Tahoma School Board candidates ready to race

Part three in The Reporter’s candidate questionnaire series

While many voters focus on city and county races during election season, decisions about local education and funding are being made by other public officials. Local school board members take on the responsiblity of making sure tax-funded public schools are benefitting the community they serve.

This year, the Tahoma School District has a few candidates hoping to make positive changes for their schools by becoming members of the board. As part three in The Reporters three-part primary election series, school board candidates running in opposed races were given a chance to answer questions to help inform voters. All candidates received the same questions. Answers have been edited for grammar and spelling only.

For a full list of questions and answers visit our website, www.maplevalleyreporter.com

Tahoma School District Board of Directors candidates

District Director Position No. 3

Malia Hollowell

Age: 38

Why are you choosing to run/run for reelection?

As a mom to three young Tahoma students and an active volunteer in our schools and community, I am deeply committed to providing ALL of our children the cutting-edge education they need to excel.

Have you ever been convicted of a felony? No.

Have you ever filed for bankruptcy? No.

What experience do you have that would benefit this position?

Eight years ago, I transitioned from being a classroom elementary teacher to building a successful online company where I provide teacher training in math, literacy and science activities.

Because of my business I collaborate with, listen to and learn from thousands of teachers around the country. I am excited to bring a new set of eyes to our local community so that the 8,500 students in OUR district can benefit from what’s working in today’s classrooms.

What is your full-time career? Are you retired?

I run a successful online company where I provide teacher training and math, literacy and science activities for elementary school students.

If elected, how would you handle the recent failure of the technology levy?

Because technology is constantly evolving, it is critical that our district has funds to provide updated equipment, software and (equally important!) professional development for faculty and staff so that they are using technology to its fullest ability.

Although our last attempt at a technology levy failed, the board must vote to rerun it and, in the meantime, they must work with their technology advisory committee to implement short term solutions to the district’s aging equipment and over-extended tech staff.

How should school districts deal with mental health issues among students?

It is critical that Tahoma not only supports students’ academic growth but their social-emotional development as well. We have a designated curriculum in the elementary schools but we should also be providing ongoing social-emotional programming to students in middle and high school so they learn when they need to seek help, how to manage their emotions, problem-solving and other social-emotional skills they will rely on throughout their lifetime.

Other than the technology levy, what would your financial priorities be?

First, we must create a long-term solution for our overcrowded schools so that our students can benefit from lower class size. And, equally important, because recent changes in state laws have negatively impacted our district’s revenue, we must design a sustainable funding plan to ensure we are responsible with the money we have while also working with the state to provide more stable funding in the future.

How should the district handle growth and classroom crowding?

Because our community continues to grow, and our recent demographic report concluded that trend will continue, we need to build a new elementary school to accommodate our growing student population. Additional classrooms will allow our students to benefit from lower class size and that, in turn, will increase the state funding we receive.

Contact information and campaign website information:

Malia.hollowell@gmail.com

https://www.maliahollowell.com/

•Jamie Fairbanks

Age: 38

Why are you choosing to run/run for reelection?

Tahoma School District is growing and with this change I believe we need leadership that has experience in working with a diverse community and is willing to listen and be attentive to the growing needs of our students, parents and staff.

Additionally, we have some problems in our future including our funding model and building capacity. These require people who are willing to be innovative, are not afraid of tough decisions and have a history of fiscal responsibility. I am the candidate most uniquely qualified in all of these areas.

I have a strong history of working effectively in our community and in education with all different kinds of people. My diversity of experience and my love and respect for Tahoma’s values and traditions make me the best woman for the job.

Have you ever been convicted of a felony? No.

Have you ever filed for bankruptcy?

No. Fiscal responsibility is very important to me. My husband and I have been debt free for four years and now own our home (free and clear thank you Dave Ramsey). We carry no debt personally or professionally.

What experience do you have that would benefit this position?

I am an educator by profession and I am a former high school / middle school teacher. I spent the majority of my teaching career at West High School in Anchorage, Alaska.

