Whidbey News-Times


Oak Harbor School Board incumbent facing critic of school administration

Whidbey News-Times Staff Reporter
November 2, 2013 · Updated 11:20 AM

Corey Johnson said he believes he represents a continuity important to the Oak Harbor School District at this juncture.

Bill Burnett sees himself as offering an infusion of much-needed new blood.

Both are running for Oak Harbor’s only contested school board seat.

Johnson is seeking a third term on the school board.

Burnett isn’t new at this game, having run for the school board several times before. He jokes that he’s lost count of how many times, landing on five as his best guess.

Johnson, 50, said he’s seeking reelection because his heart is in the school system, and he wants to see through the changing of the guard that occurred with Lance Gibbon’s hiring as superintendent.

Gibbon succeeded longtime schools chief Rick Schulte in July.

“It’s important to have continuity,” Johnson said. “I think we’re a well-rounded board.

“For me, I felt like it’s a good transition and it allows us to ensure that we get our new superintendent going off in the right direction and he’s the right guy and everything’s going smoothly and that’s good for Oak Harbor and that’s good for the school district.

“And if it’s not, I just think it’s good to have level heads in there or people with experience to be able to make those judgments. There’s nothing that takes the place of experience.”

Johnson, who owns his own construction company, is a 1982 graduate of Oak Harbor High School. He has had three children go through the system. He first got involved with the school board a decade ago as part of a committee that examined whether the school district should build a new stadium or renovate existing aging facilities.

He was initially critical of the idea but later recommended new construction after researching both sides.

That process later led him to run for the school board. Eight years later, he said his passion remains strong to continue to improve his home school system and make the educational experience positive for kids.

That included his support of the 2013 levy that passed and has led to restoring and protecting programs he felt were important.

“That was a big tax increase, I get that,” said Johnson, who’s lived in Oak Harbor for 49 years. “I whole-heartedly supported it because it was the right thing to do for Oak Harbor, for our kids and our community. I don’t think people understand about having good schools and good programs in a community that says we support our schools. It brings people here. It brings jobs here.

“It brings all of those things.”

The levy also helped restore and preserve some career tech education programs that are dear to Johnson, who began working in construction shortly after high school and didn’t attend a four-year college.

“Some of those programs we offer in CTE, one of those classes might keep a kid in school,” he said.

Burnett said he wants to join the school board to breath new life into it.

More significantly, he said he would bring more counter arguments and careful examination before approving expenditures and making other critical decisions.

A retired Navy officer, Burnett has called Oak Harbor home for 30 years. His son graduated from Oak Harbor High School.

A product of private schools in New Jersey, Burnett holds undergraduate and graduate college degrees and spent 15 years as a curriculum designer and developer of classroom and web-based training courseware for the military.

Burnett, 54, said he wants to add more accountability to the board, as well as a differing view and a more critical eye on how money is used.

Burnett said he doesn’t hear enough rationale arguments for many financial decisions made, the most recent levy in February among them. Burnett opposed that levy, approved by voters.

“I wish there would be one person on there when they run these levies and bonds that would actually give people the facts that I think are relevant to the revenues,” Burnett said.

Burnett said some of the school district’s arguments in the levy campaign didn’t add up, saying that funding from local and federal sources is “fungible” with districts having more discretion on what these monies can be used for that what the public is led to believe.

Burnett said he knows better when he hears that there is no money for textbooks or “doom and gloom” reports about how much federal Impact Aid the district will receive.

That’s why, he said, it’s important for him to be on the school board to stop what he calls “one-sided propaganda” come levy and bond time.

“You’ve got all five of these people voting to put a doubling of the property taxes on there, and all five of them think that that’s the thing to do?” Burnett said.

“Well, are there any arguments at all against it? I mean, you should have at least one person on there who can bring out the rational and reasonable arguments as to why maybe we don’t need to do that or maybe we shouldn’t do that, or maybe we should at least look at how we are spending our local discretionary spending that we are already getting. Then once the people know those facts, if they still vote for it, OK. But at least they then know that there’s another side to this. Because there are always two sides to the story.”

Burnett is known as outspoken and critical. He filed a lawsuit against Island County in July, which has since stalled, in hopes of reinstating Island County Commissioner Kelly Emerson as commission chairwoman after she was stripped of that title.

Burnett doesn’t hold back in some of his word choices in his criticisms of elected officials. He says his tactics are only to call attention to important issues.

“Of course, it’s to make a point,” he said.

“When you’re on a board working with other people, you can’t be telling them they’re illiterate, stupid idiots to their face every meeting,” he said, breaking into a smile. “That’s not going to go over well. It’s different when you’re a member of the public throwing darts at these people because they signed up to have darts thrown at them.”

Burnett said his interest in schools and education is genuine, and that he cares about his community.

He said he wants the school district to provide more factual information about revenues and expenditures to the public concerning levies and bonds “as opposed to the very one-sided propaganda that’s mostly given to the people.”

He said he’s mystified why the school district doesn’t televise school board meetings when it has its own student-run television station, Wildcat TV.

Burnett wants to help bring about these changes and, opposed to what some might think, is quite capable of being a good team player.

“I might tick them off a little bit because I’m not going to go along with the B.S.,” Burnett said.

“But let’s face it. Obviously, everybody wants to have all the kids to have a positive experience. There’s nobody on the school board who doesn’t want that. There’s always that common interest. It’s just a matter as with everything else, how do you best get there at times?


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