The job will last for only two years, but the winner of the Position 4 race has a chance to make a big impact on the Spokane Public Schools board of directors.
The three candidates – Erin Georgen, Bill Baxley and Kevin Morrison – have staked out differing positions on several key issues, including overall district priorities, the arming of campus resource officers and whether the district should put a supplemental levy on the November ballot.
The top two vote-getters in the Aug. 6 primary will contest the general election on Nov. 5 for a chance to succeed Brian Newberry who declined to run for a new term.
For Georgen, a physical therapist assistant and district parent, the biggest challenge facing the district is assuring proper training for school staff in discipline issues.
“Aggressive behavior can threaten the safety of teachers and other students,” Georgen said. “Without proper training, staff may be unprepared or even unable to manage a student’s behavior in the classroom.”
Georgen said that goes hand-in-hand with her opposition to arming campus resource officers. She believes in a proactive approach that includes “how to recognize early signs of aggressive behavior, opportunities to practice de-escalation techniques and simple maneuvers to keep everyone involved in an incident safe, and what to expect from the campus security when they arrive to assist.”
Of the three candidates, Georgen is the only one who supports placing a supplemental levy on the ballot.
Baxley, a retired teacher, said the most important issue is the safety of students and staff. He supports arming CROs.
Baxley said he’d lean against a supplemental levy.
Morrison, a longtime official with the district, says he’d prefer to delay a levy until the community “has a better understanding of how come the ‘McCleary fix’ didn’t work as expected, and what the district has been doing to run a fiscally responsible budget in the meantime.”
Morrison also would like to see more community engagement on the issue of arming CROs.
Proud of the district’s achievements, he said he sees the next several years as “critical to keep that momentum while working through the most difficult budgeting challenges in over 20 years.”
The position is for only two years because Paul Schneider, who won a six-year term in 2015, resigned from the board two years later.
Newberry was appointed in September 2017 to hold the position until the next regularly scheduled board election, in 2019. Newberry declined to run for re-election.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the district?
BAXLEY: Campus/transport safety of students and staff. Accommodating the new demographics, cultural inputs and family dynamics affecting the district.
GEORGEN: With staff reductions and an increase in classroom sizes at the upper grades, we must ensure that teachers and other school staff have adequate training and practice in the district’s new discipline policies.
MORRISON: To stay on course to maintain the many positive outcomes and trust we have achieved over the past 15 years, including high graduation rates, all-day kindergarten, multiple K-12 choice programs and mentoring programs for beginning educators.
Do you believe the district should arm its campus resource officers?
BAXLEY: Campus safety is my No. 1 priority. As such, I am the only candidate who would vote in favor of arming CROs. Their weapons would be concealed, but if that’s not possible, so be it. I would also not be opposed to the reinstating of high school marksmanship teams.
GEORGEN: No. However, all district staff should receive a high level of training regularly so that they can effectively and safely manage aggressive or disruptive behavior from students or parents on campus. They also must be able to recognize early signs of aggressive behavior.
MORRISON: A better question is what level of protection do our school building staff and parents want to see available to them should the rare, serious threat of harm appear on the campus? The district will want to hear many voices from our community before reaching any conclusions or decisions.
If you were currently on the board, would you vote to place a levy on this year’s fall ballot?
BAXLEY: Maybe. I’m inclined to say no, but there may be arguments I’m unaware of that would impact my decision.
GEORGEN: Yes. Spokane voters largely support adequate teacher wages and smaller classroom sizes at the high schools and middle schools. Also, they’re concerned about the loss of librarians. Voters should have the opportunity to provide that funding.
MORRISON: I believe the constituents of District 81 are suffering from “it’s for the children” levy fatigue, so any purposed levy coming down the pike would have to be specifically targeted with the amount, purpose and rationale thoroughly publicized well in advance and firmly earmarked.
Do you support the school district’s new sex ed curriculum?
BAXLEY: Yes. I haven’t seen the new curriculum, but I believe sex ed should be taught in public schools. I agree with the new sections on gender identity and sexual orientation.
GEORGEN: Yes. I support the added sections on gender identity and sexual orientation so students can learn about people who may be different from them. I would like to see it expanded to provide young people more tools to prevent manipulation by strangers.
MORRISON: Yes. I support wholeheartedly any research-based curriculum that has been thoroughly vetted by the human growth and development committee. I also think it’s important for parents to understand that there is an opportunity to see the material and opt out of the program. I think the sections on gender identity and sexual orientation provide a gentle awareness and help with self-acceptance.
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