West High School is the second most diverse school in our country. Because of this, I have extensive experience in working with students and parents from every corner of the world. Additionally, I am proud to say I was a force in helping to create major culture shift within the walls of West High, which improved student and teacher success along with parent involvement. I am known for being someone who works hard to create unity and bring people together.

My first career was starting and running a successful tour guiding business. This experience gave me the grit to be able to tackle tough problems and tough situations at a very young age. Eight years ago, my husband and I moved his company from Anchorage to Washington and chose to live in Maple Valley because of the values the Tahoma School District embodied.

Being the spouse of a highly successful entrepreneur has given me the experience of being a sound advisor and having to ask tough questions to help push us both to be more successful. In the last eight years, I have worked as a tireless volunteer in the classrooms of Tahoma. I have been a leader within the volunteer community as well as boots on the ground working side by side with principals, teachers, parents and students. There is not another contested candidate who has spent as much time in the classrooms of Tahoma as I have.

What is your full-time career? Are you retired?

My career right now is as a full-time community volunteer and mother. My husband and I have been very blessed in our business. Because of our unique and fortunate circumstances, I have been given the opportunity to give back to the community that has given so much to myself and my family.

If elected, how would you handle the recent failure of the technology levy?

I see the main reason our taxpayers are feeling levy fatigue is because there is an underlying feeling that the school district is not being transparent with what money is needed and for what reason. People need to believe that those in public office are being good stewards of their money.

The last levy was put up when the McCleary decision was still being debated in Olympia and our taxpayers were under the impression that all of our students would be receiving a “fully-funded” education. Furthermore, the future of levies as a whole was uncertain. Now we are starting to see the real dollars and cents of McCleary shake out and people are beginning to see what fully-funded means.

With this next potential levy run, our school district will need to be very clear about what this levy is needed for, why it will benefit our district’s taxpayers and how we can be frugal and transparent with spending if our community decides that a levy is needed.

How should school districts deal with mental health issues among students?

We need to begin by providing better training to our principals, teachers and staff about how to recognize signs that students are in need. I believe our teachers are getting better at talking about mental health in their classrooms but they need better tools to help identify those who need support.

I have been very impressed with our schools’ emphasis on a growth mindset, but we need to start looping in parents and community leaders. Our district has had several community meetings where guest speakers have been brought in to help parents learn more and they have been well attended, but there has been very little help provided for our struggling families.What I mean by this is that we cannot expect a single mother to come to one of these events, if we do not provide her with childcare. As a result, a parent who could potentially benefit from these events is being prevented because of money. Looping in community members, parents and teachers provides students with the consistency that a child needs to feel secure.

Also, I believe if we talk openly about mental health with our students it will begin to take away some of these negative stigmas associated with asking for and receiving help. This will create opportunities for students to bravely reach out and seek the help that they desire.

Other than the technology levy, what would your financial priorities be?

My financial priorities would be for us to begin to see how we can stop running at or near a deficit. If we want to avoid some of the problems that our neighboring school districts are facing then we need to start looking at how we are spending.

Let me be abundantly clear though, I believe in keeping class sizes as low as possible and that teachers are our best investment.

That being said, if you can live within a budget and I can live within a budget, then our schools can as well. I do not want to tax all of these amazing families out of our district. My first priority would be to look at how we are spending now.

How should the district handle growth and classroom crowding?

We should handle growth and classroom crowding by providing the staff needed to help our teachers do their best work and by adding classrooms when needed.

Our district has not yet released the information from a demographer they have recently hired. I look forward to seeing how much we are going to grow in the future and if that growth necessitates funding for a new school, if and when needed

Contact information and campaign website:

jamie@fairbanksfortahoma.org, (907) 351-4757, www.fairbanksfortahoma.org

District Director Position No. 4

•Pete Miller

Age:42

Why are you choosing to run / run for reelection?

I am running for the Tahoma School Board because of the students. I genuinely want to provide an opportunity for each and every student to grow and succeed in their academic careers. I feel that I have the experience, leadership and drive to make a positive and meaningful contribution to the work of the district in helping each student gain future ready skills and prepare for life after Tahoma.

