EVERETT — Student uniforms, teacher pay, vocational education and a ballot measure for school construction are among the subjects getting discussed in the contests for two seats on the Board of Directors of Everett Public Schools.
Board member Jamyang Nhangkar is seeking to retain the Position 1 seat to which he was appointed last year. He faces the challenge of first-time candidate Andrew Nicholls.
In Position 2, Brian Hollingshead and April Berg are competing to succeed board president Carol Andrews who chose not to seek re-election.
The winners in the Nov. 5 election will earn a six-year term representing a district with 26 schools, a $337 million budget and an enrollment of 20,460 students last year. It reported a graduation rate of 95.7 percent, according to district figures.
Since the August primary — in which Nhangkar and Berg finished first in their respective races — there’s been a few developments.
A brand new school, Tambark Elementary, opened and its students are wearing uniforms in spite of the objections of some parents. The board decided to place a $317.4 million bond measure on the ballot next year. And directors agreed to revise the current contract with teachers and give a small pay boost to ensure the district’s most veteran classroom instructors remain the highest paid in the state.
Nhangkar, 49, of Everett, a public affairs specialist for Community Transit, voted for the bond and contract extension.
Rising enrollment coupled with aging structures has created an “immense” need, he said. Although a fourth high school is a necessity, the bond that he helped put in front of voters will not fund its construction.
“The failure of previous bonds has put the district in a dire situation,” he said. “We’ve made adjustments to be mindful of taxpayers. We chose projects with community input and this is a bond for the entire school district meaning there is something for almost every school.”
Regarding the teacher contract change, he said, “We have to pay our teachers well, it has to be fair, it has to be competitive so that we’re attracting the best talent and not losing them to other districts.” Nhangkar is endorsed by the Everett Education Association.
The decision on uniforms was made at the school level by teachers, parents and the principal, he pointed out. If the policy is equitable and does not put undue hardships on families “then I think there is validity to it,” he said.
“I’ve said this before and believe me, the lesson has been learned, we could’ve and should’ve done a better job of communicating and involving parents in this transition,” he said.
Nhangkar, a father of two children, said he felt the experience gained as a board member the past year is the most significant difference separating him from Nicholls.
Nicholls, 35, lives in North Everett and is a research social worker with the VA Puget Sound Medical Center. He decided to run to help shape the education system in which his sons, aged 1 and 3, will soon enroll.
He said he and Nhangkar are “like-minded” on many issues and share the goal of the district providing quality education and making the lives of students better.
Nicholls said he’s okay with what the bond package the board passed and would have opposed any measure that included money for a new high school.
“I know eventually we’ll need the high school but we’ve got to take care of what we have now, first,” he said. To best plan for growth, he said the district “needs to be more proactive in using data” when developing policies on how and where to accommodate the growth.
Uniforms can be beneficial to the education environment, he said. In the case of Tambark, he said the board’s outreach to parents was “not good enough. As a board member, my main goal will be to represent parents.”
Nicholls, who said he is a member of two unions, supported the teacher contract extension. If elected, he said he wants to work to increase the diversity of backgrounds and cultural experiences of the teaching staff.
”We need to be reflective of our changing community,” he said.
The contest between Berg and Hollingshead pits two people with a history of community service.
Berg, 45, of Mill Creek, is a planning commissioner for the city. She spent two years on the Edmonds School Board and served on the bond advisory committee for the Everett School District.
Her priority, if elected, will be crafting a comprehensive plan to deal with anticipated growth. Passing the bond will be critical as it would provide money to tackle several pressing concerns across the district.
“I absolutely support it,” she said, adding that while a new high school will eventually be needed it could be left out of this measure.
On the issue of student uniforms, she said it must be decided at the school level. “I’m in favor of what communities want,” she said.
Berg is a mother of six, including two enrolled in Everett schools. She wants to increase accessibility to career and vocational programs in high schools and decrease disparity in the graduation and discipline rates for students of color by examining why gaps exist. She vows to make the school board a more accessible body.
Berg is endorsed by Everett School Board directors Pam LeSense and Caroline Mason, and the Alliance For Gun Responsibility. Democratic state Reps. John Lovick and Jared Mead, both of Mill Creek, and Strom Peterson of Edmonds are backing her, too.
Hollingshead, 64, is the owner of Everett Office Furniture, and father of two graduates of Everett schools. This is his first run for elected office.
Managing growth is “a huge issue,” he said. He backs the bond. Though a new high school is not part of it, he said the board must plan for one in the not-too-distant future.
He doesn’t want a districtwide policy on uniforms. Rather it must continue to be a school-by-school decision.
He supported the teacher contract extension. “We want to keep the best teachers and we want to keep the best administrators and salaries is one way to do it,” he said.
Expanding opportunities for vocational training, and providing greater accessibility to the board are other priorities. He’d consider changing the 4:30 p.m. start time of board meetings to something conducive to schedules of working families. And, the board should periodically meet in other parts of the district.
“The board room feels a lot like a court room,” he said. “It is not a welcoming environment to the community.”
Hollingshead is endorsed by school board directors Carol Andrews and Traci Mitchell, the Everett Education Association, and Gary Cohn, the district’s former superintendent. State Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, and state Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, are backing him, too.
Ballots have been mailed to roughly 82,000 voters. They must be returned or postmarked by Nov. 5 to be counted.
Director-at-large, Position 1
Jamyang Dorjee Nhangkar
Occupation: Public affairs specialist, Community Transit
Andrew J. Nicholls
Occupation: Research social worker, VA Puget Sound Medical Center
Director-at-large, Position 2
Occupation: Former aerospace program manager
Occupation: Owner, Everett Office Furniture