Three seats on the Federal Way School Board are up for election this fall.
Board President Tony Moore along with board vice-chair Amye Bronson-Doherty are both likely to run for re-election. As we noted in an earlier column, board member Suzanne Smith will not seek another term.
Superintendent Rob Neu continues to be well received in the district and the community. He and the board have established a good working relationship and seem to be on the same page with the direction of the district. But is it the right direction? The board members have been conducting community meetings to both explain issues and seek input from interested residents.
As with most governments, the school district is facing significant problems trying to address its needs in this economic climate. Federal Way has a large and diverse student population where many have special needs. But budgets continue to shrink, and buildings need repairs and updating. Long-range planning becomes less certain, and the challenges to the school board are daunting.
In February, the state Board of Education index was released. It showed the majority of schools in Federal Way listed as “fair.” Both the state board and local officials caution that readers should look deeper to really understand the substance of the report and not rely on just the rating.
The report, the budget and other issues do take some explaining and, unfortunately, elections don’t always provide the best opportunity for in-depth debate. That will put additional pressure on incumbents Moore and Bronson-Doherty to both explain and possibly defend the district.
It will also put pressure on candidates to show they understand the complexities in governing a district of this size. In last year’s legislative primary race, one candidate made a major error in commenting on tax law. His credibility was done after that. The incumbents are likely to be prepared. Candidates should be too.
School board positions are non-partisan, and while elected district-wide, they must live within the area they wish to represent. This school board has shown a marked improvement over the past few years to work together despite occasional differences. The most notable split was the vote on re-electing Moore as board president. Moore, Ed Barney and Angela Griffin voted for Moore. Bronson-Doherty and Smith voted for Bronson-Doherty.
But here’s where it starts to get interesting. Barney and Moore are Republicans, and according to board watchers, Griffin is a Moore supporter. While it might be rarely used, this effectively establishes a block if they need it on an issue. Bronson-Doherty does not identify with a party and is fairly non-political, even though some in the community would like to see her consider a higher office in the future. And with Smith leaving, an opportunity is created with the vacancy.
Insiders believe that Republicans are recruiting candidates to run for the seats held by Bronson-Doherty and Smith. They mention Carrie Bessera, a Republican precinct committee officer, as a possible challenger to Bronson-Doherty and Gail Crabtree as a possible candidate for Smith’s vacant seat.
Moore ran a competitive but losing race for the state Senate last year. As a potential Republican legislator, his receiving support from tobacco and charter schools interests wasn’t noteworthy. They had issues in the Legislature. But he was also president of the school board at the same time. Some in the community felt that he was sending the wrong message to students and teachers. Most of the district’s union groups endorsed his opponent, Tracey Eide.
The other issue Moore will have to confront is his future political ambitions. This was his second attempt at the Legislature. If re-elected, will he stay committed to school district’s challenges — or will he continue to look south to Olympia? So far, no challengers for Moore.
Democrats seem to be taking an interest in Federal Way City Council races. Will they take an interest in the Federal Way School Board? Or will other candidates step forward?