Change is in the air at Tukwila School District (TSD). A new superintendent. A new Foster principal. School board elections are coming soon. Voters districtwide will be the decision makers.
District 1 has three school board candidates: incumbent (17 years) Mary Fertakis, John Barbee and Jennifer Johnson.
District 3 has two candidates: incumbent (4 years) Alicia Waterton and Bobby Cruz.
District 1 candidates are excellent. District 3 candidates are good.
This election is different. Last year, there was an intense effort from some school district employees and community members to force Fertakis to resign her position. Strong push back from other community members ended that effort. Change is better sought through the election process. To the benefit of all, voters now have choices.
There have been other troubling developments. The district is awaiting a decision from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in response to complaints from Tukwila School District employees. This year nine African-American district employees filed suit against the district for racial discrimination.
In the past year, Tukwila School District has lost several key personnel including the district superintendent. It has been ugly. The buck stops with the school board. This is where accountability, however one judges it, has to take place.
Incumbents will talk about their experience. That is important. If experience is the only consideration, challengers should simply go home. How about the ability to anticipate and deal with problems before they become major issues to be adjudicated in courts and commissions?
There is general agreement that an all-white school board does not reflect the diversity of the community and student population it serves.
Regardless of legal outcomes, the unrest in the school district is such that it is difficult to imagine good things happening without some changes in board leadership, energy and direction. Instead, voters are asked to elect the same board members. How does accountability enter the picture?
The school board needs directors with exceptional social skills and community awareness. The ability to engage in respectful, collaborative interactions with staff, teachers and community members is paramount.
Directors must be intentional in attitude and action to address real or perceived shortcomings in policy implementation.
Voters, too, must be intentional. If the past is prologue, then it is likely that only a small group of regular voters will decide this election. In off-year elections, general election voter turnout is normally poor and turnout in primaries is even worse.
Regardless of election outcomes, let us remember that school board members volunteer their time and energy without pay.
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Our school board members do their best and deserve our thanks for their service.