Opinion

Federal Way school board ups and downs | Inside Politics

Bob Roegner - Contributed
Bob Roegner
— image credit: Contributed

The Federal Way school district’s unstated district goal for the last several weeks was to cooperate, get along and don’t do anything to distract from passing the school levy.

And they made it, but just barely.

The school district passed the levy, though not in a manner that suggests unified community support. But on election night, about the time the passage of the levy was assured, the harmony ceased. While likely unintended, the board bungled the transfer of the board president position.

After more than a year of community turmoil on several board decisions, district insiders hoped that their political challenges could be put behind them and things would settle down as the school levy approached. The levy provides 20 percent of the district’s funding and as a replacement levy is badly needed.

A new school board was in place and community reaction played a role in the two new board members’,  Carol Gregory and Geoffery McAnalloy, successful election. Superintendent Rob Neu appointed a committee of citizens to try and work on engaging the community in resolving some of the issues.

Leading up to the vote, community critics of the board’s past decisions increased. Some held the attitude of “the only way to get the district’s attention is to vote down the levy.” Longtime residents remembered both the old days when levies were regularly defeated and the more recent past when public support had become more consistent.

However, cooler heads prevailed as levy supporters changed tactics and urged voters to resolve their concerns by working with district leaders and not hold the funding of the community’s children’s schools as a hostage.

It worked and the levy passed. But on election night, the board brought a whole new issue into play. Can the board actually get along and work together?

Just a few months ago, board member Tony Moore stepped down as board president to handle some legal issues. The board at the time elected Claire Wilson. Wilson was unseated in a coup when the new board members came into office and Danny Peterson was elected president, and McAnalloy as vice president. Then on levy election night, Peterson said he needed to step down due to family and work demands. Peterson nominated Wilson in what appeared to be a move to smooth the political waters and feelings. But new member Gregory was also nominated and Peterson then voted for Gregory. Gregory was elected. Moore was absent. Peterson wanted to step down earlier but was persuaded to hold off until after the levy election. So everyone knew it was coming.

Gregory may be the most knowledgeable board member on education issues as it has been her lifelong profession. But, Wilson has also worked in the education field and is knowledgeable. Knowledge isn’t the issue.

At a crucial time in our district’s continued maturation, when public trust is essential, when the  board needed to demonstrate cooperation and leadership, they came up short. Each board member brings a passion for our children’s future, but embarrassing a fellow board member is not the sign of a good working relationship.

And to do it twice in just a few short months demonstrates short-term thinking and poor leadership. Would it really have harmed the district’s progress if Wilson were to have continued as chair for another 10 months? According to some board members, the answer is yes. And that is a cause for concern that requires this board to take a closer look at itself, its priorities and how it works together.

Unfortunately, who holds the gavel is not a new challenge for the board. There was a split vote when Moore was elected to a third term as president.

There is still a significant amount of community unrest and the board needs to demonstrate its commitment to putting children’s needs first. Peterson seems to have been distracted lately and was not thinking about the overall good of the board’s working relationship.

His actions are troubling, and one wonders why he agreed to take the job as president in the first place if he was going to step down in a few months. With Moore and Peterson distracted by outside issues, two new board members leading the district and Wilson having been embarrassed by the rest of the board, we may be in for some difficult times.

This board has potential, but in the future an agreed upon rotation schedule of the presidential gavel is long overdue and would ease the current tensions.

Bob Roegner, a former mayor of Auburn: bjroegner@comcast.net.

 

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