EDMONDS — Three seats on the Edmonds School Board are on the November ballot, with two incumbents facing challengers and two newcomers vying to replace Director Diana White, who’s running for City Council.
The district has more than 20,000 students, making it the largest in the county.
It has an annual operating budget of $321.6 million.
All candidates identified overcrowding, aging facilities and a 2020 bond measure as critical issues.
In the board’s District 1, which serves the southeastern portion of the district, incumbent Carin Chase is being challenged by perennial Snohomish County candidate Al Rutledge Jr.
Chase, 56, was elected to the board in 2015. She also serves on the Snohomish County Human Rights Commission and was president of the 32nd Legislative District Democrats. Her son attends high school in the district.
Equity, state funding and district engagement are her priorities.
In May, Chase voted against a resolution that laid off teachers and paraeducators to fix budget problems. She said directors need to remind the Legislature of its duty to fully fund education.
“The work’s not done yet,” she said.
After one term on the board, Chase said district parents have voiced concerns about not being heard by directors.
“I think we need to be a little bit more creative in meeting people where they are to engage,” she said. “We make stronger decisions if the entire community is involved.”
The district’s 2020 bond measure is desperately needed, she said, adding that two new schools and renovating older ones will alleviate overcrowding and increase safety.
Student equity is another district issue, she said.
“All kids are coming to school with a variety of different experiences so we want to make sure we’re taking that into account so kids can succeed,” she said.
One solution is hiring teachers, staff and administrators that better represent the diversity of the district, she said.
Rutledge Jr., 79, did not respond to requests for comment.
Previously, he’s run for elected office in the Edmonds area 12 times since 1997 and never won.
Now an Everett resident, he could serve on the board if he moves back to the area before the start of the term.
In the board’s District 3 election, newcomer Rory Graves is challenging longtime director Gary Noble to serve the northeastern part of the district.
Noble, 71, was first elected in 2003. A retired engineer and manager for The Boeing Co., he previously volunteered in the district as a PTA officer and tutor. His two children attended district schools.
In May, Noble was one of three directors who voted to plug a budget shortfall by laying off teachers and paraeducators. He said it was a difficult decision, but the blame shouldn’t rest entirely on the board.
“I’d like to see the state work a little harder at equitable funding across districts,” he said. “We get less money to pay our teachers than Mukilteo, Everett and Shoreline.”
His priorities are shifting the sixth grade to middle schools, finding a replacement for retiring Superintendent Kristine McDuffy, rebuilding aging schools and making the district more equitable for all students.
The district’s newly proposed 2020 bond measure would alleviate crowded schools and allow middle schools to hold another grade level, he said.
The technology levy, which will also go before voters in February, would provide free or low-cost internet access for all district students, adding to the practice of giving students free Chromebook computers.
“Some kids come in hungry, some kids come in without proper equipment,” he said.
Graves, 36, has worked for educational media outlets like PBS station KCTS 9 and has three children in district schools. She said her opponent has done a lot for students, but the board needs more directors with kids currently in schools.
Also, she was frustrated with the board’s May decision to lay off educators, saying more could have been done to pressure the state for more equitable funding.
“We can’t let (the Legislature) get complacent,” she said. “We need to make sure we’re consistently communicating with them.”
Upgrading district facilities, alleviating overcrowded classes and increasing equity are her campaign pillars, she said.
In grades four through 12, more than 850 classes in the district are above the set student capacity, she said.
“It’s appalling,” she said. “We know students do better when they can have that individualized attention from their teacher.”
Graves also said she wants the board to set more tangible goals to ensure equity among students. Schools within the district have different demographics and need individual plans, she said.
“We have schools where 10% of students are on free and reduced lunch, and others with 75%,” she said.
In District 5, which represents the northwest section of the district, two women hope to replace current board President White, who’s running for Edmonds City Council.
Nancy Katims, 70, worked in the Edmonds School District for nearly 20 years as a program director. Her two children graduated from district schools.
Now retired, she said she’s running to bring actionable goals, equity and communication to the board.
The district’s current 2025 blueprint is full of “platitudes that sounded good, but weren’t specific,” she said.
The budget deficit that led to the board voting for layoffs in May was reflective of spending money without actual priorities, Katims said. She also cited flat graduation rates over the last three years as another product of an overall lack of focus.
Katims said there was a greater sense of urgency around student learning when she joined the district in 1999.
“Everybody had this shared understanding and vision about where the district should be going, and they had great outcomes,” she said. “In the last few years, I sense there’s been a complacency.”
One of her priorities is making sure the 2020 bond measure passes in February.
Phone banking, community organization outreach and public meetings were ways she’d inform voters of its benefits, she said.
To increase equity in the district, she’d propose developmental training on diverse backgrounds for district teachers and counselors.
Lisa Hunnewell, 53, is a training manager at the Snohomish County PUD. She was encouraged to run by White, she said.
A mother of three, all of her children went through Edmonds public schools. Her youngest son is a senior at Meadowdale High School.
She said she’d focus on group decision-making, facilities upgrades and equity for students.
Besides volunteering in her kids’ classrooms and sports teams, she got her start in the district on the 2020 Facilities and Bond Committee.
“In seeing (district schools), I saw so much more than what I knew as a parent,” she said. “A good majority of them are dated, they’re basically my age.”
Hunnewell said it’s critical the bond measure passes, citing the 41 portables in use at district schools.
“The only way we can provide a positive learning environment for our kids is to give them the space they need,” she said.
She also said she brings a fresh perspective as an outsider of the district.
“I don’t come with the same old same old ideas,” she said.
The general election is Nov. 5.
Meet the candidates
• DISTRICT 1
Occupation: A consultant for Innovation Strategies
Experience: Elected to school board in 2015
Alvin Rutledge Jr.
Occupation: Retired small business owner
Experience: No elected experience
• DISTRICT 3
Occupation: Retired Boeing manager and engineer
Experience: Elected to school board in 2003
Occupation: Digital engagement manager for AAA Washington
Experience: Alliance for Gun Responsibility director, former substitute teacher
• DISTRICT 5
Occupation: Retired district program manager
Experience: Former president of the Washington Educational Research Association
Occupation: Training manager at Snohomish County PUD
Experience: 2020 Facilities and Bond Committee member