We endorse: Enrique Leon earns full term on Tacoma School Board

School board races often fly under the radar, eclipsed by top-of-the-ballot contests. That’s not the case this year. The chatter calling for a shakeup on the Tacoma Public School Board is hard to ignore, and given TPS’s tumultuous year, it’s understandable.

But we’re here to say a change, at least for Position 2, isn’t warranted.

Last year Enrique Leon was appointed to fill a school board vacancy from a field of more than two dozen applicants. The 50-year-old family practice physician was the right choice then, and he’s the right choice now.

Leon faces two challengers in the Aug. 6 primary. Position 1 is also up for election this year, but goes straight to a November runoff.

Born in Peru, Leon comes from a family of educators. He credits his parents’ service-focused careers — both are retired teachers — for leading him to medicine. His wife works as a school counselor.

It’s no surprise, then, that Leon is both clinician and teacher. He’s on faculty at the University of Washington Medical School, where he trains students and residents in rural and under-served urban medicine. At the Tacoma campus, he’s on the Community Advisory Board and lectures in the Global Studies program.

Leon’s career has one broad theme: improving community healthcare. His 12 years serving Tacoma’s Eastside Salishan neighborhood and years of practice at the Community Health Center taught him what helps children thrive and what doesn’t.

Voters should embrace this skillset, especially today when one in three adolescents suffers from an anxiety disorder and bullying festers on school campuses. Having a healthcare expert advocating for a new paradigm makes sense.

One of Leon’s bolder recommendations is to put healthcare clinics inside Tacoma schools. He stands behind a partnership with MultiCare and speaks at length on the challenges learners face when health issues go untreated.

For those wanting to clean house, it should be noted that at the time of Leon’s 2018 appointment, the district was already careening toward a fiscal crisis. The Legislature’s court-ordered school-funding reform plan resulted in a $30 million budget cut for Tacoma. Concurrently, a strong teachers union was building its case for overdue raises.

You know the rest of the story: A teachers’ strike delayed the start of the 2018-19 academic year by a week, and a slashed budget meant many programs and people got sacrificed. The district cut 43 administrative positions earlier this year, and will operate with 116 fewer school-based staff and 40 administrative and central office staff next year.

Leon, who has two kids in TPS schools, says the cuts were painful but necessary. He acknowledges closed teacher contract negotiations led to diminished public trust and he wants to improve communication and transparency.

Leon’s passion for Tacoma schools is matched by challenger Kristopher Kerns, a Tacoma native and father of three. The 34-year-old works as a graduate student researcher at the University of Washington School of Dentistry and is vice president of the Point Defiance Elementary PTA.

Kerns studied education and is fluent in the language of pedagogy. But he also carries the voice of young parents frustrated with problems such as outdated technology, inequity between schools and having to take time off work and stay home during teacher strikes.

Tacoma would be lucky if Kerns runs for school board again; he strikes us as a rising star.

The third candidate for Position 2 is John Marsden, another parent willing to step off the sidelines and get involved. Whitman Elementary students have this single father of two to thank for fighting for a grant to clean up a park on school grounds.

We would’ve liked to hear directly from Marsden, but he didn’t appear for our scheduled interview session.

In the final reckoning, Enrique Leon emerges as the top choice and deserves a full six-year term to make his mark.