Federal Way School Board candidates provide clear contrasts | Bob Roegner

If education is your hot button, you’ll probably enjoy this year’s Federal Way School Board races.

For several years, the school board had varying levels of turmoil. But with elections and appointments, much of that has settled down.

Two years ago, Suzanne Smith and Amye Bronson-Doherty were elected and now have gone through the initial learning curve phases. This past year, Tony Moore and Angela Griffin were appointed to replace board members who had resigned. Moore is unopposed for election. Only Ed Barney with two terms has significant tenure. However, the board has established a good working relationship among themselves and the school district administration.

This year’s elections provide clear contrasts as the candidates offer different perspectives. Incumbents Barney and Griffin, while wanting to see changes and improvements in some areas, generally believe the district is in good shape and headed the right direction.

Opponents Bill Pirkle and Steve Skipper have strong disagreements with the current policies, priorities and direction. According to insiders, Barney provides the board a valuable institutional memory and has adjusted well to the newer members. His previous experience with district budgets and legislative issues has helped the board discussions. Barney believes programs like Cambridge and the middle school equivalent, Check Point, will help academic focus. Barney is a job coach with Deseret Industries. He plans to spend about $1,500 on his campaign.

His opponent, Pirkle, makes no secret of his dissatisfaction and believes the system is “broken.” He advocates a change in how teachers are required to dress and prefers centralizing teaching standards, curriculums and discipline rather than allowing each individual school the flexibility they currently have. He views himself as a reformer and agent of change. He acknowledges his ideas may not be popular with teachers or principals. Pirkle is planning to spend less than $3,000. He added an interesting twist to his campaign signs by having his name written in Korean, Russian and Chinese in addition to English.

Angela Griffin is a YMCA regional director and has been involved in schools as a mentor prior to serving on the board. She has not been politically active previously, and plans to spend about $2,000 on her campaign. While supportive of the school district administration and teachers, she admits frustration that change doesn’t happen more quickly. She conveys a passion to try and positively impact children’s ability to succeed. As a parent, she has tried to use her experiences to advocate for other parents. Griffin believes one mold won’t work, and supports latitude for educators to respond to individual student needs.

Griffin’s opponent, Steve Skipper, shares many of Pirkle’s ideas, and believes there needs to be a refocus on basic education to improve students’ preparation for the future.

Skipper currently teaches classes for Intellipass, but taught briefly in public schools early in his career, as did Pirkle. His campaign has been low key, and he is not planning to campaign other than a few signs. His message is simple: “If you’re happy, don’t vote for me because I want change.”

These two races provide voters with contrasts. Pirkle and Skipper would try and shake up the system and would likely be on the short end of a lot of 3-2 votes. But they believe they could eventually persuade others to vote their way.

Incumbents Barney and Griffin believe the school district is headed in the right direction and that while the board doesn’t always agree, they have established a positive, more collaborative approach to education policy direction. Barney and Griffin will likely get the support of most of the community leaders and education advocates, and have to be considered front-runners going into the November elections. But as to who gets elected, it all depends on which message the voters respond to.