As a write-in candidate for the Pasco School Board, Kathleen Barton said she knows the possibility of her winning is slim.
But the events leading up to the teachers strike in September showed her that a change is needed in the district’s leadership. Along with a seeming indifference to public opinion, she says the board and district administrators are more focused on being praised for bean counting than student outcomes.
“Schools are not a business and students are not a product,” Barton recently told the Herald editorial board. Scott Lehrman, the board member whose seat she’s seeking, also attended the meeting.
Lehrman, the board’s vice president, says he’s learned a lot during his first two years on the board and that he’s always sought to listen to all sides and to consider all perspectives. Issues such as communication could be improved but he said the district is in need of experienced leadership more than ever and that dissatisfaction with the board as a whole shouldn’t condemn him.
“I hope that voters judge me by my past performance,” he said. “Everyone must be judged on their own merits.”
Ballots for the election were mailed in mid-October and must be postmarked, in the Franklin County Auditor’s Office or in a designated drop box by 8 p.m. Nov. 3.
State law allows school board members to receive $50 per meeting but no more than $4,800 a year. The positions are for a four-year terms.
Lehrman was appointed to the board in 2013 after former board member Ruben Peralta resigned. The father of three and chemical engineer moved to the area in 2003 and works at the Hanford site. His wife formerly worked as a teacher in Pasco and Kennewick.
Barton, whose name is not on the ballot but is registered as an official write-in candidate for the election, was a teacher for 36 years — 19 of them in Pasco — before retiring in 2014. She was also the president of the Pasco Association of Educators in the late ’70s during the last teachers strike before the one that delayed the start of school this fall by nine days.
Despite Barton’s recent retirement, she said she still knows many teachers working in the district and recalls conditions in her final years.
Curriculum issues cited by teachers during the recent contract talks have existed for years, she said. When Barton began teaching world literature at Pasco High School, when she went to her department head and asked for the materials, she was provided 32 textbooks and a teacher’s guide to share with one other teacher in teaching five classes.
In the end, she and the other teacher cobbled together materials through a variety of donations and other resources. But it wasn’t the same used by other world literature teachers at Pasco or Chiawana high schools, leading to inconsistency. She was also a veteran teacher with years of experience at that time, what if a new teacher had come in and faced the same circumstances?
“We’ve received accolades for fiscal responsibility and our reserve fund,” Barton said. “But you can’t justify such a large reserve when so much is left wanting.”
Lehrman said there isn’t uniformity in curriculum across the district and that improvements need to be made but the problems arise more from the shifting goalposts of new educational standards such as the Common Core State Standards and the new standardized tests that accompany them.
Some of his children’s past textbooks and materials have been under utilized with teachers saying they don’t meet standards. When Lehrman later compared them to new books that did meet standards, he found little difference.
“It’s all in labeling,” he said.
Barton criticized how the board handled the selection of its next superintendent and the teachers strike and related contract talks. When she heard who was being considered she said, “I called it and just about everyone I knew did,” predicting Michelle Whitney, the only in-district candidate, would get the top job. Lehrman denied Whitney’s selection was a foregone conclusion.
While Pasco School Board members avoided public comment and had more than 100 pages of legal documents prepared to file against teachers the day after the strike began, members of the board for Seattle Public Schools published an op-ed in the Seattle Times giving their permission and the district’s superintendent noted that the district would attempt to resolve the strike before taking legal action.
“(The district) showed they invested significant time and energy in preparing the lawsuit during contract talks,” Barton said, adding that shows the district wasn’t committed to developing a contract.
Communication with the public during the strike could have been better but having a single spokesperson for the board was the right way to go, Lehrman said. And the board canceled a few regularly scheduled meetings because it had difficulty at previous meeting getting through district business because those attending shouted during the proceedings. Lehrman did stay after that meeting to listen to a presentation given by a community member about a peaceful protest and spoke with at least one individual.
“I want to listen to everybody. I want to have an open mind,” he said.
For more election stories, go to www.tricityherald.com/election.