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News >  K-12 education

West Valley School Board candidates disagree on levies approved this year

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 14, 2021

By Sophia McFarland The Spokesman Review

Candidates for a seat on the West Valley School Board took opposite positions earlier this year on tax proposals.

Voters approved levies to replace expiring ones to pay for operations as wells as technology, security and facilities.

Incumbent Dan Hansen supported the levies. His opponent, Jeannette Soliai, opposed them.

Hansen said he is running for reelection to continue making positive changes to the district. He was elected in 2014 and served one year as chair of the board.

He said the West Valley School Board is highly active at the state level and used this collaboration to its advantage.

“When the state was coming with budget cuts at the school level, we saw that coming because of our state partnership,” Hansen said.

He also said he will advocate for infrastructure improvements so the district can eliminate technology deserts that limit learning. He said he wants to, “make sure every student is fully supported, whether they’re high achievers, receive special education or experience difficult home lives.”

Soliai said she is running for the school board to provide a parent perspective. She said that she prioritizes listening to parents and providing different learning options for children.

She said these include, “providing different opportunities for neurotypical students and students with different backgrounds.”

She also cited the importance of outdoor education and lower student-to-teacher ratios. “I feel that West Valley is doing quite well in those areas.” She praised the West Valley district’s graduation rates and opportunities at the high school level.

Balanced calendar

Hansen said he prioritizes exploring a balanced calendar for willing families. A balanced calendar means students experience a shorter summer vacation, but receive the same amount of days off, as breaks are scattered throughout the year. Some Washington schools, like the East Valley School District’s Continuous Curriculum School, already adhere to this model.

“So just as we offer options for learning styles, such as project-based education, the West Valley board wants to explore whether it would make sense to also offer one school with a balanced calendar for those families and educators for whom it makes sense.”

Hansen said the idea started gaining support as a result of the pandemic.

Soliai also said that she is in favor of a balanced calendar school year, but more research is required to know if it is the right fit for West Valley. She said the calendar provides “the opportunity for better retention for what’s learned, regular breaks for faculty, students and families, and more efficient use of resources.”

Soliai said the idea would need to be supported by students and parents, and she’s heard mixed feelings from parents regarding the concept.

Pandemic schooling

Hansen said West Valley dealt with the pandemic successfully given the circumstances.

“We know that it’s been really difficult for families. West Valley did as best as possible,” Hansen said. “It is incredibly difficult for everyone in the community.”

He said he wants extracurricular activities to operate as smoothly as possible, and wants to ensure students are in the classroom as often as possible. He expressed that the board will take some of the lessons learned during the pandemic and apply them to future operations.

Soliai said the district did “a great job communicating all of the decisions they made.”

However, she added that she felt that some regulations were too rigorous and beyond what the state required. She said although the district did its best to communicate and follow COVID guidelines, her conversations with families showed concerns about the way the district handled its policies.

“Some major concerns were a slower return to in-person instruction than neighboring districts, concerns that children were taught to be fearful and a general lack of resources that addressed the mental health tolls on students,” Soliai said.

Levies

The West Valley school district approved a replacement operations levy in February 2021, with 57% of the community voting in favor. Voters also approved a capital projects levy, which pays for technology, security and facilities, with 56% support.

The district said the levies help pay for security, buses, teachers for smaller class sizes and extracurricular activities.

Hansen said he strongly supported the levies.

The operations levy replaced an expiring levy and maintained the rate at $2.50 per $1,000 in assessed home value. The capital projects levy increased the rate to $1.45 per $1,000 in assessed home value from the $1.08 per $1,000 the district was collecting before.

Soliai said she opposed both.

“I’m not in favor of increasing the levy in terms of the number of families entering the district.”

She said she does not want to cut programs that the levy supports, and rather, adjustments to the budget should be made.

She said that with the increase of homes in the district, she expects the district to ask for lower levies in the future.

Final messages

Hansen said, “I firmly believe that public schools are a reflection of the community they serve, and we have a really supportive community in West Valley.”

He used high Advanced Placement class enrollment and graduation rates as evidence of the district’s success.

“I could go on, but West Valley is a remarkable school district and that is because of the community.”

Soliai concluded by saying, “My family is a biracial, multicultural family and we aren’t being represented on the school board, and I think that that representation does matter.”

In regards to the current board, Soliai said, “The current board of four members has only one director with school-aged children, only one female director, and no multicultural/multiracial families like mine represented. We need a mom with school-aged kids on the board, and more diversity to represent the diverse families that attend West Valley.”

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