Election 2019: Rory Graves, candidate for Edmonds School Board Director District 3

Rory Graves

The Aug. 6 primary election includes multiple people running for Edmonds School District Board of Directors positions. To help voters learn more about the candidates, the My Neighborhood News Network sent a questionnaire to each candidate appearing on the primary ballot.

We will post these as we receive them.

Note that while each school board position represents a specific area, all voters living in the district get to vote for all positions.

Rory Graves is campaigning for District 3, hoping to unseat incumbent Gary Nobel. Other candidates running for the position include Jennifer Call and Boe Lindgren.

Q: Why are you running to be an Edmonds School Board Director? What do you hope to accomplish during your time as a board director?

I am compelled to run in the wake of teacher layoffs that will negatively impact our community. I watched as legislators in our state failed for years to fully fund basic education. Their “solution” to the McCLeary v. Washington decision was frustrating, and left many students behind. I was disappointed when the Edmonds School Board approved layoffs impacting 38 staff members in our district.

I will work to ensure that all students in our district have equitable access to a quality education, and that schools remain safe, culturally competent and trauma-informed spaces for all students. Strong school systems are a product of collaborative planning, detailed financial oversight, and evidence-based curricula that value and meet the neurodiverse and social-emotional needs of every student. I will work to provide oversight of our budget to ensure that we are directing our funds towards those things that directly impact student achievement. I will also work to ensure our district has well-defined goals so that we properly assess our progress.

Q: What experience would you bring as a board director and how is it relevant to the position?

My experience includes working for educational media organizations ParentMap and Seattle’s PBS member station, KCTS 9, serving on the Alliance for Gun Responsibility’s nonprofit board of directors and co-leading a local Girl Scout troop. I’m also the parent of three kids served by the Edmonds School District.

I have been endorsed by the 32nd Legislative District Democrats, the Washington Progressive Caucus, the Snohomish County Young Democrats, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility and the 21st Legislative District Democrats.

Q: In light of the decision to sign a contract with Right at School, which many parents felt they didn’t have time to comment on, how do you think the school district could improve its public engagement process?

The communication around the Right At School program is just one example of the need for better stakeholder input around board decisions in our district. First, it’s important to acknowledge that attending school board meetings requires privilege — transportation, the ability to speak and understand English, availability to attend an evening meeting without work conflicts, a spouse or babysitter at home for young children, etc. This isn’t the reality for many parents. Granted, the board minutes are on the website and the meetings usually accommodate public comments, but opportunities to participate in these important conversations, especially about something that will impact so many families — child care — were far too limited. Technology has the potential to make these meetings more accessible, open up channels for input and make board decisions more transparent.

I think the school board had the best of intentions in adopting the Right at School program — they wanted to make access to child care more accessible and equitable across our district. This past year, nine of 22 elementary and K-8 schools were unable to offer before- and/or after-school care to families, and Right at School promises that it will roll it out to all 22 schools in the coming year. For many families, this is a positive change. But to have these changes in tandem with cuts to a few significantly more affordable school-sponsored programs such as those offered at Boys and Girls Club, Brier and Hilltop exacerbated the frustrations some parents felt.

I also have concerns about how nonprofit organizations that serve our community — the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA — will be impacted. What are the consequences of diverting that revenue to a national, for-profit program without the same community roots? We have better outcomes when all stakeholders have the opportunity to weigh in on these decisions. I emailed the area director of The Boys and Girls Club to ask when they were notified of the district’s plans for Right At School. He said they received a letter on Feb. 27 with the news. That is the same day Edmonds School District announced the changes. I think the district’s neglect to better communicate these changes with these community organizations or negotiate alternative options is inexcusable.

When I’m elected, I will make communication and the opportunity to shape board decisions more accessible.

Q: What plans do you have to ensure financial stability given the $17.7 million budget shortfall the district is facing?

There has been a lot of confusion around the budget challenges the district has faced by voters, and it’s easy to see why — changes at the state level have dramatically impacted where our funding comes from and how it can be used. The list of challenges is long — the levy cliff, lower regionalization calculations, school employee benefit cost hikes, a failed capital gains tax that might have increased funding for special education, fewer staff retirements than anticipated, the list goes on. The good news? The state increased funding to schools by nearly 20 percent over the previous biennium. The bad news? For Edmonds School District, where local taxes have been a major source of funding, new restrictions have vastly reduced our funding and how we can use it.

