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School board candidates square off

Improving WASL test scores and future construction projects were the major topics candidates for the Oak Harbor School Board touched upon during Thursday evening’s Candidates Night sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

The public had the chance to listen to the candidates seeking Kathy Chalfant’s spot on the school board. Since there are three candidates vying for the open seat, voters will narrow the field during a vote-by-mail primary next month. Chalfant decided not to run for re-election.

At the Candidates Night, held in the board room at the Oak Harbor School District Administrative Service Center, Corey Johnson and Brien Lillquist answered questions about their qualifications and issues facing the Oak Harbor School District. The third candidate, Ace James, didn’t attend. He also did not provide a picture or statement for the Island County Voters Pamphlet, which citizens received in the mail this week.

Johnson has been a fixture at recent school board meetings. He participated in the school district’s capital projects and strategic planning committees. He also volunteered for Citizen’s for Better Schools, the community group that promoted the levy which voters approved last March.

If elected to the school board, Johnson said he would like to see the WASL scores improve to where the school district would comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act. To improve WASL scores, he would like to see more remedial classes to help students who have failed parts of the state test.

He said the planned high school renovation is also important to him and, when a bond goes before voters to fund the project, he wants to make sure it’s a viable dollar amount that voters could support.

“I want to sign my name to the number that makes the most sense,” Johnson said.

He said that open communication between the school district and the community is a key to success and that the schools must receive the money needed to teach students.

“We need to fund education whether we are retired or not,” Johnson said.

Lillquist is currently a member of the North Whidbey Parks and Recreation Board. During the event he highlighted some of the district’s accomplishments that were completed during his two terms on the commission. Those accomplishments included improvements to the pool and parks.

If elected to the school board, Lillquist said he would not be coming in with any set agenda and he would work to do what is best for the community.

“I think my own way,” Lillquist said. “You don’t elect a bobble head who shakes his head yes for everything.”

He said a bond for the Oak Harbor High School renovation should have come before a bond for the athletic facility.

Lillquist also said that WASL scores have to improve.

During the event, several minutes were provided for questions from the approximately 50 people attending. Questions ranged from how candidates are preparing to serve on the board to current issues facing the school district.

One audience member questioned why the school district is spending money to improve the track at North Whidbey Middle School while school officials made a miscalculation in the budget costing approximately $1 million.

Johnson said that the budget is very tight this year and that the budget director is still fairly new and learning about the district’s budget process. He added that the middle school track needed resurfacing and that, once completed, it will provide a place for track competitions. He hopes the school district will eventually find the money for field events facilities.

Lillquist said more than half of his tax bill goes to schools.

“I just feel we’re spending money in the wrong place,” Lillquist said.

Voters will decide which candidates will head on to the November election during a primary next month. Residents will cast their votes by mail and ballots have to be postmarked by election day, Sept. 20.

The League of Women Voters will hold two more candidate nights in October in preparation for the general election.

Candidates for Oak Harbor area races will attend an event scheduled on Thursday, Oct. 13, 7 p.m., at the Oak Harbor School District Administrative Service Center at 350 S Oak Harbor Street.

Candidates for Coupeville area races will attend an event scheduled on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 7 p.m., at the Coupeville Recreation Hall.

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