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Washington Voices

Penchant for service

Sat., June 27, 2009

School districts each have long-serving board member

There must be something in the water in Spokane Valley, something that attracts residents to school boards and keeps them there for decades even after their children are grown and gone. Each of the three boards has a member that has served for more than a decade, with one approaching his third decade.

In East Valley, it is June Sine, elected in 1991. In Central Valley, board president Cindy McMullen has served since 1987. And in West Valley, Jim Williams was elected to the board in 1983.

All three said they originally got onto their school board because they had kids in school and wanted to be more involved. Somehow, none of them ever managed to leave – until now. Sine, 57, has announced that she will not be running for re-election in November. Four candidates have filed to fill her seat.

“My personal life has changed a bit,” she said. Her husband of 34, John, years worked for a mineral exploration company, a job that took him out of town a lot. Now he’s retired and Sine wants more time to spend at home. “We’re looking forward to the things we’ve missed out on,” she said.

Williams, 69, is the longest serving board member. “One of the board members called me and said there was a vacancy and no one had filed and would I consider it,” he said. “I filed and then two more filed on Friday and it was a three-way race.”

Williams won the election and has been re-elected with no opposition since. He’s up for re-election again in November and once again no one filed against him. “This is my eighth election and I’ve never been opposed since the first time,” he said. “It is sad that more people don’t consider it. It’s a good way to give back.

“We haven’t had a contested race in West Valley since the mid ’80s. I’d like to think that the public thinks we’re all doing a good job, but I don’t know.”

For a while Williams thought he might not run again this year, but then found himself getting new energy when he was invited to join the 100 District Leaders for Civic Engagement and Service-Learning Network in 2007. The national organization focuses on citizenship education and service learning.

West Valley’s current financial difficulties because of state budget cuts sealed the deal. “The district is facing major challenges right now, particularly in finance,” he said. “No one wants to run away when the going gets tough. Hopefully after all those years I can still find some way to contribute.”

He likes to look back at the last 26 years and see all the policy decisions he’s been a part of. “I take a lot of pride in that,” he said. “My favorite thing is just being at the forefront, setting the direction of the district.”

The second to arrive on the scene was McMullen, who also filed for an open position and ran in a contested election to win her seat. “I thought I’d give it a shot,” she said. “Little did I know it was going to last for 22 years.”

Part of what captured her interest over the years was education reform, watching things change from how they were when she went to school. “That’s the part I like the very best, and then getting to go out in the schools and seeing it in action.”

McMullen, 56, has considered retirement over the years. First she thought she might quit when the district passed its bond to build two new high schools. Then she thought she might stick around until they were built. She’s kept going since then. “There’s always something new and exciting,” she said.

One of those exciting things was a four-year stint on the Washington State School Director Association, ending her term in November as a past president.

That makes Sine the last board member to arrive and the first to leave. She applied for a seat left vacant by the midterm resignation of Jim McGuffin, but didn’t get the position. The following November she ran against the recent appointee, Al Hess, and won. “I really wanted to do the school board,” she said. “I just kept going with it. I have liked seeing the changes over the years. I’ve liked being a part of it.”

She has also enjoyed visiting the schools for various events. “Those are the kinds of things I’ve loved as a board member,” she said. “I’ll miss that part. I may have to volunteer in the classroom.”

While she’s looking forward to spending more time with her husband and her eight grandchildren, she doesn’t rule out showing up at the occasional board meeting if something interesting comes up. “I will be paying attention to that.”

McMullen’s current term is up in November 2011 and she has no idea what she’ll do then. “It’s too far (away),” she said. “Every time I think I might retire, we come up with an exciting new adventure.”

For Williams, however, the end is in sight. He doesn’t anticipate going further than his four-year term that will start in November, making his tenure an even 30 years before he’s done. He and his wife of 33 years, Gayle, are both retired and have 12 grandchildren and one great-grandchild to watch over. “I think it’s realistic to say that this will be my last term,” he said.

McMullen said she doesn’t know why the three districts each have such long-term board members. “Maybe it’s just that some of us can’t give it up,” she said. “It’s been a fun ride, that’s for sure.”

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