Priorities similar, but different takes for school board candidates

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POULSBO — The three candidates for the North Kitsap School Board District 4 position all had one thing in common: the budget tops their lists of concern.

The candidates met the public Wednesday in a forum in Poulsbo City Hall, presented by the League of Women Voters  of Kitsap. There were only a few empty audience seats in the Council Chambers.

The forum was a way for the public to know where the three candidates stood on key issues facing the North Kitsap School District. School board members are in charge of the district budget, hiring staff and evaluating the superintendent.

Incumbent Val Torrens said the top three issues for her are the budget, the district’s vision, and student achievement.

The budget also topped challenger Scott Henden’s list, in addition to student achievement and hiring a superintendent who has higher expectations for students and provides “more discipline.”

Ditto on the budget for challenger Julie Edwards,  who added that she would like to see strategic planning for district goals and better collaboration between the school board and superintendent.

Edwards, vice president of the Citizens Budget Review Committee, gave the first opening statement, saying she has a “parent perspective,” background in handling multi-million dollar budgets, and is a good communicator.

Henden, who’s lived in Kitsap for 48 years and attended North Kitsap School District schools, has two sons at Kingston High School, has owned his own business for 28 years and has coached school sports.

Torrens, who has served for three-and-a-half years  on the board and is the board president, noted several reasons she wished to run again. During her tenure, test scores have gone up, more students are going to college and the district hands out more awards and scholarships than ever before.

She said she is proud to represent the district and “this is what I consider to be the best volunteer job ever,” she said

Though how to handle the budget in the future was a topic each candidate gravitated toward — the board is facing about $2.3 million in cuts to reach a balanced budget of $63.9 million — transparency was another frequent term.

In discussions of how to be more open with the public, candidates said the superintendent search, district goals and discussion of why students are leaving to attend schools in other districts should all be more open. The district’s “strategic plan” for meeting goals each year was also questioned.

When asked why the district has been without a plan for five years and if a new one is needed, the responses followed:

“Actually, there still is a strategic plan,” Torrens said. “One could argue whether it’s being followed.”

Torrens said she would like to discuss the goals of the district with a new superintendent and put them in plain view for the public on the district’s website.

Henden said, “A principle I firmly believe in is government works best when listening to citizens.” He said  identifying district priorities is a main concern for him.

Edwards, who said she did not know what the district’s strategic plan is, suggested creating a planning committee that stretches five years or further.

“We need to make sure the superintendent goals are targeted with that plan in mind to help the district get to an end result,” she said.

None of the candidates were 100 percent for a property tax increase or a technology levy. Henden said he voted for levies in the past, but after levy money was used to build Kingston High School on a wetland and former Nike missile site, he wants to know exactly where the money would be spent.

Torrens said she would not support a tax increase. Instead, a tech levy may be a better option, since the money goes to the tech fund, not the general fund.

Edwards said the Budget Review Committee has discussed tax levies and, at this time, she would not support one.

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