WENATCHEE — Wenatchee School Board president Sunny Hemphill, swept into office in 2017 as part of a trio of candidates running on a joint platform, is facing a challenge for the post from retired businessman Martin Barron.
The race for the at-large Position 3 is one of two board contests to be decided Nov. 5 by voters. The board has five members.
Barron said he brings needed teamwork skills to the table.
“I listen first, join with partners and specialist resources, build trust and use goodwill, which will find the right way for board, district and the whole community to work together effectively,” he said.
Hemphill said she has proven her leadership skills through the process of hiring new Superintendent Paul Gordon, who started in July. She would like to support his efforts as the district confronts continued financial challenges.
“I have proven my ability to accomplish goals that elevate our district’s ability to serve students and community,” she said.
The Wenatchee World asked the candidates to respond to questions about issues that have been topics of discussion during the past year.
Wenatchee World: What do you think is more important and why — improving graduation rates or school security? Improving facilities or test scores?
Martin Barron: Most services and amenities provided by a school district support each other. The most favorable result is achieved when they are balanced. Saying one is more important than another is a misdirection. We want to do the best we can in all four areas.
The questions ask about two common measures of results as compared to a social environment (security) and a physical environment (facilities). All are interdependent. Under extreme situations, which I do not believe apply to Wenatchee, students could be so unsafe that security becomes most important or facilities could be so poor that learning is severely harmed. Being “most important” is temporary until the extreme situation is fixed.
A board member’s duty is to approach all decisions with an open mind. The board and superintendent listen to justifications in favor of particular actions or goals and then weigh them up.
Differences in funding availability can influence choices. Capital funds for facilities may be easier to obtain than operating money. There might be partner funding for something specific, like security.
Sunny Hemphill: All of those priorities are important and can’t really be separated. Children who feel safe at school will learn more readily. When facilities match needs, once again, learning is enhanced. Everything the district does is intended to create the best environment for student learning. The board’s responsibility, in collaboration with the community, is to establish a strategic plan that produces the educational outcomes the community values and supports. Every budget has limits, and every budget is a moral document.
What we value is where we will put our money. And the money we spend to educate children is all public money — an investment by the community in the future. The board’s job is to keep our schools safe and improve facilities while improving learning and proficiency and helping every student graduate into our economy and community.
WW: How should the district prioritize spending in the face of declining enrollment, competition from a charter school and state funding changes?
Barron: A good consultant called in to help solve problems begins by asking questions. I do not have the detailed knowledge a consultant would discover, but the district budget for 2019-20 and four-year projection seem to be a reasonable and responsible stabilizing plan. The current year can be used to create a new strategic plan, search for efficiency improvements and dimension the three listed factors.
In my January letter to the board I wrote about “5-point problem solving” when allocating funds. Call the three expense categories: What infrastructure? Which programs? Which people? We must aim to achieve more efficient use of funds through flexibility, collaboration and a willingness to change. The allocation must comply with state and federal mandates.
The problem-solving process is clear. A budget is a quantified plan, not just a cost estimate. Assumptions have to be validated. Stakeholders recommend goals and priorities. The board members’ duty is to listen to and represent all interests during the journey to the approval. The end point is knowable only after the work is done.
Hemphill: Our spending and energies must be student-centric. Public schools exist for one purpose: To educate children and prepare them for the future. Meeting that goal within budget limits means knowing what works and where challenges lie. The district must become rigorous about putting our budget dollars where they will do the most good. My opinion is that early childhood education (birth to age 5) must become a spending priority. Somewhere near 70% of our students come to kindergarten unready to learn. If you look at proficiency rates in schools across our district, it’s clear that too many of our children never catch up to their peers. Remediation is far more expensive than preparation.