The incumbent, Gary Noble, said they dipped into the reserves to keep smaller classrooms, with hopes of future financial relief, but “we lost that bet.” We should not be gambling with our children’s education. I think our district would be better served by a budgeting process that is more proactive than reactive. Our board should have spent more time exploring alternative options before laying off teachers. I also think we could do more to advocate to the State about why recent changes are harming our district. I’ve seen conflicting information in different reports around projections for student growth in our district. We should revisit those numbers to better anticipate how state funding will impact our district. 

When elected to the school board, my top priorities will be to fund programs proven to help student outcomes and mitigate educator layoffs. Supporting efforts to bring much-needed revenue into our school, such as the 2020 school bond to help with overcrowded schools, will also be a priority for me. 

Q: What ideas do you have for addressing the more than 500 homeless students in the Edmonds School District?

In every conversation we have about homelessness, it is important to acknowledge that at the root of the homelessness epidemic is the lack of affordable housing. We need fewer Band-Aid fixes for homelessness. Collaboration and coordination across municipalities is crucial. Our school district covers multiple cities and unincorporated parts of Snohomish County.

As a school board member, I hope to work with organizations across our district that are on the frontlines of helping those experiencing homelessness — churches, senior centers, area food banks and nonprofits with local roots such as Beautiful Soles and the Foundation for Edmonds School District. We also have a McKinney-Vento Coordinator in our district to help ensure that students receive the help they need. The McKinney-Vento program is one of the best sources of data that our government has to help understand the prevalence of homelessness in our region — and data informs both funding and policies. When writing a story about homelessness among college students in our state, I learned how much of the support for homeless students abruptly ends when high school students graduate or drop out. I think it’s especially crucial that we find a way to help students experiencing homelessness navigate the transition from high school to college or a career.

Q: How would you work with district staff to encourage and promote fairness and equity for all of the district’s students?

I am an advocate for culturally-competent, social-emotional centered curriculum and staff training. I also think that we need to do more to oversee school policing in our district. School officials have no clear role in supervising or evaluating police officers stationed in our schools, and there are no formal, public-facing reporting tools that I am aware of. We can’t ensure that we are not perpetuating racial disparities in school discipline without proper oversight.

It is crucial that we prioritize the needs and challenges of our children in special education or with IEPs. Parents can be an incredible source of helpful feedback to better support these students.

We also need to ensure that across the district, students have the same access to the same opportunities, from curriculum to the arts to extracurriculars. We can also find ways to provide better support when it comes to things like applying for college or FAFSA — those things that may be more challenging for students whose parents may not speak English or whose parents haven’t received higher education. Data shows that about half of high school graduates fail each year to complete the federal financial aid form. There is a lot of room for improvement on these fronts. 

Q: A 2017 Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families study showed that the Edmonds School District is serving only 28 percent of students eligible for early childhood education assistance. What ideas do you have for expanding the District’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program to accommodate more students?

Partnering with community organizations that serve families and ensuring we are taking into account cultural and language barriers when sharing these resources are good first steps. Not every parent has the flexibility in their schedule to access these programs. There are many successful models to learn from, including those that incorporate an optional, flexible childcare option in tandem with this programming. A plan to further study and document barriers to access can help the district better address this gap, too. Also, advocating for better funding for these crucial programs in our community is something I will focus on. Early childhood investments are some of the most crucial investments we can make to improve future outcomes for all children. 

Q: The district has received feedback from the community that it should have handled the staffing reductions due to budget cuts differently. What ideas do you have for helping to assure teachers’ job security in times of financial stress?

The school board has had an incredibly challenging few years with all of the unfunded mandates and changes at the state level, but they could have done more to save educator jobs. That final decision should not have been made late in the evening the day before contracts were due. We could operate a leaner reserve margin, especially if it means educators will retain their jobs. How can we make the case to state legislators that we need more funding while we have a healthy sum in our reserves?

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

As a parent of three young children, I understand the challenges of living in our region while grappling with the student-loan and housing squeeze. From the high cost of living, to long-commute times, to rising childcare costs, young families are juggling compounding challenges and the school district’s role in helping families navigate those challenges is critical. The makeup of our school board does not reflect the diversity within our community, and those perspectives are crucial for shaping equitable policies. I hope I can help represent the challenges a new generation of parents are facing if I am elected to the school board.

Q: Where can readers go to learn more about your campaign? (website and other contact information if applicable)

My campaign website can be found at Rory-graves.com, or on Facebook at facebook.com/RoryGraves4ESDBoard. You can reach me via email at info@rory-graves.com.

