EDMONDS — A veteran Edmonds School Board member who voted in May to lay off teachers and paraeducators to help manage a budget shortfall is facing four challengers in the August primary.
Director Gary Noble is seeking a fifth term representing District 3. He is up against a quartet of first-time candidates: Jennifer Cail, Mary Schultz, Rory Graves and Boe Lindgren.
The top-two finishers in the Aug. 6 election will meet in November.
At stake is a four-year term representing the northeast portion of the school district which encompasses Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, Woodway, unincorporated areas and part of Brier. While candidates must live in the area they wish to represent, the race will appear on ballots throughout the district.
With an enrollment of 20,299 students, Edmonds is the county’s largest school district. It has an annual operating budget of $321.6 million.
Gary Noble, 71, of the unincorporated area outside Lynnwood, is a retired engineer and manager for The Boeing Co. He is on the board of the Foundation for Edmonds School District and his two children are products of district schools.
He said he is running again because he enjoys the job and thinks his experience is important as the board deals with ongoing fiscal challenges. If elected, he wants to concentrate on student achievement and equity. While the district’s standardized test scores and graduation rates are above the state average, there continue to be achievement gaps in need of addressing, he said.
His vote to lay off teachers is foremost in the minds of his opponents. In May, the board voted 3-2 to approve a plan for plugging a $17.7 million hole in next year’s budget that included giving pink slips to some teachers, assistant principals and paraeducators.
Noble called it a “difficult decision.” Had they excluded teachers and assistant principals, then many more paraeducators would have been out of work. “This was not an acceptable alternative for me,” he said.
Going forward, he said, the board should be able to avoid more reductions “as funding is expected to be relatively stable in the foreseeable future.”
Jennifer Cail, 42, of Lynnwood, is a parent educator at Edmonds Heights, a public school co-op in the district. She formerly worked as an accountant and her children attend Edmonds Heights.
She said she decided to run before the budget-cutting action though it is now an issue too. Being on campus four days a week has given her a good idea of how the board’s decision-making process is affecting students, teachers and those in the community.
Cail said she had found there is “not a lot of productive communication between the school board and parents. To this day, there’s still a lack of clarity on how the budget cuts came out the way they did.”
Improving communication is an area she said needs addressing. Boosting support for arts education and preventing any future cuts from hurting students are two other goals.
“I want to make sure every child has a chance to learn and gets to shine in their own way,” she said.
Mary Schultz, 62, of Lynnwood, has worked in nursing homes and assisted living environments. She is currently a caregiver for her parents and a volunteer at the Northwest Veterans Museum, and the Hero’s Cafe, both in Lynnwood. She attended and graduated from Edmonds public schools.
In preparing to run, she said she started going regularly to board meetings.
“By attending I can now see the challenges we face” with funding, class sizes and differences on what to teach, she said.
In the voter’s pamphlet, she wrote, a primary concern is “how the budget can be best allocated. The safety of teachers and students is also a prime concern. As well as having an environment that is conducive for all students to learn every day.”
Rory Graves, 36, of the unincorporated area near Bothell, has worked for educational media organizations and served on the board of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility. Her three children attend Edmonds schools.
“In the wake of teacher layoffs I am compelled to run against the incumbent,” she stated in the voter’s pamphlet.
In an interview, she said directors had “a lot of difficult choices to make” and should have done a better job involving teachers, parents and students in order to build consensus on the final approach.
“I stand with teachers,” she said, adding she will work to ensure students have “equitable access to a quality education and that schools remain safe, culturally competent, and trauma-informed spaces for all students. I want every opportunity for them to become the best versions of themselves.”
The Edmonds Education Association, which is the teachers’ union, and Alliance for Gun Responsibility have endorsed her.
Boe Lindgren, who could not be reached for comment, is a certified residential real estate appraiser and real estate managing broker, according to his statement in the voters’ pamphlet. He wrote that he has two children enrolled in Edmonds public schools.
“My decision-making process is to put kids first,” he wrote.