Newcomers Holly Nielsen and Karen Molenaar Terrell are challenging longtime Burlington-Edison School Board members Bill Wallace and Rich Wesen in the Nov. 5 general election.
Wallace has served 12 years as the board member for District 3. He said the board’s biggest challenge is financial issues resulting from the changes in the way the state funds education.
He said unlike 80% of school districts throughout the state, Burlington-Edison did not have to make budget cuts this year. He credits that to conservative financial management and keeping a reserve fund balance above 4%.
Moving forward, he said the school board needs to stay on top of additional changes in funding.
“We need to get the best information we can about what the state Legislature is doing with future funding, so we can respond accordingly at the local level to manage our budgets,” he said.
As for the proposal to build a middle school for the district’s seventh- and eighth-grade students, Wallace said the board is looking at options to bring back a bond request that failed in February.
“(A middle school) provides students with more course choices in science, technology, engineering, arts and math,” he said. “We’re looking to reduce the bond and repackage what we ask voters to support.”
Nielsen, Wallace’s opponent, said challenges in school funding have forced districts such as Burlington-Edison to dig deep into their reserves to pay salaries and keep class sizes small.
“I believe cutting the front line staff such as teachers and (instructional assistants) is not the way to address this financial crisis,” she wrote in an email. “We will need to be creative and look at which positions are essential to the needs of our children and which are not.”
Nielsen said she has in-depth knowledge of state policies, standards, curriculum, guidelines and expectations from her 20 years working in the Seattle and Burlington-Edison school districts.
“I am the only candidate running in District 3 that has children that currently attend Burlington-Edison School District,” she wrote in her candidate questionnaire. “I have a vested interest in the Burlington-Edison School District and its future.”
In District 4, Wesen is defending his seat against retired teacher Molenaar Terrell.
Wesen, an organic dairy farmer, has served on the board for nine years. He said he believes the district’s biggest challenge is fiscal responsibility.
He said while a four-year budget projection shows the district has a surplus now, that money will go away next year.
“We just have to be cautious about what new programs we spend money on,” he said.
Wesen previously stated his top priority was school security, but said the district doesn’t have the money for upgrades.
If the school district asks voters again for a bond to build a middle school, the hope is to use some of that money for security projects, he said.
“It will be a slightly smaller bond,” he said.
Molenaar Terrell taught in the Burlington-Edison School District for 20 years, and for seven years at Emerson High School in Mount Vernon.
She said one of her top priorities is the safety and well-being of students. To address that, she said she supports peer-mentoring programs — designated time for students to share concerns and problem-solve — and making sure students have counselors and adults they can go to in a crisis.
“I’m concerned about the number of students who feel like they don’t belong and need someone in their corner at school, rooting for them,” she wrote in her questionnaire.
She said grants from school foundations and other fundraising could help address school funding concerns.
“I think there’s a hope that the Legislature is going to give us the funding we need,” she said. “I don’t know we can count on that. We’re going to have to be really creative and resourceful.”
She said she too would like to see the district build a middle school.