20 Replies to “Election 2019: Rory Graves, candidate for Edmonds School Board Director District 3”

  1. Bravo Rory! Your answers reflected more thought and offered more specific solutions than any of the other candidates. You have our vote!


  2. I request that all Edmonds School Board candidates discuss specifically how they would control spending to avoid budget deficits and layoffs, to avoid what happened recently after the School Board had given away all the McCleary money.


  3. Rory’s responses were clear, concise, and constructive. Edmonds School District needs new, focused, and intelligent representation on the school board. Rory’s qualifications make her the ideal candidate for this position.


  4. “I have been endorsed by the 32nd Legislative District Democrats, the Washington Progressive Caucus, the Snohomish County Young Democrats, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility and the 21st Legislative District Democrats.”

    I’m confused. Isn’t this a non-partisan position?


  5. A non-partisan position, does not mean that a partisan organization can’t support a given candidate in a non-partisan position election. What it does mean is that the candidate does not run as a representative of a partisan group, i.e Republican, Democrat, Socialist, Fascist, etc. If you don’t like the Democratic party ideology, you have the option of voting against the candidate on that basis, even if he or she is not in fact claiming to be a Democrat (guilt by association, so to speak). It is, therefore, to our advantage as voters to know if a partisan group is supporting a given candidate, regardless of whether or not the election is labeled “non-partisan”. It might be a clue as to what their actions will be in office. I’m not writing this comment as either a proponent or a detractor of the Democratic Party. Like prominent and well respected Edmond’s citizen, Ron Wambolt, I consider myself an Independent.


  6. I don’t understand the objection to these party endorsements of candidates for non-partisan positions. The point I was trying to make earlier is that any and all information about a candidate, their partisan leanings or not, is good to have when deciding who you want to vote for or against. Knowing who else is supporting the candidate and where the support money is coming from is valuable information to have. That’s why special interest groups often try to hide who they are giving their support to.

    As an answer to Mr. Richardson’s question, if you are a Republican or right leaning Independent, there probably is no worse candidate to vote for, based on those endorsements. She’s done you a favor, for heaven’s sake by acknowledging them. Of course she could throw you a curve, if she had made a statement to the affect that she has not sought those endorsements. Then you might have to skip the political party rejection shorthand and focus on what she is actually saying and advocating as well as what her opponent(s) are saying and advocating. All political parties do is give an indication of how one might think about the world. They are always an over simplification.


    1. There are two Democrats I am endorsing, one I’m working with his campaign. I was chairman of the local Republican party. We dont care if you’re a Democrat. I am hoping to elect “normal”. We all gotta live here.


      1. Matt has children attending Edmonds Schools, his input/opinions are important, thoughtful, and well researched. Mr. Richardson does not “skip” anything, he IS the new generation of Edmonds who represents many parents. I understand his objections, and respect his opinion.


  7. Exactly. So what’s the big deal if political parties interject themselves into non-partisan elections? I wouldn’t mind knowing what political party a Mayoral candidate aligns him/herself with, but I probably wouldn’t base my vote on it. It’s just another piece of the puzzle.

    Actually, with all due respect, we don’t all have to live here either; we choose to live here if we have the means to do so. Someone who you deem as “normal” might scare me to death and vice versa.

    “Normal” is another one of those tricky words (like “civil”) that means different things to different people. For example, does “normal” mean white, conservative, middle class, like me? Or, does “civil” mean that you know your place and don’t make waves?


    1. I run a business and know not to talk about political wedge issues. A school board director, a mayor even, should know that they need to represent the other 40% too. I used to critisize Republicans for trying to be the red-est ant. No one cares if the dog catcher believes in traditional marriage. It’s bad enough when people are partisan when running for partisan offices. Because of my own political activism, I know it would be sketchy for me to run for certain offices. I could never be a fair judge for example. We need non-activists running schools.


  8. By telling you up front that she is active in the Democratic Party and/or being supported by the Democratic Party, she has given you (and probably many others) your main reason not to vote for her, i.e. she’s an “activist.” Again, I ask, “where’s the problem with that?” If you expect to have only apolitical people running for the school board or any other so called non partisan positions, “good luck”, is all I can say.

    Pretending one is totally apolitical is a fraud most of the time anyway. SCOTUS is a good example of this. I consider myself an Independent but I’m definitely not apolitical.


