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Students test school board candidates at forum

Students at Federal Way High School brought a new perspective to the three school board races during a forum Oct. 10 at the campus.

Social studies, business law, history and journalism students gathered in the school's little theater and asked the six candidates questions ranging from familiar topics of debate to issues of relevance to high school students.

Some of the most popular questions regarded closed campuses and personal electronics such as iPods and cell phones. When told by the forum moderator that she was about to answer the most popular student question, District 2 candidate Suzanne Smith accurately predicted it would regard one of the two issues.

The Federal Way School District has required students to remain on campus during lunchtimes for many years, but students allege the rules were not enforced until this year.

"You have been subject to a rule that was not enforced and now it is. That's kind of tough sometimes," said District 2 candidate Len Englund.

Smith supported the closed campuses.

"To keep students safe, we need to know where they are," she told them.

Another concern many students had regarded rumors that the district planned to take away elective course opportunities.

Englund responded by telling students that he wanted to see them succeed.

"To do that, you're going to have to buckle down and be a little studious, anyways," he said.

Smith showed support for electives. She said classes that students choose are necessary to fulfill their passions and help them develop a 13th year plan.

"I liked the lady," sophomore Alina Himichuk concluded after the debate, adding that she could relate to Smith's personal examples and references to her high-school age daughter.

Kristine Cruz, a junior, thought that Smith was the better candidate.

"She was very articulate and she was very detailed in what she was saying," Cruz said. "It seemed like (Englund) was just touching on the topic but he wasn't delving into it."

Cruz said she is confident her parents will consider her opinions before making their vote.

For District 3 candidates, board incumbent Evelyn Castellar opened her debate with Amye Bronson-Doherty by telling the students "I voted to allow you to keep your flip-flops," referencing a board debate about dress last year.

Students asked the candidates how the schools could get more money for field trips.

Castellar told the students about the district's budget woes and the current lawsuit with the state.

"You will have your field trips when we get the fair funding," she said.

Bronson-Doherty suggested that the students raise money for field trips at the school level by hosting fundraisers and getting parents involved.

One student asked why they have to pay $50 for a lost book even though the district won't use that money to replace the book.

Castellar told the students that the fee for a lost book was to encourage responsibility and accountability. Bronson-Doherty said that she guessed the money would go toward the school's general operating budget, but she wasn't sure.

On almost every question, Castellar went considerably over her one-minute time limit to answer.

"She did go over her time a lot, but I just think that it means she has more answers," said sophomore Emily Truva.

School board incumbent Dave Larson made the crowd shout and applaud when he told them he was a former Federal Way High School football captain. He predicted this year's team would be champions.

"I like the one man that was on the football team," said sophomore Alina Himichuk.

While Larson won points with the crowd for referencing his Federal Way alumnus status, some students remained undecided after the debate as to whether he or Ron Walker was the better candidate for the District 5 position.

"I like them equally so far, I don't know," Truva said.

Students asked the candidates why Federal Way High School received frequent negative press in the media.

"People want to see the train wreck," Larson said.

Walker told the students that newspapers write about schools because the public cares about what goes on there.

When asked about cell phones, Larson told the students they could petition their principal if they didn't like the current policy.

Walker told the students he supported cell phone use at lunchtime, but they were an unwelcome distraction during class. He noted the distraction from an earlier ringing cell phone during the forum.

"When you step into that classroom, turn that sucker off and get yourself focused," Walker said, prompting a round of applause.

When one student complained about school lunches, Larson told the crowd the district couldn't afford some foods. Walker said if students wanted something different, they should petition the board.

Both candidates responded to concerns about school disrepair by saying the rebuilding or remodeling of Federal Way High School is likely to be on the next bond issue.

Federal Way High School principal Lisa Griebel said the forum was a good opportunity for students to meet the politicians responsible for making decisions that affect their lives at school and to engage students in the political process.

"We're trying to teach our students to be citizens," she said.

The forum also allowed candidates to meet the students they would be governing.

Contact Margo Horner: mhorner@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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