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Originally published October 17, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 26, 2007 at 9:31 AM

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Edmonds, Marysville and Everett school boards

The normally sedate Edmonds School Board elections are aswirl with controversy. Challenger Jon Howeiler says it's a conflict of interest...

Times Snohomish County Bureau

The normally sedate Edmonds School Board elections are aswirl with controversy.

Challenger Jon Howeiler says it's a conflict of interest for incumbent Gary Noble to serve on the School Board because his wife is a teacher in the district.

Since joining the board, Noble has abstained from voting on the teacher contract or participating in executive-session discussions about it.

Howeiler said he wouldn't have to exempt himself from those discussions.

"Teacher pay is a huge chunk of the district's budget. The board is at a disadvantage if one member can't participate."

A legal opinion issued to the district last week concludes that there is no conflict of interest because Noble's wife, hired in 1990, was already an employee when Noble joined the board in 2003. Because his wife is compensated under a district collective-bargaining unit and does not receive special treatment, "there is no impropriety with Mr. Noble's continuation as a Board Member," the opinion states.

On the campaign trail, Noble points to positive changes in the district over the past four years, including improved communication, a strategy to sell or lease commercially valuable district property to offset the costs of future school-construction projects, and rising academic achievement.

He said the district's most pressing challenge is to address poor math skills. It has launched a $1.3 million math initiative and plans to revamp elementary and high-school math curricula.

"What I'm hearing from voters about the district is overwhelmingly positive, much more so than four years ago," Noble said.

Howeiler, a former teacher and school administrator, said more emphasis and resources should be placed on teacher quality to improve student achievement, student connectedness and graduation rates.

"I don't think the district is talking about the achievement gap," he said, pointing to the district's poor graduation rates and the lower test scores of poor and minority students.

The second contested Edmonds School Board race has also sparked controversy. The Edmonds Education Association, which said it typically does not endorse candidates, is throwing its support and a $300 donation to Pat Shields over challenger Alan Weiss, retired principal of Edmonds-Woodway High School.

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Weiss was praised during his 11-year tenure for raising academic achievement at Edmonds-Woodway and recruiting an energetic corps of young teachers. But the teachers union points to district discipline records that show Weiss was repeatedly warned about his sometimes hostile and disrespectful relations with the teaching staff. He was suspended without pay for three days in 2004 for responding in a threatening tone to a teacher's e-mail.

Weiss said he had to push teachers who were comfortable with the status quo to raise teaching quality and academic expectations. The 42-year educator said he would work collaboratively as a board member and would visit schools, observe teachers and talk to students.

"I don't see this as a position where you show up once a week," he said.

He said the curriculum and teaching in all schools should be aligned to national standards and more Advanced Placement courses made available at all high schools to make the educational offerings more equitable.

Shields said the district has made progress in closing the achievement gap by directing more money to schools with greater needs. The math initiative approved by the board last spring will include professional development to translate it into classroom learning, he said.

Shields questioned whether Weiss' work at Edmonds-Woodway to raise academic standards would apply to the district's more diverse high schools.

But Shields supports more access to high-level courses at the high schools. "We have an energized district, a more open and collaborative board and more community involvement. There's an enthusiasm about the district that wasn't there before," he said.

Everett School Board

Two political newcomers are vying for an open seat on the Everett School Board. Carol Andrews, a Mill Creek resident, said she hopes to bridge the economic and social divide between schools in the more urban, diverse city of Everett and those in the more suburban, Seattle-oriented Mill Creek.

Academic achievement remains the biggest problem, she said. She wants to see schools identify and support struggling students and hopes to work with school boards from other districts to increase state funding for education.

Her opponent, Susan Kaftanski, said Everett schools are losing families to surrounding districts with higher academic achievement. She noted that Kamiak High School in Mukilteo had eight National Merit semifinalists while Everett high schools had none.

Kaftanski said she would consider asking high-school students to use public transportation instead of school buses to save money and would look for other savings so more could be spent on academics.

Marysville School Board

The Marysville School Board decided several contentious issues in the past year on 3-2 votes. Among the controversies were breaking Marysville-Pilchuck High School into smaller learning communities and deciding not to expand the popular K-5 Cooperative Education Program to middle school.

Incumbent Cindy Erickson, who is running for Position 2, said she was in the majority on those votes. Marysville, with lower test scores than the state average and a higher dropout rate, could benefit from the more personalized education promised by small schools, she said.

She voted against expanding the co-op, she said, because of the time and money it would divert from districtwide initiatives such as math and literacy.

Challenger Don Wlazlak, a former county budget analyst, said he was alarmed by the number of 3-2 votes on the School Board. Wlazlak supports the small learning communities but wants to make sure students get the classes they need.

He said he would have voted to expand the parent co-op program because it has a high level of parent involvement and high test scores.

Incumbent Darci Becker, who is seeking to retain her Position 3 seat, voted to expand the parent co-op. She said it's a successful program in a district where middle-school students struggle to make connections and feel safe. She said the district needs more follow-through on its discipline policies.

Her opponent, Steve King, co-owner of the Smokey Point Diving shop, did not respond to requests for interviews.

Incumbent Sherri Crenshaw, who is seeking re-election to Position 5, said the district is moving in a positive direction by passing levies and bonds after years of failed measures, and continued community support will allow the district to decrease class size and improve teacher training and curriculum.

The addition of math coaches and professional development for teachers will help improve student learning, she said.

Her opponent is Lisa Vares, an Arlington police officer and former Marysville city councilwoman. Vares did not respond to requests for interviews.

Lynn Thompson: 425-745-7807 or lthompson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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