Citizens aspiring to public service have often used school boards as a springboard to other offices. Yet, despite the basic training in local governance that a seat on a school board can provide, candidates for this office frequently run unopposed.
None of the candidates for positions in the school districts of North Thurston, Griffin, Tumwater or Tenino drew challengers this year. There are only contested races in Rochester, Yelm and Olympia.
The Olympian’s editorial board interviewed candidates for the District 3 position in the Olympia School District (OSD), and we endorse the re-election of board chairman Eileen Thomson.
THOMSON VS. TOMLINSON
Eileen Thomson represents the ideal school board member. She has lived in the district for 25 years, and for 20 of those as a parent of two children in OSD schools. She attended school board meetings for two years before being appointed in 2008 to fill out the balance of a remaining term. She has always been an active parent volunteer.
Thomson brings a unique perspective to the school board. She’s a mother, and the only member with a developmentally disabled child in the system. Her two children require educational environments at opposite ends of the learning spectrum: her oldest child was in gifted programs, and her youngest has special needs.
If re-elected, Thomson says she will focus on improving the district’s technology and providing greater support for at-risk students. She’s committed to find the training funds to assist teachers in the transition to the Common Core curriculum and the new teacher-principal evaluation system.
Brian Tomlinson has a passion for public service, and he’s trying to find an entry point. He ran unsuccessfully for Olympia City Council. Because he lives in OSD District 3, he has to challenge Thomson.
Unfortunately, Tomlinson doesn’t make the compelling case to unseat a smart and dedicated incumbent. He hasn’t been attending meetings, though he prefers to read minutes or listen to podcasts. He doesn’t have children in the system.
Thomson is the only woman on the OSD board. There is a distinct benefit to having gender diversity on any governing body, and it seems especially relevant to school boards.
More importantly, Tomlinson misunderstands the role of a school board, which is primarily to set policy, be a public advocate for public schools and to hire or fire the district superintendent.
He hints at more of a micro-managing approach, involving himself or the board into day-to-day operations. That would chase away good superintendents and other administrators and cause division on a board that has worked hard to put dysfunction in its past.
Tomlinson would benefit from directly engaging with the OSD through volunteerism and other avenues, going to meetings and learning more about the role of a school board.
Thomson has indicated she might not make another re-election bid in four years. We’ll see, but she is clearly the best candidate in this race.