MARYSVILLE — Six Marysville residents running for four school board seats have a wide spectrum of views about what academic success looks like in the district.
The election comes at a tumultuous time for Marysville schools.
After months of unanswered questions about the whereabouts of the superintendent, the school board appointed Chris Pearson to that role and agreed to pay predecessor Jason Thompson over $20,000 per month until his contract expires in June 2022.
Earlier this year, the district grappled with the pandemic, as well as calls for racial justice amid threats directed at students of color.
Yet candidates in two races have no challenger.
Two parents with no elected experience are vying to fill the seat of District Director Chris Nation, who is not seeking re-election.
Ray Sheldon Jr. has hardly missed a school board meeting in seven years.
He lost to Nation in 2017, taking 38% of the vote.
Regardless of the outcome, he’ll continue “spending my three minutes” at public comment “saying what I feel the need to change.”
Sheldon is a father and grandfather. Three of his grandchildren live with special needs. Advocating for those with “special needs is my biggest thing,” he said.
He’s committed to securing state money for special education.
In his years of attending board meetings, Sheldon said he has observed how the board’s and superintendent’s decisions intersect.
He has also made a name for himself as an advocate for all students, he said.
“I go to sleep no matter what,” Sheldon said. “I’m going to speak and say what I like.”
Sheldon said his goals are to increase graduation rates, improve the curriculum and create more welcoming classrooms for students.
Connor Krebbs, a Navy veteran and children’s ministry volunteer, said in a statement in the voters’ pamphlet he wants the board to be “Active in their Communication with the citizens of Marysville.”
According to his statement, Krebbs doesn’t support “the teaching or idea that race, gender, or ethnicity determines the amount of care and respect our kids deserve.”
Krebbs did not respond to requests for comment from The Daily Herald.
Public schools’ primary function is to “provide practical education to our kids,” he wrote in his statement, so that’s what the school board should base its budget on.
Sheldon said the district needs to fund campus upgrades at Liberty and Cascade elementaries and Marysville Middle School. He said some of the funding gaps could be solved through “community partnerships.”
If elected, Sheldon would be the only board member enrolled in the Tulalip Tribes. When he ran four years ago, he said he sought to restore tribal representation on the board. Don Hatch, another Tulalip tribal member, retired in 2009.
Sheldon said he feels an obligation to ensure there are opportunities for every student.
“I’m not so small minded,” he said.
“The only thing I can do is maybe just give it a push — even though I’ve been shoving the last seven years,” Sheldon added. “But to be able to get in there and say OK, let’s move forward and get ahead.”
Sherry Weersing, who is running unopposed for the District 3 seat, did not provide a statement for the voter’s pamphlet and did not respond to request for comment from The Daily Herald.
Incumbent Board President Vanessa Edwards and her challenger Wade Rinehardt, a parent and Marysville Boys and Girls Club coach, have little in common in how they want to approach the position.
Edwards, a parent and former secretary at Cedarcrest Middle School, said she understands how decisions at the top affect what happens in the classroom.
That means district directors should be taking a look at test scores as a benchmark to evaluate curriculum, as well as discussing means of improving the socio-emotional needs of students, she said.
Above all, she said, district directors should be listening to students.
“You have to be able to think outside the box, and do what you can, and make sure that you’re listening to who you’re serving,” Edwards said. “We need that student voice to get loud.”
After three years of pushing for student representatives on the board, Edwards said getting one this year “was the happiest moment for me.” Student reps will help tie in the district’s “student-centered” mission in all decisions, she said.
Rinehardt said curriculum should be decided by the general community, and in his opinion, the district should be teaching what he considers “unbiased history.”
“Critical Race Theory is attempting to be add on (sic) to our current efforts with equity,” he wrote in a blog post on his campaign website. “This proposed curriculum has the capability to create a division between our children. Would we support one child/family less than another just because of who they are?”
He said Marysville’s academics need help. Only about one-third of students are meeting the state’s math and science standards, among the lowest marks in the county, according to the latest state office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction report card.
“That needs to be addressed,” he said. “One of the best ways to do that is to look at the programs and facilities and how we fund them. We need to take a hard look at the budget, and understand where our money is going. And is it being used wisely?”
Rinehardt also said he thinks Marysville is united behind having “our kids back in school and a normal world where there’s no masks.”
The day after a Marysville School Board meeting was derailed by a group of mostly unmasked protesters shouting obscenities, Rinehardt expressed support for “the people’s right to protest.”
“I attended the work study session prior to the Marysville Board Meeting proper. … As I left, I saw quite a few people on the sidewalk with signs. I talked to a few and everyone was in good spirits with getting their message across,” he wrote. “As a matter of fact, I am a little jealous, they were getting more honks than I ever did when I was sign waving!”
In the post, he asked that future protests “be peaceful and courteous.”
Rinehardt also said he hopes to improve transparency and “get the school board out from behind the bench.”
After the board approved a deal with outgoing Superintendent Jason Thompson, Edwards sent an email to Marysville families explaining the situation.
The message described an investigation into Thompson’s claims of age-based discrimination and “improper coordination between board members and the district’s executive staff.”
The mutual agreement was a large cost to the district, but “his contract obligations would have been greater than our negotiated terms,” she wrote in the memo. “Handling the terms in this manner saved up to $250,000 in additional costs.”
Edwards said she wants to help the district fulfill its strategic plan. Goals include incorporating student voices into decisions; increasing financial accountability by putting the district’s money where its priorities are; and making equity a priority, she said.
Katie Jackson, a first-time candidate running unopposed, has lived here for over two decades. Both of her children attended Marysville schools.
“I have two kids and lots of teacher friends and lots of things that I’ve been involved in that I feel like I could make a difference,” she said.
Jackson wants to bring a fresh perspective to the board. If elected, she said, she would listen to parents and educators.
She said creating more parent committees could give parents a bigger voice in district decisions.
“I would like to talk to them and collaborate with them to see what’s working and what isn’t working,” she said. “And maybe we can help each other implement better things across the board.”
Jackson has served as a select basketball board member for four years.
After the racist threats surfaced involving Marysville Pilchuck High School students, Jackson said she felt obligated to speak up.
“Having two biracial kids … I see other issues,” she said. “I feel that it’s important that I need to just go in … and do something about it, rather than just sit back and wait and hope that things change.”
Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @BredaIsabella.