School board faces gender issue

The Federal Way School Board has been without a female member for almost two months and could stay that way for at least the next 16 months if a male is appointed tomorrow to its lone vacancy.

Is that good or bad from a gender equity standpoint?

“That’s not a question I can answer. I’m not the one making the selection,” said Bob Millen, one of five finalists –– three women and two men –– for the appointment that is expected to be made during a board meeting at 7 p.m. at school district headquarters.

The other candidates had an answer, though, ranging from pick a woman to pick the most-qualified person regardless of gender.

Valerie Scott said the board should have a “woman’s viewpoint.”

“Men and women think differently. It would be a more balanced board with a woman,” she said.

“It will be an issue, but not with me,” said Evelyn Castellar. “It’s OK to have all five members be men, as long as they’re the best ones available. Women should be considered, but I won’t think it’s a men’s club if a man gets the appointment.”

Michael McLeod said the new board member should be a woman “in an ideal world,” but he won’t complain if he or another man is appointed.

“An all-male board can do a good job,” although the board and other elected bodies ideally should have female and racial minority representation, he said.

Mary Kenfield also said a woman would give the board “a nice balance. But it’s more important to pick the best person based on their qualifications.”

That’s also basically the attitude of the Washington State School Directors Association, said Dan Steele, director of government relations.

“If a school board asked us, we’d say that philosophically they should think about diversity and gender balance” when appointing a new member, Steele said. “We don’t have any official position, although the hope is that boards are supposed to be representative of their community.”

Steele noted that boards could feel pressure to balance their membership demographically through appointment.

“Normally, school boards are chosen in elections, when candidates must run on their own merits,” he said. “It puts boards in a bind if they’re all-male or all-female, but at least it’s a case where voters made the choices.”

In a case like Federal Way, “it’s interesting to see which direction the board goes,” Steele said.

The five-member Federal Way board’s lone female member, Ann Murphy, resigned in February. She indicated she wanted to devote more time to other interests.

Murphy said her successor should be whoever is best-qualified for board work.

“Women can offer a different perspective, but the best person to appoint is whoever offers the best perspective and balance,” she said.

There were six women on the original list of 11 applicants to replace Murphy, trimmed last week to five finalists who will be interviewed by the current board members at tomorrow’s public meeting. One will be selected to serve the remaining 16 months of Murphy’s four-year term before running for a new term in the 2003 election.

The school directors association doesn’t keep exact statistics on the number of men and women board members statewide, but Steele said there are “a handful of boards that are all-men.” He estimated “a couple” are all-women, and some have no racial minorities as members.

The current Federal Way board members –– Earl VanDorien Jr., Don Putnam, Charles Hoff and Ed Barney –– are white.

Ethnic diversity for the board was raised as an issue by Mike McIntosh, one of the non-finalist applicants, in a Your Turn article that he wrote for the Mirror’s Opinion section last Saturday. He claimed the board missed an opportunity for diversity by not including among the finalists at least one of two black men who applied.

McIntosh pointed out that the district’s Equity and Achievement Task Force studied race-related issues in the district.

The group reported last May that, among other things, school curriculum doesn’t address cultural issues and that there is a lack of cultural awareness among students and school district employees.

Editor Pat Jenkins can be reached at 925-5565 and

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