Opinion

Genesis of a school board split in Federal Way | Bob Roegner

For several years, the Federal Way School Board was hampered by controversy that overshadowed many accomplishments.

Over the past few years, with resignations and elections, a new board took shape. It is a board that is younger and more focused on education policy rather than ideology. The five board members represent different backgrounds and mirror the values of our diverse community.

Rumors of internal discord over the past year finally spilled into the public arena recently with a split vote over who would be president of the board for 2011. Many school district observers have been aware of a growing sense of disagreement, although it remained below the surface. Policy differences are still rare, and the board has maintained a good public relationship. Traditionally, the president and the vice president serve a one-year term, with the vice president moving up after the year of apprenticeship.

According to sources, current Vice President Angela Griffin, due to job and family responsibilities, did not want to move up to the president’s position. Tony Moore wanted to continue for a second year as president. However, board members Suzanne Smith and Amye Bronson-Doherty voted for Bronson-Doherty, while Ed Barney, Griffin and Moore voted for Moore.

The genesis of the split vote goes back to last year’s selection, but also continues through Moore’s unsuccessful run for the State Senate.

A year ago, Suzanne Smith was president of the board and Moore was vice president. Sources close to the situation say Smith let it be known she would like to serve a second year to maintain continuity in the transition from retiring Superintendent Tom Murphy to new Superintendent Robert Neu. She was surprised that Moore challenged her and won. Some believe Moore wanted the position to improve his resume for his State Senate run. Moore denies that, and states he was following normal protocol. He also says he had “no idea she wanted a second year.”

Board members Ed Barney and Angela Griffin endorsed Moore for the legislative position, while others didn’t. Some close to the board were concerned that the race might not only split the board, but also split various education groups at a time when unanimity might be in the school district’s best interests.

Tony Moore’s running for the Legislature was one thing. After all, he had run before. But taking on a powerful and well liked state senator like Tracey Eide was another thing. No one wanted to jeopardize the good relations the district had with Eide or in Olympia.

At the same time, the board was hearing some comments in the community and from teachers about some of its policy initiatives. Some board members felt they were being accused of not listening. In the fall, at the height of the campaign, Moore canceled several work study sessions because he wanted to give the new superintendent plenty of time to learn more about the district before he was ready with recommendations. Moore said this advice came from former Superintendent Murphy. Smith felt that the meetings should have gone ahead so the board could discuss other board related issues, such as whether to develop a position on the proposed performing arts and conference center.

Some felt there had been some communication issues during Moore’s leadership.

By the time the vote for board president occurred, Moore had lost the Senate race to Eide, and things were starting to settle down. Smith recognized that by challenging Moore in his interest in a second term, she would be sending a message that not all board members were in agreement with the direction the board was heading. However, she felt it was an important message to send. After Moore’s re-election as president, Bronson-Doherty was elected vice president and will likely move up next year.

How will all this affect the district? Moore says “that remains to be seen.”

The board members are all people who place the educational needs of students first, despite internal disagreements. Eide will continue to be a strong ally in Olympia, and Neu will continue to grow as the district’s leader. As always in politics, there will be twists and turns. The first one is that board member Suzanne Smith is leaning toward running for the Kent City Council rather than another term on the school board. So maybe the district won’t quite settle down for a while.

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