Jen Hirman, left, Charles Mister, Charles Adkins and Ryne Rohla.

Jen Hirman, left, Charles Mister, Charles Adkins and Ryne Rohla.

Everett school board candidates offer dueling priorities

Incumbent Jen Hirman is running against Charles Mister to fill Position 2. Charles Adkins and Ryne Rohla are competing for Position 5.

EVERETT — Four candidates are vying for two spots on the Everett school board and an opportunity to shepherd the district through financial woes.

The district has projected a $4 million deficit for the current academic year. The projection has dropped from $28 million, which the school board staved off by passing a plan for budget cuts in March.

Incumbent Jen Hirman is running against Charles Mister to fill Position 2, which comes with a two-year term.

Charles Adkins and Ryne Rohla are competing for Position 5, a spot with a six-year term. In the primary, Adkins got 39.79% of the vote, while Rohla finished second with 29.46%.

Position 2

Jen Hirman

Jen Hirman

Jen Hirman

Hirman, who was appointed by the school board last year, is in her last year as a regional leader of the state Parent Teacher Association. In an email, she said her priorities are academic achievement, school safety, financial stability and “strong partnerships between schools, parents and the community.”

“As we look at our projected budget, I prioritize what has the biggest impact for students and their learning,” she said. “The priority is to really keep student learning as the focus and invest in those areas that have proven results, both in terms of students’ short-term learning, and in their long term growth and well-being as individuals.”

Neither candidate in the race reported campaign contributions. They were not on the primary ballot as they were the only two running for Position 2.

Charles Mister

Charles Mister

Charles Mister

When Mister ran for the Everett School Board in 2021, he submitted a candidate statement containing false information about his background and work experience. This year, his statement also seems to make false or unverifiable claims, including that he was a police officer and has degrees in psychology and criminology.

In an October interview, he said he intended to address fighting in schools by working with parents and teachers. He also wanted to advocate for people of color and “help our students gain more pride within themselves.”

His main financial concerns are technology and free school lunches. Mister declined to comment further when reached by phone this week.

Position 5

Charles Adkins

Charles Adkins

Charles Adkins

When it comes to youth homelessness, Adkins said, “we can’t just fix this inside our classrooms.”

To that end, the district can partner with nonprofits like Cocoon House or Housing Hope to build supportive housing for students on its surplus property, he suggested.

In past years, “it wasn’t clear that there was a majority” on the Everett City Council “willing to engage in these sorts of projects, like the Norton playfield project from a few years ago,” he said. But, in his view, the current council seems more open to those partnerships.

Adkins, a member of the state Advisory Council on Homelessness and the Snohomish County Children’s Commission, draws from personal experience on this issue. As a teen, he was homeless for a time before moving into youth housing at Cocoon House.

Now a policy analyst for the Tulalip Tribes, he also serves as vice chair of the Everett Planning Commission.

Youth mental health is a big concern for Adkins, who believes Everett schools should look into offering a school based health center, like the Edmonds School District.

“School may be the only place where a kid can get access to that mental health care and physical health care that in many cases they really, really need,” he said.

Another focus for Adkins is creating more opportunities for students to have apprenticeships by partnering with industry and trade organizations. He believes there should be more recognition in high schools that there are other options after graduation besides college.

“We’re a port city, why aren’t we having more engagement with our maritime industry?” he asked.

Kids could benefit not just from seeing if this is a career they want to pursue, but also from “learning how important it is to Everett.”

College-bound students could benefit from internships too, Adkins said, floating an internship with the Snohomish County Treasurer’s Office as an example.

He also stressed the importance of supporting tribal youth, citing below average graduation rates for Native American students.

Schools could look at alternative education methods, talk to the local tribal community and evolve the curriculum to better reflect Native American students’ backgrounds, he suggested. The district could partner with local tribes to teach kids some Lushootseed, for example.

“So much of it is that we’re forgotten about,” said Adkins, a member of the Yurok Tribe in Northern California. “We’re not engaged with and, especially in school districts that don’t have an active reservation within their boundaries, I think there’s a sense that that’s not our problem. And I think that’s entirely the wrong way to look at it.”

As for the district’s financial problems, Adkins wants to protect classroom instruction. He talked about “trying to get creative” with revenue sources and further restricting administrative spending.

“Any choice we make is going to negatively impact our kids at the end of the day,” he said. “It’s just a matter of how can we minimize that impact.”

Adkins’ endorsements include the Everett Education Association, the Everett Association of Paraeducators, the Tulalip Tribes and the Snohomish County Democrats.

Adkins has received over $25,000 in campaign contributions.

Ryne Rohla

Ryne Rohla

Ryne Rohla

Increasing students’ academic success is a major priority for Rohla.

In his view, that means tamping down on grade inflation, for one thing.

“When you inflate grades, you reduce the incentive to actually attend class and you actually widen the gap between high and low achieving students,” he said. “That’s something I’ve observed quite a bit in my own teaching experience.”

Rohla taught economics at Washington State University for four years and spent another two as a math and economics tutor at Eastern Washington University. He is currently an economist for the state Department of Social and Health Services and for the state Attorney General’s Office.

He also has concerns about the district’s reading curriculum, which he said mixes different methods of teaching literacy.

“When I’m looking through the curriculum that my daughter gets, it’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that and I don’t know that it’s very intentional,” said Rohla, whose oldest daughter is a kindergartener in the district. He has two younger children.

The district should look to teaching methods backed by science, he said. Some of the same methods that help students overcome dyslexia, for example, benefit all students learning to read.

Student safety is another top priority: safety from bullying, from fights and from drug abuse. Schools can deal with that partly by creating an expectation that students who engage in that behavior will be disciplined, he said.

Rohla feels limiting devices in schools would also advance that goal, pointing to reports of students uploading videos of school fights to social media.

Constant access to screens also hurts students’ mental health, he said, adding he has no problem with “dumb phones” that can only make calls and text.

With regard to the budget deficit, Rohla knows there’s no way to make everyone happy.

“My view is that the board should handle what it can in-house before turning elsewhere,” he said.

If there were cuts, he would first focus on cutting administration, consultants and technology purchases.

Beyond that, Rohla believes cuts to academic subjects should happen neutrally if they must be made, without favoring certain subjects.

The district should turn to taxpayers or the state for help only once other methods have been exhausted, he said, noting asking the state for more funds may be unrealistic given the fact that other school districts are also struggling.

Rohla, who ran for state representative as a Republican last year, said he has distanced himself from partisan politics.

As someone with three children, “I might have students in the district for the next 18 years,” he said. “I think that the district deserves someone who’s committed to that and not just looking to move up the political ladder.”

Rohla’s endorsements include Mayor Cassie Franklin, the Snohomish and Island County Labor Council and the Mainstream Republicans of Washington.

Rohla got more than $10,000 in direct contributions and over $20,000 through outside spending from the Responsible Economic Growth in Our Neighborhood PAC, a group supporting “candidates with holistic understanding of the importance of a strong economy, safe communities, improved infrastructure and ample housing supply.”

The outside spending all went toward mail ads.

School board members make $50 a day, with a cap of $4,800 for the year.

Ballots are due Nov. 7.

Sophia Gates: 425-339-3035; sophia.gates@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @SophiaSGates.

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