One of the important races on the ballot this November is the race for School Board Director for District 2 between incumbent Ann McMurray and challenger Mitchell Below. McMurray cites her record during the past 12 years as the reason voters should choose her. I have not seen McMurray display a positive role as the district has grappled with difficult challenges and controversies. I have only seen her take the easiest, most popular position. Leadership requires doing what’s best for our students and their long-term future even if they don’t like it right now. It requires inspiring people to overcome challenges to reach for their personal best. It requires teaching people about all the options and the costs and benefits of each so that they can make truly informed decisions. Leadership is hard, and there is no evidence that Ann McMurray is up to the challenge.
The Edmonds School District serves many high-performing students well, but beyond that, the district is mired in mediocrity. Compared to Everett and Seattle, other local school districts with similar demographics, the Edmonds School District does much worse on standardized tests. Additionally, the Everett School District has substantially higher four- and five-year high school graduation rates. Clearly, the Edmonds School District needs leaders to help improve its performance.
I was baffled by McMurray’s vote to spend $1.5 million on upgraded security systems for schools including web-based surveillance systems inside the school buildings. At the board meeting, the primary rationale for the surveillance systems was to aid police in case of an active shooter situation. However, the likelihood of the system actually saving a life is virtually zero. The money would be better spent on programs that could help prevent school shootings.
Similarly, shifting middle and high school start times to no earlier than 8:30 has been shown to reduce student depression, reduce the risk of obesity and heart disease, improve test scores, and increase graduation rates. While complying with the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics could be challenging, the school board, including McMurray, has chosen the easy way out. Once again, no action has been taken on the proposal to comply with physicians’ recommendations. Where is the leadership?
Examining McMurray’s behavior during the controversy surrounding tire crumb fields reveals much about her leadership ability, or lack thereof.
- When dealing with the controversy, McMurray demonstrated no commitment to truth or integrity and even voted to remove grass fields from school academic use and convert them to artificial turf sports fields that are primarily used by community sports groups.
- She did not vote to withdraw the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) statement for the Woodway Campus site after parents and students testified about numerous, significant, obvious factual errors in it.
- School board policies dictate that any major renovations at a school involve input from all stakeholders at the site. There was no input from current users of the Woodway Campus site.
- Parents, teachers, and students at the Woodway Campus site opposed artificial turf, in part, because the artificial turf would destroy the grass fields that were used on a near daily basis as outdoor classrooms for a wide variety of courses, including ecology and biology courses. According to district records, once installed, the new tire crumb fields were used for fewer than 200 hours in 2016 by district sports teams, primarily boys’ soccer teams from two district high schools. The fields were used for about 1650 hours by community youth sports organizations. School property that was supposed to be used for educating students was removed from that use and converted to community sports fields.
- Woodway Campus site users also expressed concern that the tire crumb fields would expose school and field users to the carcinogens and other toxic chemicals contained in used tires. Testimony has been provided by multiple Ph.D. level scientists, including a toxicologist, health care professionals, and Senator Chase at school board and Edmonds City Council meetings. Two respected local toxicologists even participated in a community meeting about artificial turf. Instead of listening to the community experts, McMurray listened to an industrial hygienist hired by the district, even though the report provided by the hygienist was shown to be biased and filled with errors. McMurray has voted to install ground up, used tires on multiple district fields after being warned about the potential heath risks.
We need someone on the school board who can make the tough decisions and prioritize student education, mental health, and physical health over the desires of corporations that just want to sell our schools expensive used tires or surveillance systems.