EVERETT — Last summer, Caroline Mason sounded ready to shorten the terms of Everett School Board directors like herself from six years to four years.
“I think six is a little long. I like being more aligned with what other districts have,” she said during an August board work session on the subject.
Then she watched as school boards became ground zero for the nation’s culture battles on COVID mandates, critical race theory and sex education. Vitriol-fueled protests occurred at meetings in districts in the county and around the country.
In November, conservative majorities got elected and set about retooling the policies of those they succeeded.
Such tumult concerned Mason, who easily won re-election in November. Enough so that she had a change of heart and last month cast the deciding vote against a proposal for shorter terms.
“I have gone both ways on this topic. I always believed that a four-year term made sense if, for nothing else, simply to be consistent with other Washington school districts,” she said during the May 24 school board meeting. “Looking at the politicizing of school board meetings and the polarization in our country, I just struggle. I lean toward consistency on a board rather than more turnover.”
Mason, along with directors Traci Mitchell and Pam LeSesne, the board president, opposed drafting a resolution for the changeover. April Berg put forth the ill-fated motion and Andrew Nicholls backed it.
Berg argued it was an issue of democracy. Potential candidates can be deterred by six-year terms, and some in the public view the board as less accessible to their concerns because they serve so long, Berg said.
“I just feel (constituents) deserve the right to vote us in and vote us out every four years,” said Berg, who was taking part in her final meeting as a director. The Mill Creek Democrat resigned June 1 to devote her energies to her work as a state lawmaker, which carries a two-year term.
Of 295 public school districts in Washington, only three — Everett, Tacoma and Spokane — have six-year director terms.
State law allows six-year terms for districts in counties with a population of at least 210,000 and which have within their boundaries a “first-class” city. That’s one with a population of 10,000 or more at the time of incorporation and has adopted a charter. Everett is one of 10 in Washington.
Longer terms let directors focus on governing, not elections, backers say. Continuity of leadership brings consistency in policy making, which pays dividends for students, they contend.
Mitchell and LeSesne made clear they desire stability.
“There were a few districts in the area that had their majorities flip (in 2021), and that really can change the tenor of the district,” said Mitchell, who at one point mentioned the Marysville School District.
There, the board’s new conservative majority has prompted debate with a controversial proposal to require students to obtain the permission of parents to participate in club activity. It emerged with the new members’ concerns about a proposed club for LGBTQ students.
Four-year terms bolster public accountability because directors must face voters more often. And directors can still build cohesion in that amount of time, Everett board member Nicholls said.
Berg said it would be additionally beneficial to elect directors by district, but that was not on the agenda.
“If you don’t have four-year terms and you don’t have director districts, this is very hampering to our voters, our constituents and the folks that we serve.”
For Mason, the decision didn’t come easy.
She sought the opinions of board members in Spokane and Tacoma in recent months. She spoke to community members throughout the fall — and found many didn’t realize Everett directors serve six-year terms.
In the final analysis, Mason said, she desired a path to getting people on the board “who are dedicated to the success of our students.”
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @dospueblos.
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