The election-year race for a hotly contested vacant Peninsula School Board seat is ramping up.
The three candidates for the District 4 spot participated in a forum Thursday morning at Cottesmore of Life Care.
Candidates Leslie Harbaugh, Garth Jackson and Zachary Smith took turns answering questions at the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s regular morning public affairs forum.
All three candidates pointed to a growing divide in the community, especially between the board and some voters who have twice denied capital levy measures in the last two years.
“I feel like there’s been a trust deficit with the board in the last few years,” Smith said.
Harbaugh, whose resume includes many years of volunteer involvement with the district, said she wants to be a peacemaker on the board who can hear both sides and work with the community.
She said she would be able to “hit the ground running” in what the longtime parent volunteer called “the ultimate volunteer position.”
Harbaugh was co-chair of the Vote Yes Twice committee that spearheaded the bond and levy campaigns last summer.
Smith used his closing statement to speak directly to Harbaugh’s supporters and ask them if she had become a “face of animosity” in the community and if it’s wise she be elected to the board. Her election could further divide the community, he said.
“My support of the district is based on data,” she said. “I do belong on the school board. I put in a lot of time and effort.”
Another issue the candidates talked about at length was the influence of the state and federal government; topics included common core, teacher evaluations and funding. Funding has been a hot topic this spring, with teachers taking part in rolling walkouts across the state to protest a lack of state funding.
Harbaugh sympathized with the school district having its hands tied by state hold-outs.
“It is really difficult to put together a school budget if you don’t know how much money you are getting from the state,” she said.
The budget can also be hard on teachers, she said, who are finding themselves constrained by less money and more responsibilities.
“Our teachers work hard to try to meet the unfunded mandates that are coming down from the state government,” she said.
Smith said he supports teachers and would like to see their COLA, or cost of living adjustment, raised.
“If we can keep good teachers, we can preserve the quality of our kid’s education,” he said.
Jackson, who earned his teaching degree after retiring from a career in engineering, spoke about how increasing constrictions on teachers can disrupt each teacher’s unique style which sets them apart.
“Control has to be with the teachers and the classroom,” Jackson said.
He said he got into the race because he believes that public education needs to be redirected.
“Public education is kind of flowing down a stream, and it’s not in the right direction,” he said. “We end up with a very narrow assembly line of education,” he said.