2013 ELECTION | School board candidates address enrollment, expenses

There are three candidates for two positions on the South Kitsap School District board of directors.

While candidate Rebecca Diehl is unopposed for the District 4 seat, incumbent Christopher Lemke and Jeff Lakin are battling for the District 3 position.

Lemke, who is seeking re-election, retired as a manager from the Department of Defense and is a military veteran. He and his wife have four daughters who all graduated from South Kitsap High School.

He has been active in the school district for more than 25 years and is also active in the community. Lemke has served eight years on the school board.

Lakin currently serves as general manager for Water District 19 on Vashon Island. He has worked 34 years in the utility engineering profession.

He and his wife, along with one son, reside in South Kitsap.

Diehl, who has worked as a bookkeeper and personal trainer, has volunteered with SKSD for 10 years and earned a School Apple Award. She and her husband of 23 years have four sons, ages 11, 14, 16 and 19.

The following questions were submitted to each candidate by the Independent through email:

Q. What is the most important role of a school board member and why do you want the job?

Diehl: The most important role of the school board is accountability. Accountability is a very positive thing because it keeps us on track and encourages everyone involved to meet the standards we have set. With accountability we are very mindful of ourselves, we are mindful of each other, and we are engaged regularly for greatest good of the whole, our community. I want this job because our school district is the heart of our community and if the heart is not functioning well then the whole body suffers. I want to serve in the accountability of the health of our community and our future.

Lakin: The most important role of a school board member is to ensure every student is given a chance to receive a quality education to help them succeed in being responsible, productive citizens. This is accomplished by providing the resources necessary to enable that goal to be achieved. I want to serve on the board because I see our district weakening. Financial reserves are in decline and some achievement indices are not being met.  I believe my skills and abilities in asset,financial and human resource management will bode well to help reverse these trends.

Lemke: The most important role for a school board member is to represent the students and their families the customers. Secondly, you represent the stakeholders the tax payers of the district.  As part of a five-member board of directors you actively participate at each meeting. You make sure  that the lions share of all monies go directly to the classroom and facility safety needs. Keep our eyes directly on the target student achievement. It’s also very important to lobby the state Legislature to fully fund education per the Supreme Court decision. As a board member, I have attended 99 percent of all meeting. This speaks directly to my love of our communities children and to my role as a director. I want this job because I love children and this community.

Q. What would you do to balance declining enrollment and increasing operating expenses?

Diehl: As we have declining enrollment and increasing operating expenses, I am really looking forward to learning our budget and encouraging/collaborating on creative ways to work within it. I want to inspire our entire community to come together and work together to manage our challenging budget. It will take all of us.

Lakin: I would encourage board networking with the military to better predict transient student enrollment.  I would charge staff to leverage available data to complete a more detailed analysis as to why district students choose to enroll outside the district, and then work to draw them back. I would also charge staff to leverage multi-jurisdictional public contracts for goods and services to minimize operating costs.

Lemke: The first thing to do is address the community with the facts like we did with our budget presentation at the high school. Part of the solution will be to change school boundaries or bus children to equalize enrollment across the 10 elementary schools and junior highs. This will save money and equalize class sizes.  A school closure may be necessary only after all other options have been exhausted. The neighborhood school is a vital resource, so closing a school is very difficult.  We need to keep in mind that the state wants all schools to have all-day kindergarten. This means having enough classrooms to accommodate full-day kindergarten could take school closure off the table. SKSD has done a good job speaking to our state representatives over lack of funding issues and we must continue this communication. We must also promote the great things that are happening in our schools and work to keep our students here in South Kitsap. The board recently approved a policy that reviews our budget — both internally and externally — and slowly over three years builds our general fund. This important step will keep us financially sound.  Finally, we need to consider a second high school. Some families are pulling their student at the high school level because of the large high school.

Q. What is the school district’s greatest strength? What is the school district’s greatest weakness? What would you do to build on the strength and fix the weakness?

Diehl: Our school district's greatest strength is the passion and hard work of our staff. They bring their very best to school every day and greatly influence our children to rise to their potential. This is my personal experience for the last ten years. Every where I turn there is excellence in South Kitsap schools. I want to bring the great hope we have for our future to continue this excellence. I believe we can come together, I believe we can work in unison, and I believe we can all make the difference we want to make for the benefit of our community and future. Our school district's greatest weakness is the imbalance of the work load. We all have a part: teachers, parents, students, and community. We must each rise up to our privilege in this community. We don't have to, we get to! We live in the most amazing time in history. As we each contribute, we can face our challenges and excel into our future together.

Lakin: The district's greatest strength is its commitment to student success.  It's greatest weakness is financial management.In order to further the goal of ensuring student success the board should leverage additional state and national success stories for increased and above average student achievement. All stakeholders should be willing to look outside the box and put in place what is known to work. Regarding financial management, dependence on legislative budget support for school funding creates challenges and opportunities. At the end of the day, the district must be on firm financial ground.  Reserves must be maintained to provide for needed repairs and other emergencies. Infrastructure must receive routine maintenance to reduce the risk of costlier repairs in the future. Financial strength directly correlates to sustainability. The board must put plans in place to avoid being trapped in crisis management mode.

Lemke: The district greatest strength is its dedicated staff and the families of the students we educate.  Then the districts mission and culture of the “Whole Child” and a belief that all children will succeed no exceptions!  We did very well this past year on the state annual testing and several schools received awards for continuous improvement.  The greatest weakness is lack of technology and platforms for it. I would improve on our strength by staying the course of the Whole Child. Ensure the community as a whole is very involved with this mission.  I would work hard towards a goal of 100 percent graduation on time and extended. Keep our strong community partnerships in place and praised for all they do for our children. I would begin the conversation around a technology capital levy and a means to improve this area if a levy is not possible.


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