Edmonds School District superintendent, board candidates discuss budget, other issues during Civic Roundtable meeting

Edmonds School District Superintendent Rebecca Miner speaks to attendees at the Edmonds Civic Roundable meeting at the Edmonds Waterfront Center Thursday, Sept. 28.

Attendees at a recent Edmonds Civic Roundtable (ECR) meeting had an opportunity to meet Edmonds School District Superintendent Rebecca Miner and two candidates for the Edmonds School Board of Directors. 

More than 40 people came to the Edmonds Waterfront Center Sept. 28 to hear from Miner and Edmonds School Board District 5 general election candidates – incumbent Nancy Katims and challenger Nicholas Jenkins. District 1 board incumbent Carin Chase had to leave before the presentation began and her opponent, Nicholas Logan, did not attend.

Katims, who currently serves as school board president, has worked in the public school system—particularly in low-income schools—for more than 40 years, from Chicago to small, rural communities in Texas. She also worked in the Edmonds School District for 17 years.

Jenkins is a civil defense litigator and an Edmonds resident who has worked in state and federal courts dealing with defense of contract and civil rights claims.

The Edmonds School District includes the cities of Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, Brier and Woodway, and unincorporated areas of Snohomish County. While the school board candidates represent specific geographic districts, they are elected by voters districtwide.

During her presentation,  Miner covered budget issues, attendance and graduation rates, and priorities that the school district will address in the coming year.

Regarding the district budget, she shared a slide that provided a 2024-25 budget preview:

  • 88% of the budget will go to staffing
  • $2.3 million from a “one-time fund” will pay for 14.5 certified staff (teachers)
  • The district is spending the last $2.5 million from its federal Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds, allocated to school districts during the COVID-19 pandemic. That money isn’t available in 2024-25.
  • The inflationary price deflator (IPD) is projected to increase by 3.9% — a $4 million cost to the district. 
  • The district’s current projected budget is $11.6 million, but this may change throughout the school year.
  • The district’s demographer expects enrollment to decrease again in 2024-25. Enrollment is down by 100 students in 2023-24.

Miner also discussed attendance and graduation rates. The number of students with an attendance rate of 90% or more  dropped from 79% to 63%, while those who attended 80% to 89% of the time increased from 13% in 2019 to 24% in 2022.

“Attendance matters,” Dr. Miner emphasized. “Students who attend school regularly have much better outcomes than those who do not. They feel a greater sense of belonging. They are there to see the entire strand of the learning. This is something we’re working very hard on. We’re helping families on how they can plan [ahead] so their child doesn’t miss a week of school in mid-September. ”

She not only highlighted that higher attendance rates are associated with higher test scores, Dr. Miner described the extra work teachers had to do to help students catch up. “Every day [the students’] teacher is introducing a new math concept, and those are building on each other.” When students miss two days out of 10, for example,  teachers have to make sure students understand what they’re learning, receive an assignment on time, and schedule a make-up test. “You can see how it can get complicated,” Dr. Miner said.

The district’s graduation rate has changed little since 2018. But by ethnicity, Asians rank the highest, followed by whites, two or more races, Blacks and Latinos.

Miner said she hopes that the public will engage with the school board and teachers in implementing the district’s  strategic plan, which includes students, staff and families and communities.

“Our vision is equity, engagement and excellence for each and every student…we really want to advocate for each student by providing learning environments that embrace their cultural and linguistic diversity,” she said.

After Miner answered a few questions from the audience, ECR member Pat Moriarty introduced school board candidates Katims and Jenkins, who addressed the problems that they will tackle.

Nancy Katims

Katims: She highlighted the Edmonds School District’s strategic plan that the school board had developed that has “measurable goals and action plans.” Since the COVID-19 pandemic redirected the school district’s priorities, Katims thinks there is still a lot left to be done, which is why she is running for reelection. 

“Our district’s leadership has already started some initiatives that are bringing a little bit of success,” she said. “For example, we have made a contract with a group called Grad Alliance, which funds some of the students who didn’t graduate on time and bring them back to the system and give them what they need to help them get that diploma.”

Katims added that there needs to be a consistent grading system in all secondary schools so that students get credit for the classes they take (for example,algebra) if they were to move to another school district. 

“Everybody here needs to be advocating to the state Legislature to improve state funding, which is flawed,” she said. “The board needs knowledgeable leaders like myself, and I’m more committed than ever to fight for our students, our staff and our families.”

Nicholas Jenkins

Jenkins: He emphasized that schools need to “get back to basics,” which are English, math, science, art and music. He suggests that the budget should be redirected to these basics. 

“I don’t believe that the budget problems justify cutting programs because school admission is limited to the basics,” Jenkins said. “We have more than enough to achieve that outcome. The problem is that we’re spending too much on things that aren’t the basics.”  

Jenkins also said that the planned school district levy of $500,000 may not help much because that is the superintendent’s salary of $320,000 “plus a little extra.” 

“We need a complete rework of the budget,” he said.

Then ECR member Jay Grant began asking questions from cards submitted by attendees.

Question 1: During the latest cuts, parents felt left out of the decision-making process. How will you work with the parents and the community moving forward? Does this include choosing the curriculum?

Katims: She pointed out that “very few people showed up” during several community budget events that Dr. Miner and Executive Director of Business and Finance Lydia Sellie hosted.

“We have a monthly budget report,” she said. “It’s very open, it’s very transparent. It shows what we have, how much we spend, where we are, are there any red flags. We had a six-hour board meeting that was designed for parents and kids and community to give us input as to what matters. We did not cut music and art. We have music and art going on—and drama.”

