School board candidates discuss important issues

Sara Thompson

All seven candidates running for Peninsula School Board recently gathered at Goodman Middle School to meet with voters. About 40 people came to hear the candidates at an event sponsored by the parent groups of Goodman and Kopachuck middle schools.

It’s an important election –– four of five positions will be determined, and this board will be responsible for the upcoming levy as well as hiring a new superintendent. Superintendent Chuck Cuzetto announced that he will step down at the end of this school year.

The current levy –– which funds more than 20 percent of the maintenance and operations budget –– will be up for renewal in 2016. And after failed levies for additional construction in 2011, 2012 and 2013, all of the candidates stressed the importance of building trust with the voters.

Each board director is elected to a four-year term. Voters cast votes for all directors, but each director represents a specific district ––this means that directors are responsible for all students but that they also should be aware of needs within their own individual regions. There are five districts. District 5 will be up for reelection in two years. The District 2 position has two years left of an unexpired term.

Running for office are:

•District 1, Marcia Harris and Matthew Wilkinson (incumbent). District 1 covers most of the Key Peninsula.

•District 2, Deborah Krishnadasan, unopposed. District 2 covers the northernmost Key Peninsula and Canterwood.

•District 3, Geralyn (Lyn) McClendon and Rand Wilhelmsen (incumbent) District 3 covers Rosedale and Maplewood.

•District 4, Leslie Harbaugh and Garth Jackson. District 4 covers the Wollochet area.

The candidates gave introductory remarks, then answered questions that had been collected by the parent groups. There was time for a few questions from the audience, and then closing comments.

They were asked what the greatest capital needs of the district are. All agreed that basic maintenance, some deferred due to the economic downturn, is critical. Most also noted that planning for growth will be necessary.

When asked what they might do to build trust, Wilkinson and Wilhelmsen, both incumbents, noted that they had reached out to Citizens for Responsible Spending, the group that has opposed levies in the past.

Harris noted her past successful experience using a “listening first”strategy with small focus groups. Jackson said he thought that the district should consider doing a more thorough review of all programs. Harbaugh and Harris both noted how important it is to reach out to the entire community, including those without children. Krishnadasan and McClendon stressed clear, concise and simple communication.

The next question was about attracting and retaining staff. All agreed that compensation and school environment were critical. Wilkinson added that there needed to be clear career pathways ––to allow teachers to become department heads or administrators. Harris agreed, adding that the work of all staff must be valued, collaboration encouraged, and time for professional development provided.

When asked about their view of the role of the board and that of the superintendent all agreed: the board sets vision and policy and the superintendent implements. Harris added that the board must also advocate for what is best for the district.

How to build trust? Harris, Krishandasan, Harbaugh stressed engagement and visibility within the community. They discussed both listening and telling the successful stories of the district, reaching out to those with children, those without children, and businesses.

McClendon vowed to be available and to communicate. Wilkinson stressed answering any and all questions, noting that he always responds to emails. Wilhelmsen said, “We have to do what we say we are going to do. We must be accountable for results and make the public aware of what we accomplish.”Jackson noted that all ideas must be so well thought out that they sell themselves.

Finally, the candidates were asked what unique qualities they bring to the board.

Wilkinson noted his longtime commitment as a volunteer and his day to day work in information technology, making networks work better.

Harris described her deep and broad-based background in education, from classroom to human resources to finance.

Krishnadasan described her work in mergers at Microsoft, the communication skills required, and her enthusiasm.

McClendon noted her nursing background and the emphasis on prevention rather than reaction.

Wilhelmsen stressed his background in banking and finance as well as a teaching certificate, leading to an understanding in classroom instruction.

Jackson emphasized his early background as an engineer and working collaboratively in business, combined with his 12-year career as a teacher and extensive volunteer activities with youth.

Harbaugh noted that she has been a volunteer in the Peninsula Schools for the past 13 years. “This district is my wheelhouse,”she said.

Information is available in the Pierce County Voter’s Pamphlet or at