A Bellingham man running against State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn is touting his Montessori experience, ideas on student assessment and passion for student success as reasons that he's a strong contender for the job.
But James Bauckman's exit from Pioneer Meadows Montessori School in Ferndale and his statement in a state voters guide have raised questions about his decision-making skills and character for the position as the head of the state's public schools.
-- In the state voter guide he listed himself as the current head of school at the Majestic Academy, but that academy doesn't exist.
-- Bauckman was once head of school at Pioneer Meadows, but according to the current administrator he's probably not eligible for rehire. In 2009, his relationship was severed with the school, which he co-founded with his then wife with financing from her parents.
-- Bauckman resigned from Pioneer Meadows after a relationship with a married woman he supervised ended badly.
In interviews with The Bellingham Herald, Bauckman admitted that he'd made a mistake in his relationship and attempted to explain those character issues.
"I've made a bad choice, that's for sure, but that's how we learn," he said. "I feel like since then I've made a great commitment to my community, to my family, to self-improvement."
Bauckman claims that his now ex-wife had health issues from the start of their relationship and that about four years ago they agreed to try an open relationship. A good friend of the couple who worked under Bauckman at Pioneer Meadows expressed interest in the idea, he said. Her position at the school paid for her children to attend it.
Bauckman had sex with the woman once, he said, but the Bauckmans then said they wanted to go back to being just friends with the woman. She became upset and told her husband about the arrangement. Bauckman said she had told the couple that her husband was all right with the arrangement, but he clearly wasn't.
Bauckman paid the woman's husband about $3,500 to cover what the couple would've had to pay for their children's tuition at the school. The woman ended up leaving the school. Bauckman also hoped by doing so, the incident wouldn't end up harming the school.
"We worked so hard to build this beautiful school, and I couldn't see ruining all that because of the decision we had made," he said.
Bauckman ended up resigning from Pioneer Meadows in January 2009 and admitting that he had been involved in a relationship with another staff member. From there he started his video production company, Revolutionary Productions, and went to graduate school at Western Washington University, where he is two courses away from getting his master's in educational administration.
Bauckman and his wife divorced this year. She couldn't be reached for comment.
The current head of school at Pioneer Meadows, Kim Connor, gave a brief comment about Bauckman's time at the school.
"He was employed at Pioneer Meadows Montessori School as the Head of School from July 2008 until January 2009 when he resigned that position," Connor wrote in an email. "Mr. Bauckman remained on the school payroll as an office assistant until May 2009, at which time all relations between the school and Mr. Bauckman were severed. He has not been professionally associated with the school since January 2009."
She didn't believe that he was eligible for re-hire.
In the case of the Majestic Academy listing, Bauckman said he had been working with the owners of The Majestic in downtown Bellingham on creating an experiential learning academy for middle schoolers in the building's basement. Bauckman was going to be the administrator for the school, but funding issues have put the academy on hold. When he tried to get the information taken out of the voters guide, it was too late to make changes, he said.
Dorn has his own moral issues as well. In March 2010, during his term as state superintendent, he was arrested for driving under the influence.
Bauckman said that he'd rather focus his campaign on the positive ways that he could change schools throughout the state. He'd work toward giving students constant assessment, rather than one high-stakes, end-of-year test similar to what Dorn has put in place. This way, teachers will know right away if students are having trouble with any aspect of their education, and they can come up with a plan to help. Teachers also could be assessed based on where their students are succeeding and where they're having trouble.
He also wants to put in place a statewide system that would give teachers access to a variety of lesson options for core curriculum.
While he's against charter schools, he thinks school districts should incorporate alternative teaching methods from Montessori, Waldorf and other programs in some of their classes to provide the most options for families.
Bauckman said his mistake in his personal life won't affect his ability to manage the state's schools and look out for the best interests of its students.
"I feel like I've done everything I can to prove the quality of my character," he said. "I don't know that that decision was the best decision, but I don't think it should affect my ability to be a leader."
The employment information of the woman at Pioneer Meadows was clarified July 27.
Reach ZOE FRALEY at email@example.com or call 756-2803.