The races for Federal Way School Board may be the most interesting in several years.
The economy is improving, the Legislature is stepping up with additional funding for education, there are new issues to debate, and there are good candidates.
With the improved economics also comes more discussion over priorities and more pressure on the candidates.
Although likely not intended, the Federal Way School Board’s travels — and the pay raise they gave the superintendent — brought increased public attention. Test scores, grading standards, charter schools and graduation rates hovering at 70 percent were already high on the list of issues. But now, money and travel have captured public attention because they set an understandable symbolic tone.
What should the priorities of your school district be?
Everyone wants a good superintendent, and the board was expressing its view that Rob Neu fits that description when they raised his salary by 22 percent. And most people want to pay a fair salary for a job that may be the most important in the community.
But what is fair? District observers countered that classroom supplies, transportation and pay raises for teachers and other staff are just as important.
Most people in our multi-cultural community recognize the need to prepare our students for a changing future.
However, board and superintendent trips to China, Australia, Korea and Indonesia this summer — along with a planned trip this month to Scotland, England and Finland — raise that question to a new level due to the election. The trip to Europe has four board members going, and includes Angela Griffin, who is not seeking re-election.
In a budget of $215 million, the trips and salary increase are small line items for the school district. But to the candidates and the public, they open the door to question priorities.
Ed Barney is seeking another term on the board and is its most senior member. He has served as chair and currently serves as legislative liaison. His supporters point to his long service and believe his experience is critical to the board. He is active in the Republican party and other organizations. Barney is supportive of the board’s current direction and the superintendent’s salary increase, as were all board members. He supports the Global Initiatives Project and is listed as going on the trip to Europe. Barney is well known in the community and has previously run for the Legislature.
Barney is being challenged by Geoffery McAnalloy, who believes it is time for fresh ideas. He has three children in Federal Way schools and has been active in PTSA. He was honored as volunteer of the year at his children’s school. He is active in the Democratic party.
McAnalloy felt it was not appropriate to give the superintendent such a high raise prior to pay raises for district teachers and staff. He also feels that while the Global Initiative may be valuable, sending four board members and the superintendent to Europe is too many people. He also disagrees with sending a retiring board member along. He wants to see more emphasis on classrooms and graduation rates.
In the race to replace retiring board member Angela Griffin, there are two candidates — Carol Gregory and Medgar Wells — who have worked in the education field.
Gregory’s resume is impressive and includes classroom work, the state superintendent’s office and the governor’s office. She has previously run for the state Legislature and will probably run the best campaign. She is a Democrat. She wants to improve the graduation rates, ensure all students have access to a quality education and increase public participation. She feels that Superintendent Neu may have deserved a raise, but felt it was too high for only three years of tenure. She also feels the board needs to be more sensitive to the needs of employee groups who haven’t had pay raises. She doesn’t feel the Global Initiative project has been fully explained to the public, and she was surprised that four board members including Griffin were going on the Scotland trip.
Wells is principal at Overcomer Academy, a K-6 private school of 140 students. He has not been involved in the district prior to running for office, although he has a professional and personal history of education involvement. His departure from the Seattle school district seems unclear. Wells is supported by Tony Moore, who is Federal Way’s current board President. Like Gregory, Wells would have supported employee raises before considering the superintendent’s raise, and would oppose Griffin being included in the Scotland trip. He does believe that sharing experiences and professional development have value.
This election will provide a community pulse on the direction of the school district. Barney and the current majority of board members have established a policy direction that has resulted in several awards and many positive acknowledgments. But grade standards, graduation rates, salaries and travel have raised other questions.
Political observers note that McAnalloy and Gregory, while not promoting dramatic change, could align with incumbent Claire Wilson to look at policymaking in a more critical way.
Wells, although he also expressed concerns about travel and salary, seems more likely to follow current board’s direction. The superintendent isn’t likely to be part of any change in direction as he seems to have the support of all the candidates. But in what may be a pointed message to the board, the Federal Way Education Association (FWEA) has endorsed McAnalloy and Gregory.
The key question to voters: Which way do we go from here?