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Religion issue enters race for School Board
By MIKE HALLIDAY
Four people are vying for a seat on the Federal Way School Board, and voters will have to cut that number in half during the primary election Sept. 20.
Three of the candidates have run for the District 4 position before, and one was appointed by the board last spring after the previous officeholder, Earl VanDorien Jr., resigned.
All of the candidates Helen Stanwell, Jim Storvick, Thomas Madden and Bob Wheeler say they want to bring the board's focus back to making policy about the education of students in the district. Three of them say the fact Madden and two other board members attend the same church should be cause for voter concern.
Here is a look at each candidate:
Helen Stanwell, a former substitute teacher in Federal Way Public Schools, said she decided to run because of the actions of the board in the last year.
Stanwell was bothered the board endorsed a referendum to allow charter schools in Washington, considering voters statewide had rejected three similar requests. She didn't like that the board supported spending tax dollars on charter schools when public schools weren't getting enough.
Stanwell also voiced concern that three board members attend the same church. Tom Madden, the appointed holder of the seat Stanwell is running for, Ed Barney and Evelyn Castellar attend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Stanwell wondered if the three knew each other before Madden was appointed. Barney, at the time of Madden's appointment, said he knew of Madden but had not spoken to him in several years before the appointment. Castellar had expressed support for another candidate before voting for Madden.
The tenor on the board had changed in the last year and become more divisive, Stanwell said, citing another reason she's running.
"I know we can do a better job for our students," she said.
The decisions the board makes do affect what goes on in the classroom, and as a substitute teacher she has seen that. "We need a little more professionalism," she said.
She's also concerned about the level of funding the school district receives.
When the county assessor revalues property and it goes up, the board keeps the dollar amount collected the same but reduces the percentage for each property owner. Why do that, she asked.
Federal Way should be one of the best-funded districts in the state since it's one of the largest in the state, she added.
Stanwell is also supportive of updating school library collections. A group called Citizens of Federal Way Public School Libraries lobbied the School Board to earmark funds for each library, citing collections were aging quickly and there weren't enough dollars to keep up.
Stanwell related a situation at one school where she substituted and the library didn't have current encyclopedias. When her students tried to research countries for class projects, the information was obsolete. The old encyclopedias don't have the names of recently formed countries, and books about countries that do exist have black and white photos and old information, she said.
"These should have been replaced years ago," Stanwell said.
Stanwell said her leadership skills and three years in the Army as a captain give her qualities to serve on the board. She has a degree in business administration from University of Puget Sound. Her life experiences and travel abroad add to her qualifications, she said
A vice president of a bank branch in Seatac, Storvick served on the School Board from 1997 to 2001 and was president for one year.
He had been openly considering the District 4 position since last year when VanDorien was still in office. After VanDorien's resignation, Storvick was one of several candidates who applied for appointment.
Storvick didn't see himself as likely to be chosen because he anticipated he would be in opposition to a majority. Even during the appointment interview before the board, he wouldn't say if his name would be on the ballot this fall.
But following the board's appointment of Madden, Storvick decided he'd file for election. He said he concluded a majority of the board had decided in advance to select Madden. In Storvick's opinion, another applicant, Heidi Gailey, gave the best interview.
He claimed Madden was selected because Castellar, Barney and Madden attend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Three members attending the same church could lead to a narrower scope of thinking on the board about issues, Storvick said.
It bothers him the three members are not open about their affiliation to the same church, Storvick added.
He's not a candidate for personal reasons, but because he believes Madden and Barney need to be voted out of office, Storvick said.
"I don't think they are representative," he said.
Storvick has said the board's bickering and in-fighting has taken the elected body away from focusing on policy issues related to education.
He has been on the board for three months, and Madden said many of his original reasons for running haven't changed. He is just more focused about what he wants to accomplish, he said.
Madden was appointed in May to complete the remainder of VanDorien's term.
He said he wants to continue being a peacekeeper on the board, a group that has been fractious in the last year. Madden said he has been a conduit between different parties. He agreed, when asked, that he is suited to that sort of work because of his professional background in corporate relations. Part of his work is bringing together companies that might not necessarily take a meeting with each other.
It's usually always about miscommunication, he said.
As for the claims by Stanwell and Storvick that he attends the same church as two fellow board members, Madden doesn't deny it. However, his religious faith doen't influence his decisions on the board, nor his religious ties to Castellar and Barney. While they are all members of the same faith, Madden explained, they don't attend the same services or go to the same churches.
Madden said he has refined his board goals from the day of his appointment. He supports the proposed capital bond to rebuild several schools over a decade and plans to promote the bond with his personal finances and time, he said. But he gets the feeling many property owners in the community are casting a wary eye on the idea of the largest bond in the district's history.
He wants to visit more schools and get feedback from teachers and administrators on what is working in their classrooms and what is not. Madden said he has talked to the teachers union for insights.
Madden said he also wants to tap any grant money that would assist the district in funding programs athletic and academic.
He also believes the 13th year plan, which has students plan what they will do the first year after high school graduation, needs more attention from the district and parents. There should be an annual review of the plan, he said.
After the board debated over several months the name of the district's new middle school before settling on Sequoyah, Wheeler decided a change was needed. He applied for the vacant board position in the spring and said he would be a candidate in the fal.
Wheeler said his two priorities are getting more parents involved in their children's education and helping in their schools. Many might not know how to help, but he believes the district can give parents directions. Like the rest of the state, Federal Way is strapped for funds to meet the increasing needs of students and their teachers. One of the ways to help is for parents to get involved, he said.
The second priority is getting the board "back on track," he said.
"They've lost touch with the district and students," said the retired state employee and Vietnam War veteran.
He advocates board meetings at different schools in the community so parents can more easily attend. The meetings are now held at Federal Way City Hall.
Wheeler said he believes in the importance of education. While his parents didn't push him to make the most of school, Wheeler said he is encouraging his children to do their best.
He also raises questions about Madden, Castellar and Barney attending the same church. Wheeler said he doesn't have anything against religion, but he does worry about board members having the same thought process.
If there were five Vietnam veterans on the board, he would be worried because they would be thinking the same, he said.
"It's a touchy issue," Wheeler said, adding more diversity is needed on the board.
Wheeler is concerned his chance for election might be hurt because his name isn't in the voters pamphlet produced by King County. A series of miscommunications led to his name and photo not being printed.
Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, firstname.lastname@example.org