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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

School board seats up for grabs in Vancouver and Evergreen districts on Nov. 7 ballot

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: October 24, 2023, 6:04am

Ballots were mailed Friday to voters in Clark County for the Nov. 7 election. Several key school board positions in the county’s biggest school districts are up for grabs.

The Columbian’s Editorial Board held interview meetings with candidates for positions in Evergreen Public Schools and Vancouver Public Schools over the last month or two, allowing incumbents and challengers an opportunity to pitch their cases.

Videos of each interview, which at times allowed for some back-and-forth debate between candidates, are available on The Columbian’s YouTube channel.

Evergreen Public Schools Board Director No. 2

Chuck Keplar is challenging longtime incumbent Rob Perkins for Evergreen’s District No. 2 director position.

Editor's note: Chuck Keplar was present in The Columbian offices for the entire editorial board meeting but due to technology issues was not always visible in frame in this video. Video

Perkins was first elected to the board in 2014. Over nearly a decade, he’s regularly served as the board’s legislative representative, traveling back and forth to Olympia to voice concerns on behalf of the district regarding funding shortages and special education. The pandemic has presented enormous challenges, but if re-elected, Perkins said, he wants to prioritize better transparency regarding district operations. He said he feels he demonstrates an understanding of both “internal and external issues” in the district.

Keplar’s primary concern is that he and other community members see a disconnect between administration and stakeholders. He called the district’s handling of communication during the recent teacher strike “offensive,” and he claimed the board is responsible for what he described as “misleading” messaging on the Evergreen website that focused on staff salary.

Perkins said the board instructed the district to include contract proposals from both sides but that the board couldn’t take further action during the strike to stay neutral. “A misunderstood comment during a strike could become an unfair labor practice with potential legal action,” he said in an interview with The Columbian’s Editorial Board earlier this month.

Keplar said after witnessing a few years of a “downward trajectory” in Evergreen, he feels it’s time for things to change at the board level.

Evergreen Public Schools Board Director No. 3

Victoria Bradford will run again for Evergreen Public Schools’ District No. 3 director position and faces challenger Gary Wilson.

Bradford was first elected in 1999, making her Evergreen’s longest-serving director. Her two daughters attended Evergreen schools, and she has held several positions in parent-teacher organizations over the years. Bradford said her goal in running again is to continue addressing mental health concerns in schools.

Last year, Wilson authored the voters’ pamphlet statement opposing an Evergreen operations levy. In 2019, he began criticizing Battle Ground Public Schools’ adoption of a new comprehensive sexual education curriculum and repeatedly issued unsubstantiated rumors that members of the LGBTQ+ community are sexual abusers. In recent months, Wilson said he’s spoken with teachers at board meetings and on the picket lines and feels the district needs to do more to hire support staff in the classroom. He also added there needs to be “more ability to discipline” students in the classroom.

Bradford acknowledged the social-emotional needs of students are greater than ever before, but the district — like many other industries — simply struggles to hire staff. “We just can’t find the people,” she said.

Wilson also said the district needs to consider shuttering some of its smaller schools to save money — specifically mentioning the recently built Legacy High School, an alternative school for students seeking smaller class sizes and additional help in special education. Bradford said such a decision would be “damaging” for the district’s most at-risk students.

Vancouver Public Schools Board Director No. 4

Nick Wells is challenging incumbent Kathy Decker for Vancouver’s District No. 4 director position.

Decker, a former teacher in the district and longtime educator, said the board has benefited from a shake-up in 2019 that added several new members with backgrounds as classroom teachers. Previously, she said in an interview with The Columbian’s Editorial Board last month, there was limited connection to the community and inclusion of teacher perspective. Continuing to uplift those perspectives, she said, is her main priority and is something that allowed Vancouver to avoid a teacher strike in recent years.

Wells, who now works in payroll organization and is a graduate of Columbia River High School, said he was inspired to run by noticing how Vancouver spends more money per pupil compared with the state average. As someone with experience in handling and managing money, Wells would like to see less money dedicated to administrative salary and more put to the classroom.

Wells’ main qualms with the current Vancouver board is that there isn’t enough dissent demonstrated in board meetings, and that as a self-proclaimed “outsider,” he feels he’d be able to come in and ask hard-hitting questions from the perspective of a parent with background in tech systems.

Decker said there’s plenty of dissent in study sessions that isn’t displayed at public meetings. The current makeup of the board, she said, has increased community voice and effectively “changed the climate” in Vancouver Public Schools.

Vancouver Public Schools Board Director No. 5

Larry Roe is challenging incumbent Tracie Barrows for Vancouver’s District No. 5 director position.

Barrows was elected to Vancouver’s board in 2019. She works as a school psychologist in Evergreen Public Schools and was critical of Evergreen’s administration and board during the recent teacher strike.

Roe is a former tech worker and scientist at Intel who moved to Vancouver in 2018. He said he was a regular volunteer in Portland Public Schools for years prior to the move.

Like fellow board member Kathy Decker, Barrows said she feels Vancouver has benefited from a prominent teacher perspective on the board since 2019. Her primary goal if reelected is to continue to advocate for improving student mental health resources.

“A lot has happened in the past four years with COVID, and from working in the schools, I definitely have seen an increase in students’ mental health needs, behavioral needs, emotional regulation,” Barrows said in a candidate interview with The Columbian’s Editorial Board earlier this month.

Roe joins the race with few major criticisms of Barrows’ work with the board. Though he said he’s “not an expert” regarding curriculum and other issues, he feels the district needs to better identify “measurable goals” in its long-term strategic planning.

Barrows said the district’s recent ability to avoid a teacher strike shouldn’t be chalked up to good luck, rather she felt the board and administration did a good job of connecting with teachers and showing up in school buildings long before the bargaining process reached any sort of tipping point.

Uncontested races

One board member from both Evergreen and Vancouver will run for reelection unopposed.

Jacqueline Weatherspoon is seeking election for the Director No. 4 position on the Evergreen Board of Directors. Weatherspoon was appointed to the position by the board in March of 2022 following Rachael Rogers’ resignation. In her time at Evergreen, Weatherspoon has served on the district’s newly formed equity advisory committee. Professionally, she has experience working as both a reporter and editor for The Oregonian in Portland.

In Vancouver, Kyle Sproul is seeking reelection for the Director No. 1 position on the Vancouver Board of Directors. Sproul was elected in 2019 and currently serves as the board’s vice president. Professionally, Sproul works as a marketing director of a small business.

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.