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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: Bradford still right choice for Evergreen board

The Columbian
Published: October 14, 2023, 6:03am

Given her broad understanding of the issues facing modern education, Victoria Bradford is a clear choice for reelection to the school board in the Evergreen district. After meeting with and studying the candidates, The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends a vote for Bradford to continue representing District 3 on the five-person board.

As always, this is merely a recommendation designed to provide insight and foster discussion. The editorial board trusts that voters who care about the education of children in our community will study the issues and the candidates before casting an informed vote.

In Bradford, they will find somebody who passionately advocates for students and has a clear view of the pressures surrounding education. The COVID-19 pandemic, increasing homelessness and social media have made learning more difficult for students and teaching more difficult for instructors.

“What we are seeing is a dramatic difference in the mental health needs of our students,” she told the editorial board about the 23,000-student district. “We have 1,000 kids that are considered homeless.”

Bradford has been on the school board since 1999, and that experience would make her a strong candidate under any scenario. But her qualifications are boosted by the unsuitability of her challenger, Gary Wilson.

In interviews and on his website, Wilson stresses the poor performance of Evergreen students in standardized tests. It provides a compelling framework for suggesting that changes are needed on the school board, but we fear that it masks a hidden agenda.

In 2019, Wilson was a vocal critic of comprehensive sexual education in Battle Ground schools, speaking at a school board meeting although he did not live in the district. In 2022, he wrote the Voters’ Pamphlet statement opposing an Evergreen operations levy. And he has frequently opposed the presence of drag queens at Fort Vancouver Regional Library, repeating unfounded assertions that transgender individuals are sexual abusers.

Regardless of how voters feel about those issues, Wilson’s actions should lead to concerns that he will fail to advocate for all students in Evergreen Public Schools. And they should lead to concerns that he would use a position on the school board to pursue specious culture wars.

Wilson accurately points out troubling issues related to the board. Evergreen has had a series of superintendents since John Deeder retired in 2017; standardized test scores throughout the district are unacceptably low; and Evergreen teachers have gone on strike in 2018 and again this fall.

It is reasonable to question why Bradford has not effectively dealt with these issues, but she remains better equipped to solve them. When Wilson mentions the possibility of closing Legacy High School, an alternative school for students facing myriad issues, Bradford counters that it “would be the most damaging” path for the district. When Wilson criticizes spending at the central office level, Bradford points out that some positions are required for the district to receive funding for special education or English-learning programs.

“I have a very clear and complete picture of what is happening in our district,” Bradford told the editorial board. “Also, I’m a creative thinker. It’s very easy to look from the outside and think you have all the answers.”

It is evident that the Evergreen school board has not had all the answers in recent years. But in the race for the District 3 representative, we recommend Victoria Bradford as the superior candidate.

Gary Wilson statement: Gary Wilson, a newly elected member of the Evergreen Public Schools Board of Directors, disputes the accuracy of a quotation attributed to a statement read on his behalf at a December 2022 Fort Vancouver Regional Library District board meeting, as reported by The Columbian on Dec. 21, 2022. The Columbian reported that Wilson’s statement asserted “it was a ‘fact’ that drag queens and transgender individuals come from a community of sexual abusers.” Wilson subsequently denied that he holds this view and denied that the statement read on his behalf made this assertion. Although no recording of the December 2022 library board meeting exists, Wilson’s written statement submitted at that time says that “drag queens come from a highly sexualized culture” and that “drag queen story hour performers have been found to be convicted sex offenders.’” Wilson’s statement, as reported by The Columbian on December 21, 2022, was referred to again in an editorial published Oct. 14, 2023 and a news story published Oct. 24, 2023. Neither of those articles said that the original source of the information was a statement read on Wilson’s behalf or that Wilson had disputed The Columbian’s reporting.