Critics of the Peninsula School District Board of Directors have grumbled that in years past, the board made little effort to be transparent. They said board members — and the community as a whole — paid for the poor communication with a failed bond/levy campaign in 2014.
After several board members either left the district or decided not to run again, the new group set its sights on repairing the strained relationship with the community.
The current slate of board members has done a solid job healing those wounds. Their efforts delivered results in February when overwhelmingly positive vote numbers came in for the renewal of the district’s operations levy.
The levy passed easily, getting more than 70 percent of the vote, a number some thought was unattainable going in.
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While that was definitely a moment to take pride in, now the real work begins. To help the board achieve the next milestone — ideally a bond package that asks for a significant amount of taxpayer dollars to address the district’s overcrowding issues — the board needs strong, focused and experienced members who are in touch with the district’s needs.
The Nov. 7 race for Position 5 on the school board pits incumbent David Olson versus Noelle Balliett.
Olson, a 12-year Gig Harbor resident and business banking officer for US Bank whose wife and adult son are teachers, decided to run for a second term primarily because he wants to see a upgrades to current facilities and a new school built.
Balliett, a working mother of a fourth-grader at Harbor Heights Elementary who has lived in the area for four years, is a licensed clinical psychologist who works with veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. One of her top priorities is using her professional background to help foster the emotional well-being of both students and staff in an environment where learning and satisfaction flourish.
The Peninsula Gateway Editorial Board endorses Olson as the better candidate.
The most dire needs facing the district center on overcrowding and the substandard condition of some facilities. Olson has been in tune with maintenance needs for years and has publicly stressed the need to build a new school, funded by a long overdue capital measure. Having been a member when the bond/levy package failed, he learned from previous missteps and learned how to better communicate with the community about district needs.
While some have tried to paint him as a partisan in a nonpartisan race because of his Republican campaign donors, Olson has steadfastly declared he makes decisions based on what’s best for students, such as when he showed support for the district policy that accommodates transgender students.
There is no doubt Balliett would also be an asset to the district. As an involved parent, she understands the challenges students and staff members face in the classroom. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a doctorate in clinical psychology, she has the insight and ability to look out for their health. Balliett could also be an ambassador to drum up support for a capital measure and not talk down to voters.
But Olson has his own strong list of accomplishments. He was fully behind the hiring of Superintendent Rob Manahan, who has provided a jolt of energy to the district. Olson’s connections have also helped bring in community members from various trades to partner and bolster vocational classes and enhance secondary programs.
The district has shown it has the tools to keep the mental and physical health of its students, teachers and staff members at a high level.
However, it faces an uncertain future when it comes to prioritizing facility needs and formulating a game plan for a capital measure rollout. That is where Olson can be a valuable contributor.