    1. Non-partisan offices exist because of liability and conflict of interest. Your’re making an argument against non-partisan election altogether. Not that your argument doesn’t have merit, it’s just a big argument. Some offices don’t represent the people (per se) so much as they represent the system (in this case the schools). On the extreme, Judges represent the judicial system. Should a judge engage in partisan activities, then it could be argued that cases they presided over could have been partisan as well. Activism and partisanship are grounds for appeal when animus can be tangibly demonstrated. The system needs faith, so people who are part of the system shouldn’t create puchases for lack of trust to grab onto. The Edmonds School District Board represents the school and steers policy for the non-partisan system we all pay for.

      If you look at the mayor election and the city council elections, some candidates know how sit under the hoop and lay-up. I ran Republican LD candidates here years ago. 60% of the people here will pull a lever for you if you have a [D] next to your name. It’s lazy politics, yet effective. When non-partisan offices go partisan, it’s very hard to reverse that. The system suffers when people can’t separate their politics from their job. Shipley is a Democrat [I’m guessing and don’t care], and I’m supporting him. He’s playing for everyone, and shooting 3’s.


  9. I basically agree with you, Matthew, except your assertion that I’m arguing for making all current non-partisan positions partisan. I definitely am not. I’m arguing that partisan groups have the same right to endorse or oppose a non-partisan candidate as individuals; and the non-partisan candidates have a right to embrace or reject those endorsements as they please. I suspect any law abridging this right would be deemed unconstitutional if tested in the courts. We might not like it that the practice could sway 60% of the vote but we cannot and should not be able to do anything about that in my opinion. You have a right to vote for anyone for any reason you deem appropriate. You certainly have a right to argue in public as to why the 60% should think twice about following the partisan endorsements, however, and more power to you on that tactic.

    As for your points about Brad Shipley for Mayor, I totally agree with you and am supporting him too for exactly the same reasons you are. (Absolute proof that great minds think alike, don’t you think)? I still plan to attend the debates if I can, but my mind is pretty well made up based on what I’ve heard and observed at this point. His sign is in my yard.

    I really enjoy bumping our ideas and viewpoints off of each other here in MEN and apologize to fellow readers when it gets old, as I’m sure it does. The other great right we have is to ignore each other when it gets to be too much. Edmonds is a great town full of good people with diverse viewpoints and that’s a good and healthy thing.


  10. Clint and Matt, what a pair to drew to. Thoughtful, articulate, and reasoned thinking, (most of the time) but willing to listen and learn. Always read what both say.


  11. You guys are the best.
    MEN is a great platform once one is able to make a little elbow room. Teresa totally deserved Citizen of the Year.


  12. Hey all. This is Rory Graves. I appreciate your comments.

    Regarding endorsements, I suggest you take the time to research the endorsements of all candidates if this is an important issue to you. I believe the majority of school board candidates seek endorsements, many by some of the same organizations I have stated I have been endorsed by, though not everyone shared that information in their Q&A. I have seen and spoken to many of them at different endorsement meetings. You should consider attending those meetings in the future, as it is a great place to meet many local candidates and ask them questions. I shared my endorsements to be as transparent as possible. I was also recently endorsed by the Edmonds Education Association in addition to the ones stated here.

    For people who are not self-funding their campaign, endorsements are a huge part of fundraising. Even small campaigns need to raise a not-insignificant sum of money to have a viable campaign (with five seats open for this position in the primary, it’s also a bit more competitive). If you want to see what each candidate has raised, you can go to the PDC site. https://www.pdc.wa.gov/browse/campaign-explorer

    Candidates raising less than $5,000 aren’t required to do as much reporting, FYI, so their accounts may not reflect more recent information.

    Thanks for being engaged.


  13. Great comments and recommendation Ms. Graves. I suggest people look at the contributions section of the various candidates financial statements published in another article here today. The voter will get a very good grasp of who is supporting whom and what the real alliances are between some of the candidates. I see there is some cross support of certain City Council and Mayoral candidates and some financial support of several of the Mayoral candidates by the same persons and/or family members. That to me is more important information in local non-partisan races than any possible party affiliations. Hat’s off to Teresa and crew for getting this information out there.

    Somewhat related to all this is the fact that the SCOTUS has declared that corporations are the same as people in terms of supporting or opposing political candidates. Political parties are considered non-profit corporations. Sorry, Republicans and right leaning Independents, you can’t have this issue cut both ways at your convenience. That ruling definitely didn’t come from the Left of the political spectrum. Sometimes you have to live with what you have wrought.


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