Featuring three first-time candidates, the District 4 race for the Peninsula School Board is headed for the primary ballot in August.
Harlan Gallinger, who held the seat since 2012, announced he would not seek re-election in May. In June, Gallinger’s seat was vacated because he registered to vote outside of the district. An interim board member will be appointed on July 30 to serve until the election. The elected representative will serve a four-year term.
Three candidates are looking to fill the hole left by Gallinger’s departure. Without an incumbent to challenge, contenders Leslie Harbaugh, Garth Jackson and Zachary Smith have all registered to run.
Harbaugh is an active parent volunteer in the district. She’s held PTA positions at Artondale Elementary and Kopachuck Middle schools. For the last eight years she has been a representative on the Parent District Council, a position she says has given her a wealth of experience in the district. Last year, she was a chair of the Vote Yes Twice campaign for the failed levy and bond combination.
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“For better or worse, the (campaign) gave me experience,” she said. “It taught me to be fearless because you’re working for something bigger than yourself.”
Jackson is a former engineer who turned to a teaching career later in life. He taught math and science for 12 years in both public and private schools. A Gig Harbor resident for 41 years, his four children all attended Peninsula schools. Once his last child left for college, Jackson began to pursue his teaching credentials.
Smith, who hails from McCleary (Grays Harbor County), is a self-described proud product of Washington public schools. He now works for Evergreen Eye Center after a long career in the U.S. Navy Reserve, serving in the Medical Service Corps. Smith has five young children, three of whom are students in the district.
All three candidates cite strong teachers as a positive of the district. Smith lists retaining good teachers among his top priorities. For him, a few very involved teachers made a huge impact on his life. That’s why maintaining those involved and committed educators is important.
“It’s hard to measure how good a teacher is, but if you ask the kids, they’ll know,” he said.
Harbaugh said that when it comes to setting curriculum, teachers are a major asset for the district because they have experience.
“They’re boots on the ground — they’re the front line,” she said.
One of the issues facing teachers are mandated standards on both the state and national level, one example being Common Core. That’s something Jackson, as a teacher, has seen firsthand.
“Teachers are losing more and more and more independence,” he said, saying that at times mandated standards can turn a teacher, from his perspective, into “a playback machine.”
There are issues facing the district, chief among them funding. In District 4 especially, the school district must consider the future of the Artondale Elementary building. The building was a topic of debate during the levy campaign in 2013. At the time, the district was asking voters to replace the school, which is the oldest in the district.
Smith wants much more information before making a decision but said the district should weigh the best option when it comes to repairing or replacing.
Harbaugh, the parent of a former Artondale student, said she knows the school will need to be addressed soon, but for now the building is usable.
“It is safe. If it wasn’t safe we wouldn’t have kids there,” she said. “We just need to find a solution the community will support.”
A capital bond has not passed in the district since 2003, despite several attempts to pass further measures. Jackson said the board and the district need to rebuild a relationship with the electorate after the last several bond and levy campaigns failed. He felt the combination levy and bond seemed like the district was running two measures just to see if one could get through. To him, it seemed like a lack of trust in educated voters.
“If (the campaign) had been more straightforward with the voters, the (measure) probably would have carried,” Jackson said.
In another go-around for funding, Harbaugh said, the district and board may need to compromise on the project list. The last project list was based on a strategic plan report; that may need to be revisited and the project list may need to be pared down.
“It’s going to be behind schedule, but we already are,” she said.
Most pressing is a Maintenance and Operations levy that will need to be renewed soon. The candidates expressed concern that the levy may see difficulty passing.
Each candidate sees positives in the district’s work. Harbaugh, who is regularly involved in district activities, said it’s important to look for the positives.
“We have great schools,” she said. “Sometimes it’s easier to focus on the negatives, but overall we have great schools.”
For Smith, it’s special programs. His daughter is in the highly capable program at Voyager. He also likes the potential of the AVID, which focuses on college and career readiness.
Jackson, like Smith, thinks the district is making strides with new programs like the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program. He is also happy the district takes steps to recognize and reward successful teachers.
“I think (the teachers) have to know the board and community supports them,” he said.
Ballots have already been mailed to registered voters and are due Aug. 4. The top two vote-getters will progress to the November general election.