By Eric Stevick / Herald Writer
MARYSVILLE – The strife-weary Marysville School District, still facing budget problems, has finally closed the book on last year’s teachers strike.
A recall campaign aimed at removing Marysville School Board members Helen Mount and Ron Young was dropped on Friday.
This will allow the pair to finish their terms in 2005, while saving taxpayers anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 in election costs.
It also paves the way for the district, which relies on 113 portable classrooms to house students, to push for a bond measure in the spring. Backers of the effort to build a new high school were reluctant to put the measure on the same ballot as the recall.
Mount and Young came under fire after the state-record 49-day teachers strike in fall 2003, and for their votes to extend the contract of former Superintendent Linda Whitehead.
Three of their colleagues were voted out of office in November 2003, and the new board bought out Whitehead’s contract for $340,000 in March. The recall was launched a year ago as anger over the strike and the board’s actions still boiled.
In recent months, with new leadership and slowly improving finances, many Marysville residents and civic leaders worried that a recall would hurt the district’s fragile recovery.
“After much discussion, considerable thinking and a good deal of input from the community, we have concluded that pursuing the recall of Helen Mount and Ronald Young from the Marysville School Board would not be in the best interest of the school district,” recall backers said in a statement.
They said they didn’t want to rekindle divisive issues or hurt the district’s chances of passing the bond measure to build a new high school, a new elementary school and other improvements.
They said they were concerned about the cost to taxpayers and the timing, given that Mount and Young would have just a few months remaining in their terms when the recall appeared on the ballot. Neither incumbent plans to run for re-election next fall.
There was a sense of relief among school district leaders.
“I’m glad that we will now have the opportunity to focus all of our energies on the bond, and I appreciate the reasons they have given for dropping the recall,” said Vicki Gates, president of the Marysville School Board.
“It demonstrated community togetherness and a desire to do what’s best for kids,” Superintendent Larry Nyland said. “If that energy can be used to help us come together around the bond issue, that’s a huge plus for the district.”
Mount and Young also were pleased by the news.
“Moving forward with the recall would have an adverse impact on the whole community, not just the school district,” Young said.
The recall campaign began last December but stalled in the courts from January until Nov. 12, when the state Supreme Court ruled that the effort could move ahead.
Recall backers cited a list of complaints when they filed their initial paperwork, including the previous board’s decision to extend Whitehead’s contract. A Snohomish County Superior Court judge in January limited the recall to one issue – a school board decision to schedule a makeup day for teachers on Feb. 14, 2003, even though it was supposed to be a nonschool day under a labor agreement.
The makeup day was needed after teachers participated a month earlier in a statewide rally in Olympia for higher pay.
If recall backers had gathered enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot, it would have been up to voters to decide if the school board vote on the makeup day broke the collective bargaining agreement, and if that was an improper act and a violation of their oaths of office.
Mount and Young said they asked a district lawyer for a legal opinion before casting their votes on the makeup day.
Board member Michael Kundu, who once asked Young and Mount to consider stepping down, said he has always felt that recalls are part of a sound democratic process and the recall backers were well within their rights to pursue it.
Even so, he said, “I think the decision being made to drop the recall is in the best interest of the district,” given the effort to pass the school construction bond.
Lisa Griffith, one of the recall backers, was torn by the decision to stop the campaign.She believed many voters would have supported both the recall and the bond measure.
“I still wish they would do the right thing for the taxpayers and step down,” she said of Mount and Young.
Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446 or firstname.lastname@example.org.