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School board candidates vie for spot

It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

On Nov. 6, Oak Harbor voters will decide if they want the difficult task of a Position 5 seat on Oak Harbor School District’s Board of Directors to go to appointed incumbent Gary Wallin or challenger John Bartlett.

Both men are running a campaign for the first time. Wallin was appointed to the board by members eight months ago in order to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of Position 5 chair Jim Slowik.

With just over two weeks left until election day, the two candidates are speaking out about the issues as well as how they will represent the community on the school board.

John Bartlett

Bartlett said he is a supporter of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning test, and that as a member of the Oak Harbor School Board he would work to improve curriculum to help students perform well on the WASL.

However, the issue involves more than just getting higher test scores, Bartlett said. Rather, it’s about preparing Oak Harbor students for higher education and for life.

“The WASL is a test that sees how well you’re teaching these kids,” Bartlett said.

He pointed out that the results achieved by Coupeville students on the WASL is living proof that Oak Harbor students can succeed as well.

“The school district here is totally embarrassed by Coupeville,” Bartlett said.

At the seventh and 10th grade levels, Coupeville students outperformed Oak Harbor students in all areas of the WASL, often in the range of 20 or more percentage points. At the 4th grade level, Oak Harbor outperformed Coupeville students in reading, writing and math, though not in listening skills.

Bartlett said that, after talking with representatives from both district, he believes that Oak Harbor students can do just as well as their peers in Coupeville. He said that the “difference in is the way the schools are presenting the curriculum.”

With the possibility of state funding being tied to WASL performance in the future, Bartlett said Oak Harbor School District can’t afford to perform poorly. The loss of funding because of low WASL performance would only make the quality of education worse in Oak Harbor.

“I want to get ahead of the ball,” Bartlett said, “not have the ball chase me down the street.” He added that Coupeville School District has been “proactive” regarding the WASL, while Oak Harbor has been “reactive.”

Bartlett said that, even though the Oak Harbor School Board is currently made up of good people, it still needs a change. He said that he should be a part of that change.

“The intentions are good,” Bartlett said of current board members. “These people really want to do things right. Their results are just lacking.”

One of the things Bartlett would like to change is the district’s use of money. He said he disagrees with the purchase of the former Alaska Federal Credit Union building as the new district administrative services center, particularly because he thinks the high school needs a new sports facility.

Bartlett said he researched the administrative service center building purchase and remodeling project, and that the district should have waited a few years until a better facility could have been built using resources the district already has.

The purchase and remodeling cost of the administrative services building is now at about $4.5 million. The district bought the building, including the land it is on, for $1.9 million. The rest of the money has gone into remodeling the facility.

Bartlett said he learned that the district took $2.5 million out of the construction budget.

“Two point five million dollars would buy one heck of a sports facility,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett is a retired general contractor who ran his own construction company for 22 years. He said he doubts that the new administrative service center building is now worth the $4.5 million the district has put into it.

Bartlett also said that the site of the old North Whidbey Middle School, which is now being used as an interim site for schools undergoing remodeling, would have been a good location for a new administrative services center. Bartlett said the district should have waited until all the schools were remodeled, at which point it could have demolished the old school building and built a new administrative building at the site.

“They could have waited a couple years,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett said he also takes exception to the statements made by district superintendent Rick Schulte about rising utility costs negatively impacting the school district budget. With energy bills rising, having to maintain the administrative services center will be an extra burden.

“Look at the building they just bought,” Bartlett said, noting that the administrative services center has high ceilings — two stories high in some areas — and it will cost a lot to heat and cool it.

Bartlett said he will work to help run the district “more like a business” through wise spending practices. He added that he would help to “focus” the board back toward one basic concept.

“The focus is lost,” said Bartlett. “The whole bottom line is this is the childrens’ education that we’re dealing with.”

Gary Wallin

Wallin said that his eight months on the school board have been busy ones.

Since joining the board, Wallin has participated in the final adoption of a new math program, a curriculum revision, the acceptance of advanced placement courses at the high school, as well as taking part in the review and passage of the current year’s school budget.

“That was a big piece,” Wallin said of analyzing the budget before voting to pass it. The district’s $37 million budget, according to Wallin, covers 500 employees and services 5,800 students. Wallin said that the Oak Harbor School District is “the biggest employer on the Island, other than the Navy.”

Wallin added that it’s a good budget.

“Our budget doesn’t have fat in it,” Wallin said. There are no luxuries and no excess spending, he said, and any additional money the district received, from both the levy passed by Oak Harbor voters on March 13 and from Initiative 728, went for teachers and books.

Wallin said he agrees with recent financial decisions made by the board, including the purchase of the administrative services center building.

“I think that when they bought the Alaska Federal Credit Union building it was a wise choice,” Wallin said.

According to Wallin, the new building consolidates departments and services under one roof, eliminates the need to make rental payments on the spaces that formerly housed departments and programs, and even generates income leasing space to the Head Start program.

Wallin thinks the $4.5 million total pricetag on the building was a good value. He said that a building of it’s size, constructed at the site currently occupied by the interim school site, would probably cost “double.”

Wallin said he wants to continue serving on the school board so that he can carry on working for the students’ education. He also agrees with the WASL test, with some reservations.

“I think the WASLs are something that’s been needed,” said Walling, “but I’m not convinced it’s perfect yet.” He added that the current focus of the WASL is too narrow. Also, this is the first time that schools in Washington state have faced standardized testing, and students, teachers and administrators are adjusting.

“(The Board) has high goals,” said Wallin. “By 2008, we will have 80 percent of our kids performing at passing level on the WASL.”

If elected, Wallin said that he will concentrate on the continuation of curriculum review, as well as devising a teaching system that meets the needs of the students and their performance standards. Wallin also said that he will work to encourage community involvement in the schools.

“It takes a whole team,” Wallin said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Christine Smith at csmith@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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