If valor awards were given to elected officials for performing tough, often thankless, duty under fire, Tacoma School Board members should be near the front of the line.
They may have felt like they’d gone to war this past year. A week-long teacher strike was followed by a $30 million deficit blown into the district budget, forcing a series of unpopular cuts and layoffs. Then they limped into the new school year with their command post depleted by one: Board President Karen Vialle, who died of cancer.
What Tacoma Public Schools needs now is a new generation of leaders, able to heal wounded public trust while assimilating veteran knowledge on the five-member board and in the superintendent’s office.
While each of the four candidates on the Nov. 5 ballot impressed us, The News Tribune Editorial Board endorses Lisa Keating for Position 1 and Enrique Leon for Position 2. (Vialle’s Position 5 seat will be filled separately, by appointment rather than election.)
For us, Keating gets the nod over board stalwart Debbie Winskill, only because 30 years is a long time to serve — plus six more, if Winskill wins reelection — and the district needs to develop new stalwarts.
Keating is a product of TPS schools and has a daughter at Wilson High. An admirable passion for marginalized students drives the 48-year-old West End resident, whether she’s leading an arts-based anti-bullying program for elementary students or lobbying for transgender student safety legislation in Olympia.
She’s spent long hours talking to students and staff in classrooms and cafeterias at several Tacoma schools. She’s attuned to hurt feelings that persist in parts of the community after the 2018 strike. And she speaks thoughtfully about ways the board can open lines of communication.
Keating clearly still has a lot to learn — about budgets and union negotiations, for starters. If elected, she’ll have to look out for all of the 30,000-plus TPS students, not just be a champion for the most vulnerable and misunderstood.
Winskill, by contrast, is a font of institutional knowledge. The 71-year-old North End resident is budget-conscious, battle tested and has a strong backbone. She was the only board member not to sign a statement condemning a Wilson teacher for writing a controversial TNT op-ed about diversity education last March. Her reasoning was sound: The board hadn’t discussed it and the teacher was entitled to his opinion.
We’ve endorsed Winskill in past elections and believe she’ll keep serving well if reelected. The Tacoma School Board has no term limits, unlike the City Council. But there comes a time to step aside so new leaders can emerge.
In the other race, Leon represents a nice balance between new recruit and tested veteran. The 50-year-old family practice physician was appointed to fill a board vacancy last year, then quickly thrown into the red-hot crucible.
Leon previously earned our primary election endorsement. As we noted then, he has a trained eye for what helps children thrive from his 12 years serving the Eastside Salishan neighborhood and years practicing at the Community Health Center. Placing healthcare clinics inside Tacoma schools is one of his bolder ideas.
That the Peru-born Leon would make his mark on public education almost seems like destiny; his parents are retired teachers, his wife is a school counselor and he has two children in TPS schools.
Leon’s opponent is Kristopher Kerns, a Tacoma native and father of three. The 34-year-old graduate student does medical research and is vice president of Point Defiance Elementary PTA.
Kerns gives voice to everyday parent frustrations: outdated technology, inequities between schools and having to arrange to stay home during teacher strikes.
Despite the grueling School Board battles of the past year, newcomers Kerns and Keating bravely volunteered for active duty — and for that Tacomans should be grateful.