In his closing statement, a Sequim School Board member told Monday night’s debate audience what they already seemed to know.
“There’s definitely a contrast between me and Stephen,” said Walt Johnson, with challenger Stephen Rosales sitting beside him. “He’s outgoing and I’m a listener, a team-builder.”
Those in the audience at the Sequim Boys & Girls Club saw plenty of contrasting approaches from candidates for the Sequim School Board and Clallam County Parks & Recreation District 1 (Sequim Aquatic Recreation Center).
Sequim Family Advocates, a nonprofit, nonpolitical group, hosted the forum.
Responding to questions from audience members were candidates for three offices — two SARC board positions and the aforementioned school board seat — along with three candidates running unopposed.
“When I moved here six years ago, I made the decision that I wanted to help kids,” said Rosales, a former Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year (2007) and volunteer at the Sequim Food Bank and Boys & Girls Club. “I believe we can do better.”
One of Rosales’ key concerns is making sure parents have a voice on the school board. If he were not elected, that would leave one board member/parent of a student in Sequim schools and that individual — Sarah Bedinger, running unopposed — indicated she likely would not run again after her four-year term is finished in 2015.
Answering a question about school funding, Rosales urged school leaders to consider alternative sources of funding rather than depending on state revenues that have dropped in recent years.
“We’re never going to get this money again,” Rosales said. “We need to be gutsy (and) to take initiative.”
To that end, Rosales pointed to the food bank and the Boys & Girls Club, run solely on grants and community funding.
Johnson, a retired engineer and school board member since 2005, defended the school board’s approach of building up funds — about $2.7 million, 11 percent of the district’s operating budget — and using some of the funds when state revenues drop off.
“”We’ve been able to maintain programs … (and) avoid laying off teachers,” Johnson said.
“At what cost is keeping this money in the bank?” Rosales asked.
He also said he’d like to see the district offer all-day kindergarten.
“In my first four-year term, we will get it,” Rosales said.
Bedinger further defended the school district’s conservative approach, noting that when she was first elected to the board, the school district needed to borrow money from Clallam County to make payroll payments.
“I think we’d be in much worse shape if we hadn’t done that,” Bedinger said.
Each of the school board candidates — Bedinger, Johnson, Rosales and John Bridge, who is running unopposed — expressed a desire to resolve the situation with a deteriorating Sequim Community School.
“The time hasn’t been right until now,” Bedinger said.
Late write-in candidate Bill Black is no stranger to the SARC board. He served from 1999-2007, was the board chairman three times and was twice elected vice chairman. A retired aerospace engineer, Black said he decided to join the race not long after Henry (Pete) Church-Smith dropped out.
He contends that SARC is not “living up to its potential.”
With a decrease in users and revenues, Black said, “This is a potential disaster for the community.”
Incumbent Melinda Griffith, a physical therapist, has been with the Sequim Aquatic Recreation Center before the building existed. She was with the board that helped plan and conceive SARC.
“I’m very proud of the facility — it’s one of the jewels of the community.”
The two differ in terms of how conservative the SARC board should be with finances and program offerings, particularly regarding the facility’s hours.
Griffith said she doesn’t support the idea of opening up SARC to 24-hour usage, nor the addition of a card-keyed entry for pass-holders.
“We have to have sufficient users on a consistent basis; usage drops off at night,” she said. “The liability, the cost and the danger (of staying open 24 hours) would not be worth it.”
Black said SARC needs to be much more proactive in meeting the needs of the community.
“Hours on the weekend are entirely too short,” Black said. “I do think a card system is viable. The pool would have to be excluded — that can be shut off. There’s no reason the exercise rooms can’t be used.”
Both candidates expressed concern about the City of Sequim’s proposal to create a Metropolitan Park and Recreation district that may include SARC.
With Ericka Starks stepping down from her seat on the SARC board, newcomers Sonu Deol and Jan Richardson are vying for a board seat.
Richardson, a SARC user for much of the past six years and a construction business owner, said he would like to see SARC get back to “good business practices.”
Deol, who has worked in the public health community for years, said she’d like to see SARC better serve the needs of working adults and children.
“I don’t think it’s right for mothers to have to drive to Port Angeles each time (they want to work out),” Deol said. “SARC does not have a voice for young families.”
While Deol supports the idea of the facility offering child care, Richardson said he’s against it.
“It’s just not economical,” he said. “There are other places for child care. It’s not a social service for children. SARC is in a tenuous situation.”
Deol said SARC should take steps to become more family friendly, from tumbling classes for toddlers and gymnastics classes to pool parties.
“We need to encourage our children to be active now,” she said.
Both agreed SARC should consider moving its annual September closure to help meet the needs of Sequim High School’s swim teams.