The Tahoma community has a lot to be proud of and students continue to shine in so many ways. Challenges lie ahead as well. I commit to representing the community with transparent and collaborative leadership as we work through the most effective way to provide emotional support to our student body, create a sustainable plan for growth, and find a stable funding model.

Have you ever been convicted of a felony? No.

Have you ever filed for bankruptcy? No.

What experience do you have that would benefit this position?

Engaging with the community at a leadership level has always been a priority of mine. I have served on several other boards, including KidsQuest Children’s Museum.

KidsQuest is an early learning institution focused on STEM curriculum. In my 10 years serving KidsQuest, including three as the co-chair of the board, I grew an appreciation for the critical role a board serves for any organization, how to work as a team with my fellow board members, leadership of the organization and their staff and how to focus on strategic issues and opportunities facing the organization.

I have also been very active in the Tahoma School District, volunteering at the kids’ schools, attending board meetings and work studies regularly and in their entirety, as well as meeting with district leadership to better understand all the moving parts of the district. I am well aware of the various tensions within the current education funding model and ever-shifting legislation. To this effect, I have met with each of our district’s state legislators to further my understanding of the current status and future of education funding as well as to discuss other concerns relevant to education.

My work as a CPA has also helped me hone a number of skills that have prepared me for serving on boards, including; effective communication, collaboration, listening, planning, project management, risk management, problem solving and serving the public.

What is your full-time career? Are you retired?

I am a CPA focused on auditing financial reports and IT environments, as well as serving our clients with risk management services (www.clarknuber.com/people/pete-miller).

If elected, how would you handle the recent failure of the technology levy?

I think communication with the community is critical when it comes to the successful passage of a levy or bond measure. Not only communication leading up to election day, but ongoing communication to help build trust. These discussions need to be centered on the specific need being addressed by the proposed measure and how it will impact a student’s ability to learn if it passes, as well as if it doesn’t. Follow up communication to revisit these promises and report the actual results is also vitally important.

With regard to a technology levy, I believe technology does have a significant impact on the learning environment.

Technology equipment ages and/or becomes obsolete quickly. This underscores the need to have a continual conversation regarding the district’s vision for the use of technology, the funding needs to realize that vision and the performance of the district according to planned objectives.

Equally important is the need to discuss the challenge faced by the district in the event of a failure. I believe in providing an equal learning opportunity across all of the district’s buildings and a consistent expectation from elementary school to high school. These goals would be in jeopardy if the levy fails and I think this needs to be clearly communicated.

How should school districts deal with mental health issues among students?

I define a successful student as one that has not only achieved academic success but emotional confidence as well. Growth of the whole person is important to me and I am committed to pushing for that approach as a member of the school board.

Our family has firsthand experience with these concerns from our own children’s developmental growth. It has been eye-opening to see how important it is to understand the individual child, challenge them, but recognize every student has unique cognitive, emotional and sensory needs. It is a day-to-day process in growth that must be met throughout their entire educational career.

I believe a holistic approach is needed to address mental health issues, which comes from the top-down. It needs to be a priority at the board and district level, but it also needs to be a shared responsibility across the district.

Buildings need to share effective techniques with one another. Each level within the system – elementary, middle school and high school – needs to work with one another to create a consistent culture of awareness, caring and support around this issue, from kindergarten to high school graduation. I am passionate about providing each student a safe, supportive and encouraging environment in which to learn.

Other than the technology levy, what would your financial priorities be?

My first priority would be to continue the work of advocating for additional funding relief from the State of Washington.

As I mentioned previously, I have met with each of our district’s state legislators on several occasions to discuss the future of education funding.

The landmark McCleary decision found the state was not adequately funding the basic education needs of all children within the state. One of the points of emphasis from the Supreme Court was the state relied too much on local levy funding to provide for the basic education needs of the local student population. While funding from the state level has increased since this ruling, districts like Tahoma are still at a disadvantage relative to neighboring districts with a higher commercial property tax base.

