Candidates vie for seat on Evergreen school board

They answer reader queries on bonds and vouchers

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter



Jeppson Drops from District 1 Race

One of the three candidates for Evergreen Public Schools, District 1, announced late Thursday that he was dropping out of the race.

Dennis Jeppson, an 18-year-old Clark College student, posted on Facebook that he is withdrawing his candidacy. Jeppson was running against Megan Miles, a Hockinson Heights Elementary School teacher, and incumbent Julie Bocanegra. Jeppson endorsed Miles for the position, saying he agrees “with her on every key issue.”

“I would like to thank everyone who has supported me in this endeavor and hope that you can see my reasoning behind this decision,” Jeppson wrote.

The news came after the print deadline for Friday’s issue of The Columbian, which featured Jeppson’s candidacy. His name will still be on the Aug. 1 ballot, which has already been printed and distributed.

Evergreen Public Schools voters next month will send two candidates in two races on to the next phase of this year’s election, setting policy and direction for the state’s fifth largest school district.

The race for District 1 is between an incumbent and two political newcomers — both of whom are entrenched in education themselves as a music teacher and a student.

The Columbian submitted questionnaires to the school board candidates, including the best ones crowd-sourced from Clark Asks, the Columbian’s tool where readers can submit questions for story ideas or to inform stories like this one. Questions were selected and edited for clarity and to include all school districts.

Julie Bocanegra, a 45-year-old vice president branch manager for Columbia Credit Union, is running for her second term on the Evergreen Public Schools board. Megan Miles, a 38-year-old Hockinson Heights Elementary School teacher, and Dennis Jeppson, an 18-year-old Clark College student, are also running for the position.

The incoming school board faces significant changes in the coming years, as the McCleary education funding levy swap goes into effect over the next two years, incoming Superintendent John Steach takes over for John Deeder and the district considers a bond measure to replace aging buildings.

Bocanegra said outdated facilities in the district need remodeling or replacing, and said she supports a replacement bond that won’t add new taxes to district families when the current bond retires in 2021.

“I am committed to keeping property taxes as low as possible while still providing for the needs of the district,” she said.

Miles and Jeppson both said they support a new bond measure to improve schools as well.

“A community should take a vested interest in creating and maintaining great schools,” Miles said. “If that means voting to pass bonds that will generate money needed to facilitate teaching and learning, then that is what is best for our community.”

In response to a Clark Asks question about charter schools and vouchers, Bocanegra said the district has supported options for school choice within the public school system. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is an advocate for so-called “school choice” in the form of vouchers allowing public dollars to follow students to the private or charter school of their choosing.

Bocanegra cited the district’s Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School, career and technology classes and dual immersion programs as examples of choice in the district.

“I do not support a voucher system, because I believe in systems that are equitable and accountable for all students.”

Miles, meanwhile, said she believes in investing in public schools.

“I believe that all schools must be held to the same high standards of accountability, transparency, and equity to ensure the success of all students,” she said.

Jeppson said he had an individual education plan in high school — a program for students with disabilities — so he believes education “is not a one-size fits all approach.” He said he believes charter schools are a viable option with proper oversight.

The three candidates offered differing views on what challenges face the district.

“To me, the most significant challenge will be sorting out the state funding and how the recent changes will effect the district,” Bocanegra said, referencing the recently adopted state operating budget approved with the goal of fully funding kindergarten through 12th grade education.

Miles said she wants to work to support “every student’s educational need.”

“Evergreen is a very large district with a very diverse population of students,” Miles said. “We need to make sure that we are equipping our classrooms with the necessary tools that support learning for every student.”

Jeppson, meanwhile, said there is a shortage of teachers in the district. Evergreen Public Schools had 1,512 teachers in the 2015-2016 school year, the most recent data available from the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Office.

“We need to be able to bring qualified teachers to the area and keep them here,” he said. “Whether we bring them here through higher pay or a more generous benefits package is to be decided.”

School board officials are elected at-large, but only voters who live in those districts elect members. Ballots will go out Friday and Election Day is Aug. 1.