A man running as an “advocate for the taxpayer” is challenging a longtime educator and incumbent on the Coupeville School District board.
At the candidate forum held last Tuesday night by the Whidbey Island League of Women Voters and Sno-Isle Libraries, David Mahaffy said he decided to run for the position because he felt the budget had been mishandled and that last year’s large pay raises for teachers weren’t sustainable.
He said his experience serving on boards for his church, homeowners association and water system would enable him to handle a reduced budget without having to ask for a levy.
In September, Moody’s Investment Service downgraded the school district’s bond rating due to low reserves.
Mahaffy’s children are home-schooled and he isn’t a former educator, which he said means he would be an “independent voice on the board.”
His opponent Glenda Merwine criticized the fact that Mahaffy’s campaign was solely budget focused and that his candidate statement in the voter’s guide doesn’t mention students. Merwine was appointed to the board in 2012 and elected in 2013 to finish the term. She was re-elected in 2015.
“I don’t think the voters of the Coupeville School District want their schools overseen by someone who doesn’t trust his own children to those same schools, someone who has chosen to be disconnected from those schools,” Merwine said.
She also said the board members demonstrated their commitment to dealing with the district’s financial situation, which is largely caused by declining enrollment, by passing a resolution on Aug. 26 directing the administration to restore the general fund balance to at least 6 percent of budgeted expenditures, which meets district policy.
She emphasized the need to help the more than 100 identified homeless students in the district and find ways to support the health and well being of all students using data from the state Healthy Youth Survey. Merwine also advocated for the school board members to do more frequent visits to the schools to get to know the students, have a better understanding of their needs and become more approachable.
Mahaffy said students should have ample opportunities for exercise for the mental health as well as physical benefits. To address bullying, he said the school board needed to back up its staff and principals in disciplinary situations and evaluate its policies to determine how best to address the issue.
He said Coupeville schools could learn from other districts, and he recommended looking at what comparable schools have done to address graduation rates and declining enrollment. Approximately 84 percent of Coupeville High School students graduate in four years, according to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s 2018 data.
The on-time graduation rate for 2019 is approximately 92 percent, according to Superintendent Steve King.
Merwine said King had formed a new committee to work toward improving the graduation rate. She advocated for using research to encourage “more intentional teaching.”
“We have to spend more time looking at the data that we have at our fingertips,” she said
In the other contested school board race, Brent Stevens did not attend or send in a statement to be read.
Sherry Phay, who is running against the incumbent Stevens read a two-minute statement.
She said that recent budget decisions have been short sighted and it’s important to keep an “eye towards the future.” Phay has two children at Coupeville Elementary School and said as a parent and taxpayer, she found the financial situation “disheartening.”
She said school board members react to state funding decisions with resignation, and she’d like to see more of an active line of communication between the school district and Legislature.
Phay commended the current board for being active and engaged, but said having a more diverse board would allow for “a more dynamic discussion.”
“It’s time for change,” she said.
She believes social and emotional learning should be part of the district’s overall continuous improvement plan in addition to test scores and graduation rates.
In the race for Port of Coupeville commissioner, both candidates agree the focus should be on maintaining the Coupeville Wharf and Greenbank Farm. David Day, who was appointed to the position in May, said in a prepared statement that the farm should be kept viable for agriculture, artistic activities and community gatherings.
“I believe the farm deserves an opportunity to grow to its potential,” Day said.
He said his experience as former executive director of the port, past president of the Trust Board of Ebey’s Landing and former chairman of the Coupeville Planning Commission and a businessman will allow him to successfully carry out port commissioners responsibilities.
Roger Eelkema in a submitted statement wrote that he’d like to see the port work toward becoming an incubator for existing and new businesses to encourage their sustainability. He highlighted the importance of “fiscal and environmental responsibility,” open communication and civility.
He noted his deep community ties as a Coupeville High School graduate and his past experience on the town planning commission, the original Ebey’s Landing steering committee, and as a current commissioner for the Rhodena Beach Water District.