Evergreen school district sees one contested board race

Accountant takes on District 1 incumbent

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter


photoJulie Bocanegra
photoDaniel Poletti

Evergreen Public Schools board candidates

Daniel Poletti

Age: 40.

Occupation: Payroll accountant.

Campaign funds raised: None.

Endorsements: None.

Website: None.

Julie Bocanegra

Age: 41.

Occupation: Bank manager.

Campaign funds raised: $701.

Endorsements: None.


Evergreen School Board Facts

Term: Four years.

Number of board members: Five.

What school board members do: Board members are responsible for establishing the district’s goals and policies and are the governing body on adopting school budgets and all fiscal matters. The board’s wishes are carried out by the superintendent, who represents the board, and the district staff, according to the district’s website.

n Compensation: The district’s board members do have the ability to claim so much per meeting up to a maximum, said Mike Merlino, the district’s chief operating officer. Board policy allows for $50 per day up to a maximum of $4,800 per year. Board business includes attending a board meeting, representing the board on committees, attending training or staff development, attending school board activities when approved by the board in advance, and making school visits of at least 60 minutes of duration. Board members do not have access to health benefits, Merlino said.

Evergreen Public Schools, the largest school district in Clark County and the fifth largest in the state, experienced peaks and valleys in 2013.

In September, the district opened state-of-the-art Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School, the first of its kind in the state and one of only a handful in the nation. In February, Crestline Elementary, one of the district's poorer schools, was destroyed by fire.

Evergreen is a district of contrasts. Districtwide, 47 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price meal programs, but that number is an average. At Illahee Elementary on the more affluent eastern border of the district, 25 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-priced meals. In contrast, at Crestline Elementary, in a poorer section of Cascade Park, 72 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. The district's four-year graduation rate of 85 percent is 12 points higher than at Vancouver Public Schools and eight points higher than the state average.

With 26,400 students and more than 1,500 classroom teachers, Evergreen Public Schools plays a major role in Clark County. Its school board members make decisions that affect many in the county.

In the upcoming election, two school board positions are on the ballot. Michael Parsons, a current school board member seeking re-election, is uncontested in his race in District 5.

Daniel Poletti is challenging incumbent Julie Bocanegra in District 1.

Poletti, a payroll accountant, has five children, and four are school age. He said he and his wife oversee their children's schoolwork and deal with the "learning styles of different children," he said. "All four of them scored in the 90th percentile on the standardized tests last year," he said.

"We have come to the same conclusion as thousands of other parents in Clark County, that educationally, one size does not fit all," Poletti said. "So I bring an impetus to change the level of accommodation for alternatives that the board of education at the Evergreen school district does not currently have.

"I have children in school right now and therefore, when I talk about 'our children' I mean it," Poletti said. "With literal 'flesh and blood' in the game, I bring a sense of urgency in responding to the educational needs of kids today."

Poletti said his first priority as a school board member would be "providing parents with more educational options."

Referencing the new charter school law voters approved last November, he said the growing number of home-schooled and alternative learning students in Clark County demonstrates that "parents are interested in alternatives to the status quo in public education. Rather than fight to limit these options, I would like to expand them. Increased parental involvement has been linked over and over again with better educational results."

Poletti's political involvement includes the Liberty Alliance, a grass-roots group of Tea Party advocates, libertarian Republicans, and values voters who primarily supported Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum during the Republican presidential primaries. He authors a political blog, "Called Unto Liberty," http://calleduntoliberty.wordpress.com/, which the blog describes as "one activist's perspective on Clark County politics."

Bocanegra, a bank manager, was appointed to the board in February 2012. She's a longtime district volunteer and the mother of a junior at Heritage High School.

Incumbent Bocanegra said she's "proudest of the fact that we've been able to fund full-day kindergarten without additional funding from the state."

Evergreen was the first district in Clark County to offer full-day kindergarten at all of its elementary schools.

She also listed the opening of Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School as one of the district's greatest achievements during her tenure on the board.

"It's another way to help kids find that passion for learning."

Looking to the district's future, Bocanegra said, "It's really important for our district to keep the money in the classroom, maintain facilities, keep our eyes on growth. We have to continue to find ways to engage student learning through a variety of programs, something that sparks their interest."

A lifelong Clark County resident, Bocanegra said, "I'm really passionate about student achievement and helping kids succeed. I want to make sure every student is world competitive and is career or college ready when they leave our system."