Katims pointed out that some of the classes did not have enough students, and a school can’t put one full-time teacher in a class with “seven students in some specialty class and have 35 fourth graders.”

“A lot of the problem has to do with advocating with the state for more money,” she concluded. 

Jenkins: He first acknowledged that school board meetings are where parents and community can weigh in their thoughts with the school board members, but the lack of interest in the community can disconnect both parties. 

“And that lack of interest is not an incentive to the school district to engage,” he said. “Sometimes it’s looking in a room with not very many people. There has to be an opportunity for the school board to let people air their views. So we have this public spirit of discourse where other people listen to the benefit of alternative ideas.”

Edmonds Civic Roundtable meeting attendees listen to presenters.

Question 2: Violence is on the rise. Can you give your insights on returning the SRO (School Resource Officer – which is a police officer) in the school district?

Jenkins: He doesn’t think it’s the “school’s mission” to be doing police work. The school is supposed to educate the children. Jenkins also thinks that people confuse the responsibilities of police officers and teachers.

“This question suggests to me that the person asking believes that the school is responsible for children’s safety from criminal [conduct],” he said. “That is not the problem of the school. That is the problem of the police. If we confuse these topics, then we end up in the budget crisis that we’re talking about. There shouldn’t be any budget pressure to make sure they’re (students are) safe going to school because that’s the budget going to be taken care of in the law enforcement capacity.”

Katims: “We care deeply about our students’ safety and protection in schools. We have a very comprehensive safety plan with a number of different measures that are preventative, mitigation, threat assessment, ways for students to ‘see something, say something,’ she said. 

Katims encouraged people to go on the district’s website and search the keyword “safety,” which provides information about dealing with emergencies and personal safety on campus.

Regarding the SRO, Katims said that it is a “complicated” topic. High schools in the Edmonds School District used to have school resource officers on campus until after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. Some students, parents and teachers advocated for the removal of SROs on campus, which the school board eventually decided to do.

Katims added that current research has not shown that having SROs in schools can protect students. 

 “It is our responsibility to make sure our students feel safe and are safe,” she said.

Question 3:  In your opinion, list three top challenges and your solutions to them.

Katims: “Number one is financing, getting state finance to be fixed. Number two is making sure we’re doing everything to pull our students up to students’ success, and that means guardian rate and ways we can do that. Third challenge is aging buildings. We will be discussing it with Dr. Miner…a bond or another levy to move our sixth graders into middle school, all the curriculum sixth through eight middle school. All the other districts do that and know that it’s better for our kids.”

Jenkins: “Performance. So what’s the solution? Focus on English, math, and science, art and music. That’s it. Money…think about the budget. [Redirect] from peripheral things that have nothing to do with developing those excellent skills. The loss of enrollment, I think it’s intriguing…it’s an inverse relationship. Normally, when you hear a presentation ‘Oh, we’re losing students!’ so therefore we’ve got more resources. So you’d think, ‘Great! We got the same resources with fewer students, so we have more money to spend.’ But no, the decrease of enrollment becomes a crisis because the funding is key. The loss of enrollment is going because people don’t like the quality of education, and I think everyone needs to admit it.

Question 4: What the school district should address the numerous issues and concerns in regards to special education?

Jenkins: He believes that the basics still pertain to special education. “We are not compromising because we made a categorical decision to categorize someone as ‘special,’” he said. “Special education denotes extra services, and extra services [are] proper for any student that needs help.”

In his experience as a defense attorney where he had three cases that parents filed against three different school districts, Jenkins said he had hardly any documentation from the defendants. 

“If you don’t paper this file, when the lawsuit comes, you have to review your child’s education all the way potentially from elementary school,” he said. “That would be 10 to 12 years of the kid’s education. You gotta talk to every teacher involved. Some of them left the district. How do you put together a case to defend the teachers over a 12-year span? But they could only go back three to four years. But you have to go back to the early years.”

Katims: She emphasized that the focus should be on supporting special education teachers,. “Not in terms of doing paperwork, but in terms of meeting the needs of kids,” Katims said.

She said that the school board hired Dr. Miner because of her special education background. The superintendent and the board worked together to develop a plan where they hired a “strong evaluation organization from Washington, D.C.” The firm conducted a full evaluation of the special education program and made detailed recommendations, which are being implemented and are being monitored by the school board, Katims said.

Candidate closing statements

Jenkins: “I encourage everybody to talk to friends and family and encourage them to get interested in what’s going on in the school district.”

Katims: “We need more people to be more aware of the schools, caring about the schools. We need to step up to run for an office. Come work with us. Volunteer at the schools. Talk to our staff. Talk to our kids. At a middle school, I got to talk to five classes about why local elections matter. It was so great, and they got the idea.”

— Story and photos by Nick Ng

  1. Hi Nick,
    Thank you for covering this event and thank you to the Edmonds Civic Roundtable for hosting. I would like to correct the record. I attended the event early and spoke with guests in attendance. I shared that I am available for coffee or a chat to answer questions but unfortunately had to leave early in the program right after the superintendents report.
    Please feel free to contact me at carin@carinchase.com.
    Thanks so much!

  2. “While the school board candidates represent specific geographic districts, they are elected by voters districtwide.”

    So to be clear, you are saying that every voter in the Edmonds School District will be voting for a candidate in each of the three contested races this cycle?

    I suspect you may have intended to write that each board member is elected by their specific geographic district but represents the entire district once in office.

    1. What we wrote is correct — All voters vote for school board members but they do represent a specific district.

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