With an enrollment of more than 22,250 students, the Puyallup School District ranks as the eighth largest school district statewide.
At least 1,600 more students are expected to enroll in district schools in the next five years and for this reason, the PTA forum held Oct. 7 at Rogers High School drew a crowd of interested voters.
The purpose of the forum for the school board and Puyallup City Council candidates was to provide an opportunity for them to share information and engage with the community, said Megan Klein, president of the Puyallup PTA Council.
“As an advocacy organization, we felt we filled the bill to step up and provide the forum,” Klein said.
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In preparation for the event, three questions were presented to each school board candidate before the forum.
“This is a forum, not a debate, and candidates have two minutes to answer each question,” she said.
Candidates for school board positions in attendance were incumbent Dane Looker, who’s running for Position 2, and incumbent Pat Jenkins and Michael Keaton, both running for Position 3.
Derek Maynes, also running for Position 2, and incumbent Chris Ihrig, running unopposed for Position 5, were not in attendance.
The first question posed to the school board candidates was: “What is your experience and what is your vision for our schools over the next four years?”
Looker said he has served on the school board for the last four years.
“There is a steep learning curve as this is a big, complex organization. My vision is simple — I want to hear hammers building schools because we are flat out of space,” he said.
Jenkins, who was elected to the school board in 2011, said he wanted to provide the best possible educational experience for everyone and be responsive to the entire community, while Keaton explained he was a product of the Washington state school system and had served in the Air Force.
“My vision is that four years from now our graduation rates will be higher,” Keaton said.
The second question dealt with the McCleary decision and stated: “This decision has brought issues of equity in funding to the forefront. How can the school board work with our legislators to ensure full funding for basic education?”
This is an extremely complex issue, Jenkins said.
“The Legislature had a difficult job, but it can be done. I encourage our Legislature to work as vigorously as possible to continue to find a way to provide a fair and adequate way to fund our schools.”
Keaton said the cost per student has tripled in the last 30 years with no increase in scores, and Looker pointed to a question of revenue.
“We have been unable to pass a bond since 2004. If we can get the majority reduced to 50 percent plus one, we can pass a bond,” he said.
The third and last question to the Puyallup School Board candidates dealt with the bond that is on the ballot in the Nov. 3 election.
“Do you believe the proposed bond is necessary? How will it benefit or hurt in your opinion.”
Keaton said it was critically important to pass the bond, and both Jenkins and Looker agreed.
“Absolutely,” said Looker, adding, “Our principals’ offices are being used as classrooms.”
Jenkins added, “I voted with the rest of the board to put this before the voters. There is no better time and no better reason to pass this bond.”
One of the questions posed by audience members dealt with the weight of students’ backpacks.
All three candidates agreed this is an important issue and needs to be addressed. Jenkins said the school district is discussing a variety of devices to take the place of heavy textbooks.
The PTA Council oversees 22 PTAs in the Puyallup School District and is the only council in the state of Washington to experience growth, Klein said.
Hosting city council and school board forums is right up the council’s alley, she explained.
“A lot of times people think of the PTA only as cookie dough and wrapping paper, but we are all about advocacy at the Legislative and grass-roots level,” she said.