In the last legislative session, the state provided relief for school districts but it came in the form of a higher allowable limit on local levies. This seems to be in conflict with the spirit of the McCleary decision and continues to put stress on the system. I will continue my advocacy efforts to push for more funding from the state and reduce reliance on local levies.

Having said that, any legislative relief will not come to the district for several years. For the time being, we need to work within the current funding model. Not only do we have a technology levy, but we also need to renew our operating levy. As I previously mentioned, communication with the community around these measures will be critical.

We need to effectively communicate what will be funded by the proposed levy, why it is necessary and how it will impact a student’s ability to learn if it passes, as well as if it doesn’t. The discussion needs to stay centered on the students and their learning environment.

How should the district handle growth and classroom crowding?

We live in a growing community, and that will more than likely continue into the foreseeable future. We need a building plan that will create a sustainable educational platform for the district to absorb that growth and serve the students as effectively as possible, with equitable facilities and reasonable class sizes. This will certainly involve analyzing our existing buildings and utilizing them to their fullest extent.

With the expected growth, additional facilities may be needed as well. If, and when, that time comes considerable analysis, planning and communication will be necessary to make a construction bond successful.

I am unique in my financial capacity to look at the data, process the funding models and translate that to the community in a way that is easy to understand. I commit to advocating for a plan that ensures sustainability and equality.

Contact information and campaign website information.

Email: pete.miller4@comcast.net

Phone: 425-890-6184

Address: 26828 Maple Valley Hwy, #205, Maple Valley, WA 98038

Website: www.votepetemiller.com

•Stormy (Lea) Rigtrup

Age: 41

Why are you choosing to run / run for reelection?

I love our community of Maple Valley and I love building children up through education. I have admired the teachers and administrator in the Tahoma School District and (I) feel I could offer many unique perspectives with my experience as a teacher and mother/stepmother.

Have you ever been convicted of a felony? No

Have you ever filed for bankruptcy? No

What experience do you have that would benefit this position?

My experiences as a teacher would benefit me in this position. I worked with many different students along with team teachers and administrators.

What is your full-time career? Are you retired?

I am a teacher by trade, however, I have taken a few years off to focus on my family and help assist my husband with his business.

If elected, how would you handle the recent failure of the technology levy?

One way I would handle the recent failure of the technology levy would be to identify and directly address the community’s concerns. This would include providing a detailed account of fund spending. I believe transparency can address past, present and future concerns.

How should school districts deal with mental health issues among students?

Mental Health among students is not something we as a district or a community can ignore. We have all been deeply affected by the recent tragic events occurring with our current and past students. Although Tahoma has made great strides with the “Choose Kindness” motto, anti-bullying initiatives, SBIRT screening tool that supports middle school mental health and published support contact numbers, more must be done to identify and address mental health needs.

We need to break down the barriers of silence and isolation by educating the entire Tahoma School District about mental health among our youth. This includes teachers, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, students and parents. There needs to be a consistent collaboration of communication and eyes to help assist our school counselors and staff.

Suicide hotlines can be printed on student IDs. Our district can form partnerships with local mental health care agencies to supply additional therapists and resources to our schools and students. We can reach out to neighboring school districts to create a unified position on supporting mental health. Although the middle school has begun the SBIRT screening tool, every age group must be screened on a continual, periodic basis. Early intervention is vital to prevention.

Other than the technology levy, what would your financial priorities be?

I would support additional professional development opportunities and educational experiences for teachers. I would do this because I know from experience that what a teacher learns will be brought into the classroom, and thus be a greater support to students.

I would also support obtaining additional teaching professionals that specialize in, and offer, curriculum support with subjects such as math, science and language arts.

I would also prioritize funding for mental health, special needs and the highly capable programs.

How should the district handle growth and classroom crowding?

Community growth is a wonderful indicator of progression. Although Tahoma welcomes all new and future students it can create challenges in our schools and classrooms. The school district has taken a very good first step by reaching out to the community to address growth in our schools.

However, options are restricted and are subject to what is available. Therefore, in addition to considering class schedule and program reassignments, I think it is also important to consider information that can be provided by a professional demographer.

Contact information and campaign website information:

The candidate did not provide an answer to this question.

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