Heidi Gillingham was aware she would have a target on her back.
Gillingham, who is running for her second term on the East Valley School District board of directors, Position 3, was one of five who voted to approve the new kindergarten-through-eighth-grade setup at the elementary schools in order to handle the district’s changing population base. It will also mean that, beginning in the fall, East Valley Middle School will be used to accommodate preschoolers along with other programs.
“It seems to be agreed it’s the best academic model,” Gillingham said when the board met earlier this year to reaffirm the decision to move forward with the K-8 model. “We’re just doing what we said we were going to do.”
That decision followed the failure of a $65 million bond vote in February, which would have paid for the remodeling of several schools and a 1,500-seat performing arts center, wrestling field house and new turf for the football field at the high school.
The K-8 plan on the bond failure – the latest of several – have been lightening rods for potential school board candidates who are critical of the existing board and Superintendent John Glenewinkel. Arising from that group have been challengers Justin Voelker, chief financial officer for Valley Hospital, and Marvin Moore, a retired EV educator.
The top two candidates with the most votes in the Aug. 6 primary will advance to the November general election.
Justin B. Voelker
Family/How long living in the East Valley School District: I'm married for 13 years with two children (ages 10 and 6) who attend school in the district. I've lived in the East Valley School District for the last four years after we relocated from California
Why did you want to file for candidacy? I'm concerned about the direction the school district is heading, specifically the K-8 transition, and if it is the most effective education model.
What are your goals for the EV school board? My goals are a commitment to academic excellence, fiscal integrity and providing the best environment for students to achieve their academic goals.
What, in your mind, is the biggest issue facing the district in the immediate future? In my opinion the biggest issues facing the district is the growing pains associated with the K-8 transition. I question whether the results are meeting expectations, and if the K-8 model is the best model.
What surprising issues are people bringing up as you door-knock or meet folks at campaign stops? The main issue that is brought up to me is the K-8 model and transition. I've heard passionate arguments both for going forward, and for going back to a traditional model. My goal is to keep an open mind and ensure my commitment, if elected, to the students of the East Valley School District.
Website? No website yet, but I'm on Facebook.
Age: 44 years old
Family/How long living in East Valley School District: I grew up in East Valley and attended Otis, Mountain View, and graduated from East Valley High School in 1987. My husband, Doug and I have been married for 21 years and have two children currently in the district.
Why did you want to file for candidacy? I originally got involved as a progression from being an active volunteer at the individual school level. I have been on the board for one term, and would like to continue to serve for another one while my children still attend the schools.
What are your goals for the EV school board? 1.) Continue to expand and develop a variety of high quality academic opportunities for students. Some examples include; enrichment, intervention, advanced placement, college in the high school, special needs, online classes, home link, and career and technical education. 2.) Continue to work on ways to clearly communicate district facts and highlights to the entire community. 3.) Continue to develop, improve, and fine tune the K-8 system, the enrichment center, and our sports and arts programs. These goals can be accomplished if we; 1.) Focus on solutions. 2.) Stay positive. 3.) Use our resources in the most effective and efficient ways possible.
What, in your mind, is the biggest issue facing the district in the immediate future? I believe the biggest issue in our district is funding, just as it is in most other public school districts. There are no short or easy answers to this problem. It is a complicated web of general budget, transportation budget, levy dollars, voted debt, non-voted debt, grants, and union contractual obligations…the list goes on. Funding is tight, state and federal mandates for testing, reporting, and other strings attached to our allotted education dollars continue to increase, which is a frustration for teachers as well as boards, administration and parents. The passing of a bond would definitely make decisions easier, and it would ensure that general funds can be used for academics rather than repairs on our old buildings. For over 16 years the voters of this district have chosen not to invest in the physical buildings in the district. We currently have no voted debt, and EV has one of the lowest tax rates of any district around. Even though the budget is tight we have many accomplishments to be proud of. East Valley employees have not lost their jobs, our audits have been clean, and we have maintained and increased academic options. Our art, band, music, and orchestra programs all win awards annually. We have the largest chapter of “Washington Drug Free Youth” in the State. EV sports programs start as early as fourth grade and High school sports are not pay to play like neighboring schools. Most importantly, our academic statistics have improved. East Valley’s high school graduation rates have gone from the 70 percents to the 90 percents over the last four years. Our schools are also winning state awards for academic improvement. Unfortunately, at some point the financial burden of maintaining old buildings will adversely affect our ability to provide quality educational programs. I believe that strong schools are a sign of a strong community, and it would be a great benefit for East Valley patrons and students to have their physical buildings match the efficiencies and high quality of our academic programs. Ultimately, this decision is that of the voting members of our community. THEY will decide when to invest more into our physical buildings. With or without a bond, I will continue to work hard to advocate for our students, our district, and our community.
What surprising issues are people bringing up as you door knock or meet folks at campaign stops? I am surprised that people are unaware or confused about the fact that we DID pass our M&O levy. We have NOT passed a bond. To help clarify the difference, I like to use this statement (which oversimplifies it) but helps; “Bonds are for Buildings, Levies are for Learning.”
Family/How long living in East Valley School District: Wife and myself, three years. Taught in East Valley 27 years.
Why did you want to file for candidacy? I feel I have the experience as a teacher, coach, counselor and assistant administrator that will qualify me to work with staff and administration in building a solid base to prepare the students to advance to higher education as well to enter the workplace.
What are your goals for the EV school board? To build a stronger working relationship with the parents and patrons of the district. From the observation I have had at recent board meetings and the lack of input allowed for the voters, parents and patrons to express their personal views, a change is needed in the district leadership before needed progress can take place. In communicating with former administrators with whom I taught and worked with, a better and new board will help make those issues happen.
What, in your mind, is the biggest issue facing the district in the immediate future? To win back the confidence and trust of the voters, parents and patrons that has been lost. With their respect and confidence, then the students will also gain as a result. This answers your next question…
What surprising issues are people bringing up as you door knock or meet folks at campaign stops? Once respect, trust and confidence are regained, I believe bond issues and levies will once again be in favor of the public and the programs that prepare students for the adult world will once again be approved.
The story on the East Valley School District Director 5 position race will be in next week’s Spokane Valley News Herald.