether there is compliance. This evaluation should include measures of effectiveness.

You ask what policy I would add, and I’ll get to that. But first our kids deserve the same opportunities as students anywhere.  Our school board is responsible to this community and should be a welcome, friendly and wide open front door to the needs of our area with the goal of helping our kids prepare for the new jobs across Washington State that awaits them which 70% require a post-secondary credential (Washington State Board of Education 2017).

Next, we need to ensure compliance with Policy 2423, which was meant to provide clear and accessible curriculum pathways for all students, including those who want to apply to competitive colleges. My opponent, voted against this policy, the only director to do so. But since adoption in 2012, there has been no report to the board to assess adherence district-wide to this policy. I would change that and insist on regular reporting. Our district is behind our neighbors when it comes to post-secondary enrollment.

One policy I would add is for parents and students to have more say in decisions about their education. SVSD should have a policy similar to some other WA school districts referred to popularly as “informed self-select” for mathematics and other pathways. Most parents believe they know their kids better than teachers or administrators, but the majority of our current board doesn’t believe that. They rejected the idea of an informed self-select policy last year. Teacher and administration opinions about the capabilities and pathways for individual kids should be viewed the same as healthcare professionals, that parents make the final decision about their kids’ education just as they do for their healthcare. That is not the case currently, and this is a prime time for a new policy to correct the problem.

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

Marci Busby:

The Snoqualmie Valley School District is currently using many ways to communicate with the public.  These are just a few:  the SVSD website, Good News & School Information E-news, call-out system for school emergencies and attendance, Thought exchange and surveys to gather feedback, monthly staff e-newsletters from Superintendent Aune, School Board meetings, SVSD Facebook and Twitter pages, Flashalert texts/emails/app for emergency notifications, Bus Bulletin email/texts to report bus route delays, and district newsletters mailed to all residents. In addition, our schools also support websites and Facebook pages, provide correspondence from principals, and use school e-newsletters and teacher email to keep families informed. The District also hosts curriculum nights, open house events, and other informational meetings throughout the year.  This year’s Strategic Plan has a comprehensive review of the communication system to further improve communication.

Community members can also call and set up an appointment with appropriate staff to have their questions answered. I feel the district is doing an outstanding job with their communication plan. I would continue to keep the lines of communication open between the community and the district. I encourage people to volunteer in the schools, so they can see firsthand the stellar work being done on behalf of all of our students.

Gary Fancher:

The best communication is clear, concise, accurate, and thought-provoking, yet that is not consistently the case. A headline and summary article do not help the district improve without accurate data, transparency, or highlight opportunities and achievements.

  1. Superintendent Joel Aune was quoted in the district headline Snoqualmie Valley Students Perform Well on State Assessments saying “The collective performance of our students on the SBA ranks our district among the highest in the State. In this respect, the performance of our students continues to be well above the statewide average.” Now, if a Board Director looked deeper and came up with the actual SVSD Middle Schools scores, would you like to know that OSPI reports Chief Kanim had 82.5% of students in 2016-17 meeting the standard for 8th grade math? Now looking up Twin Falls Middle School 8th grade math, just 59.5% are meeting it. Would you ask questions, demand some action? If you want your voice heard and a see a Board member have the Administration determine why and have steps to fix things like this then Vote for Gary Fancher to ensure a Director looks into the real data, hears your voice, and is your advocate.
  2. Our website must also be updated to provide easy navigation and tools for parents who want to help their kids.
  3. I will advocate for Board documents to be publicly provided five to seven days in advance of each School Board meeting. This procedure gives the Board, Administration, and public sufficient time to read materials, think deeply and if deemed necessary conduct research in order to provide valuable insight and feedback during public testimony.
  4. As a board member, I will bring my same level of commitment to independent research and dedication to public testimony demonstrated during my service on the City of North Bend Planning Commission. This means actively listening to public testimony, asking the staff to respond to their statements and questions or as the Chair I speak about the topic or do research to determine if the public request should be added to the agenda when warranted. A commitment to encouraging parental testimony, rather than promoting silence, values public participation, and encourages future participation, open communication, and dialogue between the school board and parents of school district students.
Do you agree with local legislators that SVSD should be lowering its local levy rate well 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?

Marci Busby:

At this point, I am not in agreement with our local legislators. I have talked with district administration and they, like other districts in the region, have questions about the unintended consequences of the new legislation. For many years, the state has grossly underfunded public education, and while they are finally moving in the right direction to fund more, they are still not covering the actual costs of educating students today. To help bridge the gap between what the state funds and the actual costs of running our schools, our philosophy has been to pursue the maximum levy amount. This is particularly important to the SVSD because in relation to our neighboring districts we are severely disadvantaged when it comes to per pupil funding. Consequently, it has been our position to pursue the maximum levy amount to ensure we are providing programming and compensation that will ensure our student’s school experience is on par with neighboring districts. As a single mom, no one feels the impact of taxes more than myself and the people in similar situations. That being said,  I support doing what is necessary to support our students. Currently, the state is undergoing significant changes in terms of guidelines for the local levy.  As those guidelines  become clearer, as a Board, we will be looking to make sound decisions with regard to future levy proposals and measures that will provide the educational programs, resources and experiences our students deserve.

Gary Fancher:

Walking the district, people who spoke to me made it clear they support funding public education even if they do not have school children, provided there is financial responsibility. Taxpayers must know that our district is spending their hard-earned money wisely and using funds primarily to benefit the classroom. We need a Board Director who asks the Administration to layout the operational areas that the $20M in state funding will go to and where the additional $2M in state revenue (over our levy) is to be used. Then we need careful analysis to determine what additional funding via a local levy can benefit student achievement and opportunities. If you want the advocate who asks these questions of responsibility and clarity, Vote for Gary.

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