Burlington-Edison School Board

Roger Howard (left) and Tonya Bieche.

Longtime Burlington-Edison School Board member Roger Howard is facing off in the Nov. 2 election against former Burlington City Council member Tonya Bieche for the board’s District 2 seat.

Howard, a Burlington-Edison High School graduate, has served on the School Board for 11 years, having first been appointed to his seat in 2010.

“I believe providing the best educational opportunity for our children is essential to their success and the future of our community,” Howard told the Skagit Valley Herald. “I would like to continue to be part of a great team with the goal of providing the best education and social experience for our district’s children.”

Bieche is a first-time candidate for the School Board, but served two terms on the Burlington City Council from 2010 to 2017.

“I am running because I am a mom, and people ought to vote for moms,” Bieche told the Skagit Valley Herald. “I love children and I want us to make them strong. My mindset is of growth and I want to be part of the effort that provide(s) an inclusive pass for all children with all abilities to succeed, be productive and drug free.”

The biggest issue now facing the district is the COVID-19 pandemic, Howard said.

“The closing of our schools last year required the district to quickly implement a remote learning system,” he said in responding to a questionnaire provided by the Skagit Valley Herald. “This prevented our students from experiencing the social and educational benefit of attending in-person learning in our schools. Our task now is keeping our schools open, and our students and staff safe and healthy.”

He said the district must continue identifying the impact the pandemic and online learning have had on students, and now that schools have resumed in person must work to find ways to provide additional support to students who have fallen behind.

Bieche said the biggest issue facing the district is the lack of engagement, and that if elected she would make engagement a priority.

“I will ask our board, our staff, our families including our children, and community members, ‘Who is missing, whose voice is not being heard?’” she said. “It hurts us all when we are stuck in a rut and have no idea how to get out of it.”

As for Gov. Jay Inslee’s current mask mandate, which states all students, staff and visitors in any school building must wear masks while inside, both candidates felt it was in the district’s best interest to follow the mandate.

As Inslee has previously stated, the mandate is not optional.

“Additionally, state Superintendent (of Public Instruction) Chris Reykdal has notified school board directors and superintendents that the state will withhold funds from school districts who willfully fail to comply with health and safety measures required by (Inslee),” Howard said. “Local school districts do not have adequate funds to operate schools without state funding. It is imperative we keep our schools open for our students to attend in-person learning.”

Bieche said she feels the mandate keeps students safe.

“I think that most if not all parents want people to be safe and public school children and youth to be in public schools,” she said. “Many people attribute mask-wearing to being the protective barrier from diseases and will continue to wear their mask as PPE (personal protection equipment) in the future.”

Howard was a member of the board that in 2019 and in 2020 asked voters to approve a bond that would have been used largely to build a middle school and get away from the district’s K-8 structure. Both requests failed.

It’s failure to pass may be a sign that voters don’t want that change, Bieche said.

“This rejection is frequent and is possibly a sign that the district needs to find another path that is attractive to voters,” she said.

— Reporter Kera Wanielista: 360-416-2141, kwanielista@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kera_SVH, facebook.com/KeraReports

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