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Lemke bidding to make return to school board
In a few strokes with a black marker, Chris Lemke draws a pyramid to represent the values he looks for in a political position.
He believes the most important trait is leadership, followed by dependability and qualifications.
Lemke, 60, is running against incumbent Naomi Polen for the District 3 post in the South Kitsap School District. The position serves Burley, Long Lake, Mullenix and Olalla.
He has held several supervisor jobs at Naval Submarine Base Bangor in Silverdale, most recently as a command resource manager who “coordinates the short- and long-term employee loans and borrows between sites.” He also worked in a position that was responsible for major repairs involving ships.
Lemke also has an extensive volunteer background in SKSD. He has served as a PTA president, was chairman for the district’s levy campaign and was honored with SKSD’s “Apple Award” in 2000 for his community service. Lemke also was the District 3 board member from 2001-05.
He said he planned to run again at that point, but when he went to the Kitsap County Auditor’s office, three candidates already had filed.
“They were very good people in the community,” he said, adding that he realized he could focus on other volunteer work instead.
But Lemke was disappointed when Chuck Mayhew was elected and then resigned from the position in February 2008.
That leads to the second point in his pyramid: accountability.
Lemke believes that when a candidate is elected, that person needs to fulfill their obligation to the community. He notes that he only missed one board meeting during his tenure, when his daughter was giving her master’s thesis at Oregon State University.
All four of his daughters went through the district, and Lemke said that is one reason why he hopes to be elected.
“I have a passion for education in children,” he said. “I have a desire to see every child that starts school in South Kitsap gets the very best education designed for them upon graduation.”
Lemke was born in Wisconsin as the youngest of 14 children. His mother, Helen, ended up raising him and eight siblings alone when his father died when he was only 18 months old.
“My mother was a pillar,” Lemke said. “She worked two jobs. She never accepted charity because she wanted to do it on her own.”
Lemke later moved west and spent most of his career working in various positions at Bangor. He also earned an associate's degree in technical arts from Olympic College.
“Before retirement, I dealt with unions and all the issues to make a large military command successful,” he said.
Lemke said he believes that democracy “in this country is the single most important right we have” and he is not afraid to take a position that might be unpopular with his peers. After Mayhew resigned, he was one of four candidates who applied for the opening.
School board members Kathryn Simpson, Keith Garton and Jay Rosapepe selected Olympic College Early Childhood Education Director Gayle Dilling and Polen as their top choices. Board president Patty Henderson tabbed Dilling and Lemke. The other candidate was Sonic Solutions Project Manager Dennis Summers.
Simpson told the Independent she had some concerns about Lemke at the time.
“As much as I appreciate Chris’ service on the board, I have some serious reservations,” Simpson said. “Service on the board not withstanding, we have places on the board we have told the public we want to go. I am afraid Chris doesn’t share that vision.”
Lemke believes that stems from his failure to support the district’s bond measure that would have paid for a new high school, rebuilt South Colby Elementary School and improved technology infrastructure, roofing, heating and cooling systems, and physical-education and athletic programs.
“I’m a leader, I’m vocal and I speak my mind,” he said. “I thought the $162 million bond measure was high only because I thought there was things that could’ve been eliminated that were very much needed. It was the largest bond in Kitsap County history. My position is we really didn’t need all of that, but we needed some.”
In June 2008, the board appointed Dave La Rose, who previously served as assistant superintendent for school and family support in SKSD, to replace the retiring Bev Cheney.
The board interviewed representatives from the Cascade Consulting Group, Northwest Leadership Associates and McPherson and Jackson to perform a nationwide search for candidates. But several members of the board felt LaRose should be considered as a candidate before they spent as much as $40,000 on a consultant firm.
That decision drew criticism from Lemke, community members and some educators, mostly because LaRose was the only internal candidate considered, while others felt the district should have looked at outside candidates as well. Cheney was located through that process when she was hired from the Washoe County School District in Reno, Nev., in 2001.
“My comments were never, ever focused on the candidate,” he said. “My focus and desire of the school district — and the board of directors — was the process used. To get the very best candidate in any position, you use a competitive process.”
Lemke said if the district could not afford to seek candidates nationally or even statewide, the board should have at least allowed others from the district to apply.
“Throughout the school district, every other position is a competitive process,” he said. “The cream floats to the top. It would’ve had the same opportunity in a competitive way.”
LaRose said he likes both candidates — he is not endorsing either one — and has enjoyed working with Lemke when he was a principal at Orchard Heights Elementary School.
“I’ve had an opportunity to work with him on a number of subcommittees and have found him to be very passionate and committed to kids,” he said. “He comes at it from the filter on what’s the positive impact we can have on children as an organization.”
Lemke performed well in the Aug. 18 primary. Among the 6,133 votes, he received 2,758 votes (45 percent). Polen received 1,949 (31.8 percent), while Gail F. Porter also had 1,170 votes (19.1 percent). Porter is ineligible because she no longer lives in District 3.
“It doesn’t mean a thing,” Lemke said. “There’s over 39,000 voters in the South Kitsap School District. I got 45 percent of a very small percentage.”
It is another point that illustrates Lemke’s desire to get more community members involved their schools.
“The focus would be to get the community to understand they’re spending millions of dollars to educate their children,” he said. “They should know everything about it, be willing to ask tough question, get the answers and the education their children deserve.”
If elected, Lemke said he would pay particular attention to education reform, which he believes will be a prominent topic during the next years, and he also wants “well-planned” development at 56-acre parcel near the intersection of Old Clifton and Feigley Roads that SKSD purchased in 2005. Lemke “wants something that would bring college to South Kitsap,” which might mean a partnership with a local community college.
And given the budget crunches many school districts face, Lemke also wants fiscal responsibility.
“School also has to be a business,” he said. “It has to be run effectively and efficiently. Tough choices sometimes have to be made because of money available. You have to make the exact right choices that always has what’s best for kids first.”