Everett School Board term: 4 years or 6?

EVERETT — When it comes to political terms, some candidates for the Everett School Board believe shorter is better.

Everett is one of three school districts in the state with six-year terms, officials said. At least four of the six candidates in the Aug. 18 primary election say they would be open to shortening board terms to four years.

Annie Lyman, who is running against Jessica Olson and incumbent Karen Madsen for Position No. 4, has raised board terms as an issue in her campaign.

“Reducing the term length to four years would bring more opportunity for board directors to be accountable via the ballot,” she said.

“A four-year term length would give board members more frequent opportunity to reflect on and self-evaluate their contributions. Addressing community forums helps the candidates to keep their focus on the job and its responsibilities.”

Madsen could not be reached for comment by phone messages or e-mail last week.

Advocates of the six-year terms say they provide stability and time to deal with complex education issues.

Former Everett School Board member Roy Yates said he sees value in the six-year term.

“I thought when I got on the board that it takes a while to sort of get up to speed as to what is going on, to understand all the issues with school finance and statewide issues,” he said. “It seems like it can take two or three years just to get up to speed.”

Olson dismisses as “poppycock” the reasoning for longer terms.

“To me, if someone can’t get a grasp of the issues in four years, why would we want to give that same person six years?” she said.

The issue of six-year terms for school boards came up during the 2009 session of the Legislature, which inadvertently repealed the law as part of a large-scale election bill passed in 2003. It restored the language last session.

The law allows some large school districts in large cities in counties of more than 210,000 residents to have six-year school board terms. Seven districts across the state would be eligible, but only Everett, Spokane and Tacoma have the longer terms, said Dan Steele, an assistant executive director for the Washington State School Directors Association.

Backers for restoring the provision allowing six-year terms argued to the Legislature that school board members are facing increasingly difficult challenges, he said.

“Education is becoming more and more complex, not just the curriculum issues and education reform, but budget issues,” Steele said. “The idea is to allow folks to actually have some experience and become more knowledgeable about running schools.”

State law allowing the six-year terms dates back at least to 1943, but it is not clear what the Legislature’s original intent was in allowing them, officials said.

Vying for Position 3 on the Everett School Board are Jeff Russell, Pam LeSesne and Bennie Walthall. They hope to replace Sue Cooper, who has spent a quarter-century on the board but opted not to run again.

Russell said he is open to persuasion, but would lean toward four-year terms.

“I believe the value of board continuity (a six-year term) is trumped by the value of public accountability (a four-year term),” he said. “More frequent elections will result in more opportunity for focused public conversation about the direction of our schools.”

LeSesne said she would support “what voters along with the district administrators believe will be in the best interest of the schools’ policies and programs.”

Walthall said he would favor a four-year term.

“I don’t think the board really should be considered as a homesteading act after four years,” he said. “It only takes you four years to get a college degree. Within four years, you should have learned what the issues are with the school district.”

If terms were to remain six years, Walthall said he wishes there was a way for an individual board member and the board to have a frank discussion to decide whether that person should continue serving.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, stevick@heraldnet.com.

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