Because we can choose only one candidate, The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends Kathy Decker for Position 4 on the Vancouver school board. Decker’s race against Lisa Messer presents voters with a difficult decision between two capable candidates who have similar backgrounds and would bring similar strengths to the board.
As always, this is merely a recommendation designed to generate discussion. The Columbian trusts that voters will study the candidates and the issues before casting an informed ballot.
In choosing between Decker and Messer, voters might need to do a little more homework than usual to distinguish between the candidates. That is not a criticism; both candidates are teachers and articulate advocates for public education, and both are qualified to sit on the board. They are running to fill the seat held by Michelle Giovannozzi until she resigned at the end of July. Paul Scarpelli was appointed by the board to fill the position until a new member is elected.
Decker has been a kindergarten teacher in the Vancouver district and previously has worked in preschool education. She resigned her position at Peter S. Ogden Elementary School to run for the board.
Decker’s background in early education and her focus on early learners is one reason she warrants a slight edge in this race. During an interview with the editorial board, she said, “How to close the achievement gap starts at the very beginning stages. We’re waiting until middle school and high school to worry about it, and that’s not where we should be doing it.”
A self-described “education geek” with an interest in policy, Decker said, “I have watched our district adopt programs that are shiny and new, without the research or without funding it through to the end.” She also emphasizes the need for teachers to have a say in district policy: “Our teachers are not being listened to on the ground.”
Regarding a budget deficit that resulted in cuts this year, Decker said: “My concern with the budget issue is how was it handled? We did not provide an arena for those who wanted to speak. We are not reaching out to our community to get feedback.” To help improve communication, she recommends “coffee with your school board member” events. In the voters’ pamphlet, she states: “Families deserve to be treated as the most important advocates for their children. They must be heard!”
Messer is a teacher at Heritage High School in the Evergreen district and brings a similar perspective on education to the election. She demonstrates a strong understanding of district policy and budgets and is able to discuss them in detail. Regarding contract negotiations that led to a teacher strike last year, Messer said: “The district saw this change was coming and they didn’t prioritize.”
She joins Decker in emphasizing the inclusion of teachers in developing policy, writing in the voters’ pamphlet: “We must respect the expertise of our educators. It is our people that make our district great.”
In a four-person primary race in which each candidate received at least 17 percent of the vote, Messer led the way with 29 percent and Decker was second with 28 percent. We mention this only because it is a harbinger of what is expected to be a close election that will require some homework on the part of voters.
The Columbian recommends Kathy Decker for Position 4 on the Vancouver Public Schools board of directors. But that is because we can choose only one candidate.