Mike Spence, School Board Candidate, District 2
Candidate Questions posed by Quality Bainbridge
1. What should the School Board do in the next four years to respond to budgetary challenges?
Continue to watch our finances closely, as we have done every year since I joined the School Board in 2009. This is easier said than done, and it requires a delicate balance between the competing interests of providing the best education possible and keeping our tax burden stable. Every year, the District convenes a District Budget Advisory Committee (DBAC), which is comprised of citizens and stakeholders who take a thorough and detailed look at our budget every year. We must continue to pay close attention to the work of this group. On the revenue side, we must continue to advocate for a proper State response to the McCleary decision, which holds that the State of Washington does not adequately fund a basic public education.
2. What are the biggest operational challenges facing the School District in the coming years?
Far and away, the biggest operational challenge will be to continue to recruit and retain the best teachers we can find. Teacher salaries have not kept up with inflation, and fewer and fewer qualified people are entering the field of education. Few if any teachers can afford a house on Bainbridge Island, which means a lengthy and unpleasant commute from somewhere off – island and a significantly diminished quality of life. We need to find ways to pay our teachers a livable wage and the time has come to work with the City and others to promote an adequate supply of affordable housing.
3. What is the proper role of the School Board in relation to the teaching staff and the school administrators? How much managerial authority should the School Board exercise in connection with the day-to-day operations of the schools?
The role of a School Board is governed by RCW 28A.150.230(2), which contains seven specific criteria regarding hiring and evaluating the Superintendent and other staff, establishing curriculum standards and evaluating teaching materials. My reading of this statute is that the Superintendent is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the school district, and the Principals are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the individual schools. In all cases, these people are highly trained and experienced professionals, and I defer to their professional judgment on day-to-day operations. The Board’s job is to establish policy and the administration’s job is to execute it.
4. What criteria should be used in deciding what new programs should be added or making other curriculum changes? What, if any, curriculum changes should the School Board review?
I strongly believe that innovation in the classroom comes from the bottom up, rather than the top down, and that the Board should do everything in its power to support teachers and/or parents who come up with new and creative ideas. I have seen many examples of this at BISD; Robotics, Spanish Immersion, American Studies and Model UN, to name just a few. Regarding classroom materials, the District has a Curriculum Advisory Committee that reviews new course materials and makes recommendations to the Board.
5. Do you approve of judging and rewarding teachers based on their students’ performance on core curriculum tests?
Do you support the current high school graduation testing system? If not, what changes would you recommend?
I do, but only because I am tired of seeing it change every time a new political regime takes over. Since my kids entered BISD, their testing regimens have been changed at least three times, starting with the WASL, then the MSP/HSPE and then the SBA. Because of this, it is almost impossible to accurately track their progress over time.
6. How would you reconcile or balance the needs of aging school buildings with the reality of fluctuating enrollments and revenues?
We had no choice but to replace Wilkes, Blakely and the 100 building. In all three cases, those buildings were well beyond their useful lives and were very expensive and inefficient to operate. Before we made the decision to replace them, we did a thorough analysis of what it would cost to rehab them versus replacing them, and in all three cases it made much more sense over the mid-to long term to replace them with energy efficient and sustainable buildings. A significant bonus is that the replacement buildings will be less expensive to operate, which is important because we pay our teachers out of the same pot of money that we pay the heat bill.
Our top priority in deciding on significant capital expenditures is to keep Bainbridge Island’s tax burden stable. I am proud to report that we have done that, and will continue to do so in any future capital project – related decisionmaking.
7. What is your approach to alternative educational pathways in our School District?
The traditional K-12 model is not right for everybody and the District should be commended for creating and maintaining our various Options Programs. Some of the most exciting innovations have come out of this system and the District would be short-sighted to limit or reduce them. The District is currently considering fiscally responsible ways to expand these programs in response to increased demand.