Edmonds Candidate Forum: School board hopefuls talk about funding, diversity and more

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Edmonds School Board candidates, from left: Ann McMurray, Mitchell Below, Cathy Baylor and Deborah Kilgore.

Here’s our highlight of the Edmonds School Board portion of Monday night’s candidates’ forum sponsored by the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce, which drew a full house to the Council Chambers. We will have summaries of comments from candidates from the Edmonds Port Commission in coming days. You can see our earlier summary of Edmonds City Council candidates here.

Edmonds School District Board of Directors District 2

Incumbent Ann McMurray

McMurray pointed to her “27 years of active involvement” in the Edmonds School District, including 12 years on the school board. During that time, she said, she has become familiar with the complexities of school issues, from funding to changing demographics.

Mitchell Below

Challenger Mitchell Below

Below is the parent of a first-grader at Maplewood Co-op School, with 3-year-old twin daughters. A content developer and web editor, Below said he would provide needed board representation as a parent with young children.

Edmonds School District Board of Directors District 4

Candidates are running for an open seat

Cathy Baylor

Cathy Baylor

Baylor is a music educator who is passionate about the role of arts in education. A Native American, she directed the district’s Indian Education Program, an experience she says will be invaluable as the district begins to focus on “teaching in a more culturally sensitive way.”

Deborah Kilgore

Deborah Kilgore

Kilgore moved to Lynnwood 11 years ago. All three of her children attend district schools, where she has been a parent volunteer. An educational researcher at the University of Washington, Kilgore has spent close to 20 years “writing about how diverse people learn and works in education.”

Here were the questions, as posed by forum moderator David Cornell:

What are your priorities for the district in the coming year and why and how did you select these issues?

McMurray: Her first priority is to navigate the ramifications of the state Legislature’s fix this summer to address the McCleary decision, which required the full funding of basic education. Her second priority, she said, “has to do with the changing demographics of the district and making sure we are looking at how to best include in the way that the community is changing.”

Below: Agreed with McMurray that the first priority is funding. “The state budget that was passed in July radically changed the way that our districts are funded and capped what we would be able to collect in property tax value as part of our levy,” Below said, “and it also changed what we can spend that money on.” His second priority: “to remove barriers to participation for all the diverse members of our community in our school board meetings and the administration.”

Kilgore: “My first priority is to represent our integrated neighborhood schools,” she said, adding that’s why she decided to run for school board. “Class size is the number-one thing we need to address before anything else,” she said. “Class size has a positive effect on grades, behavior, test scores, self-esteem, attendance, kids are more likely to graduate…more likely to get good jobs, less likely to be in poverty.”

Baylor: The McCleary funding issue is a very high priority, she said, given that it isn’t clear what the results of the Legislature’s work will be. “That money has to be watched like a hawk,” she said. She added that her “personal passion” is race and equity, noting that she has dealt with those issues in the Edmonds School District since she was 12 years old.

We are set to receive 30,000 residents in the Edmonds School District over the next 15 years, perhaps adding 6,000 children to our already-filled schools. How will you ensure that the district is able to meet the needs of our growing population.

Baylor noted that population trends and school district enrollment “have kind of crossed purposes,” noting that the district had more than 35,000 students in the late 1960s but just 19,000 students in the current school year, “despite the fact that we know our population has grown.” The bigger issue, she said, is that the cost of living is causing families to leave the district in search of cheaper homes.

Kilgore said that one of the board’s key roles related to meeting the district’s needs, especially when it comes to funding, will be advocacy with the state Legislature. “I’m prepared to represent our district, our interests in Olympia, and make sure we get what we need from the state,” she said. She added she is also committed to representing the needs of the district’s diverse neighborhood schools on the school board.

Below said he wants to ensure that the district administration is “working hand in hand with the county planning commissions, with the city planning commissions in forecasting where that growth is going to occur. We may know in general that our district will grow but what’s important is school by school, within each boundary, what can we expect.”

McMurray said she agrees with Below’s suggestion regarding growth forecasts, but noted that she also agreed with Baylor’s earlier assessment “that sometimes at least lately for the past several years, the growth and population has not brought about the number of kids that we have expected. The district is in a position of having to really dial down and figure out what is happening with enrollment,” she said.

About 90 percent of the Edmonds School District staff is white. Over 50 percent of the student population are students of color. How are you going to work to increase the diversity across the staff and provide students with teachers that reflect this diverse community.

Below suggested the district go to universities with diverse graduates and recruit them to the school district. “Diversity is a strength, not a weakness, and I think we need to show potential candidates what is so appealing about teaching in Edmonds. We have a fantastic school system and we do need our faculty to better represent the diversity of our students.”

McMurray pointed to a “Teachers of Color” initiative led by school board member Diana White, with the goal of actively recruiting culturally diverse teachers into the district as well as retaining existing teachers and staff of color.

Baylor said the district is doing “wonderful work” with its current race and equity plan, which includes 24 recommendations following a comprehensive study. “It’s just a matter of prioritizing what should be done first and going forth,” she said. Baylor added she believes the next step is providing professional development for teachers. “I’ve had teachers come to me and say ‘please help me…teach in a more culturally sensitive way,” she said.

Kilgore pointed to the need to provide “culturally relevant education…so that all of our students have a fair chance at an excellent education. As an example, she noted that Lynnwood High School is offering a course in ethnic studies instead of the senior year government and history course. Hiring teachers of color is also key, as is ensuring that divers neighborhood schools are represented, she said.

What is your experience in public education and how has that influenced what you would do as a board member?

McMurray said she has appreciated the public school system as both a former student  and as a parent whose children went through the school district. “I just think that the public school system is really the entry point for kids to learn about who they are and what they can do,” she said.

Below said he grew up as the child of a single parent and appreciated the help he received from his teachers while attending public schools. “Now I volunteer in my son’s classroom at Maplewood and I am giving back every day to him and his classmates what I gained from the system,” he said.

Kilgore noted that she’s a product of public education and has been volunteering in the schools for the past nine years. “In my work life I have done a lot of work, research with diverse populations and how diverse people learn,” she said.

Baylor said that both her mother and father were high school dropouts and her family traveled around the U.S. as they looked for work. “I went to seven schools in seven years,” she said, “and in every place there was a phone book where we could open up and find the local public school. For me public schools are so important and we have to protect their existence at all costs.”

— Story and photos by Teresa Wippel

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