Veteran Ridgefield school board member faces challenge in primary

By Howard Buck, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

A rare three-way contest for Position 2 on the Ridgefield school board pits a home-grown, 12-year incumbent against a first-time candidate and a more recent Clark County newcomer in the August 16 primary election.

Wendi Morris, 42, graduated from Ridgefield High in 1987. She’s one of five daughters raised by tree farmer Bruce Wiseman, a longtime Port of Ridgefield commissioner and former Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge project leader. Morris, mother of three Ridgefield students, has served on the board since 1999.

She’s challenged by Joe Vance, a commercial litigation attorney with seven children — six now in school, ranging from third to 12th grade — who settled in the district in 1998. Vance, 43, is a Prairie High School graduate and works at the Miller Nash law office in Vancouver.

The other hopeful is Brad Bauges, chief executive officer for Columbia Credit Union, who was hired away from a Texas credit union in 2010.

Vance has no knock against Morris, but said he hopes to offer fresh blood and problem-solving skills. He said he worries the usually well-performing district is resting on its laurels.

“When we first moved to Ridgefield, the schools were one of the most attractive things; a great reputation,” Vance said. He and his wife, Lori, recently served on a committee that selected elementary school math curriculum, he said.

Now, he sees many “bright, talented kids coming out of great families” who choose to look elsewhere for programs or options Ridgefield lacks, he said.

“It hurts for those left behind. I don’t think that’s good for the community. It’s not good for the schools. When you’ve got a high reputation, you’ve got to keep ahead of it,” he added.

Vance and Morris agree a construction bond to build or remodel schools to handle growth is long overdue. Voters have turned down past bond measures, stoking “a perception the community just doesn’t care,” he said.

Vance backs the latest modest bond proposal to fund remodeling projects at several schools. “I wish the prior bond (request) would have passed, because we’re only going to pay more later.”

He said he has the tools to help Ridgefield tackle budget stress, state and federal mandates, and other “more sophisticated problems.”

“I just think my education and work experience give me an ability to look at issues, look at problems, and come up with solutions,” said Vance, who sits on the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southwest Washington board and is a past Vancouver Symphony board member.

Morris acknowledged that about 200 students leave Ridgefield schools each year.

“Primarily, it’s program-driven, but it’s also a function of proximity,” she said. Students in the district’s south end live closer to Vancouver, and their parents might also work there, she said. It’s a partial blessing, since it eases further overcrowding in Ridgefield, she adds. A bond measure tentatively planned for February would help solve those ills, Morris said.

Facility woes are a priority; student learning, even more so, she said. “We really have to stay focused. We have a strong administrative team and people to take us to the next level,” she said.

Morris said Ridgefield is well-positioned to ride out tough economic times, thanks to foresight that has helped the district avoid layoffs. She counts herself as an asset in that effort. “I’ve been on this board so many years now, I have that history (and) perspective. It’s a value,” she said.

“I do it because I love the town, I love the school district. My kids are here, and I think it’s important,” she said. As Ridgefield’s senior board member, she said she wants to stay and “keep adding value, which I think I do.”

Repeated attempts over several days by The Columbian to reach Bauges for an interview went unanswered.