Coupeville candidates talk schools

When Mitchell Howard first ran for his seat on the Coupeville School Board eight years ago, he ran unopposed.

Things are a bit different this year, however, as three other candidates are vying for his spot on the board.

All four candidates, including Howard, Cindy Van Dyk, Mark Varljen and Larrie Ford, were on hand at Thursday evening’s Candidates Night to talk about their qualifications and issues that are facing the Coupeville School District. The four candidates will square off in a September mail-in primary to narrow the field for the November election.

Ballots are expected to arrive in the mail this week.

Howard, who is finishing up his second term on the school board, is seeking re-election because he feels he has more work to do.

“I’m basically seeking your vote because there’s unfinished business,” Howard said. He highlighted the school district’s accomplishments in recent years. Those included coming out of a budget crisis, the hiring of a new administration and voter approval of a bond that will fund construction of a new high school.

He said he would like to see the school district implement new distance learning opportunities, an arts magnet and a gifted education program.

Cindy Van Dyk has lived in Coupeville for 15 years. A former elementary school teacher, she serves on the board of the Community Foundation for Coupeville Schools and served as president of the Coupeville Elementary School PTA.

If elected to the school board, she will work to restructure the budget process to include more parent input. She said that input should be sought in the spring when issues such as class size, course offerings and maintenance are decided.

“I feel strongly that parent input needs to be solicited through public meetings long before the final draft budget is presented to the directors for their approval in July,” Van Dyk said.

Mark Varljen is currently a vice president for an engineering firm. He said that experience would serve the school district well considering workers will begin construction on a new high school early next year.

Having a degree in Earth Science and a masters in Civil Engineering, Varljen is a proponent of science education.

“That is one area where I would like to beef it up,” Varljen said.

Larrie Ford has worn many hats in his 30 years on Whidbey Island. He has worked in the school district, town and the hospital over the years. He has coached various sports and helped establish the junior high track program in 1987.

“I poured my heart into this community and I have been here a long time,” Ford said.

If Ford is elected he will work to bringing back the basics to the schools and will work for better pay for teachers.

During the event sponsored by the Island League of Women Voters, audience members, most of whom were from Coupeville, questioned candidates about budget decisions and how to improve class options.

One audience member asked the candidates what they would cut to resolve a budget shortfall.

Answers ranged from researching programs and athletics and cutting the least effective to taking into account the community’s wishes.

Another audience member questioned what academic area needs the most improvement.

Ford said the students could benefit from more life skills and technical classes offered in schools.

“There’s a multitude of life skills that we have gotten away from,” Ford said.

Howard said that science classes could be improved at the elementary and middle school. That would help students prepare for the upcoming science WASL, he said.

Van Dyk said science and math courses at the high school need improving to better prepare students for college. She added that she’s seen students get A’s in those classes in high school and then end up taking remedial classes in college.

“We need to work with those kids who are college bound,” Van Dyk said.

She added that she is also a tireless proponent of libraries.

Varljen also said that science classes need improving.

Primary voters will decide which two of the four candidates move on to the November ballot. Mail-in ballots have to be postmarked by Sept. 20.

After the primary, voters will have a chance to hear from candidates at similar events scheduled for October.

Coupeville area candidates will attend an event scheduled Tuesday, Oct. 11, 7 p.m. at the Coupeville Recreation Hall.

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