Three are in runoff for Nov. 7 general election
Some 65 people crowded into the Mazama Community Club last week to hear from incumbent Frank Kline and challenger Mike Liu, candidates for the Methow Valley School Board in a three-way race that’s on the Aug. 1 primary. Candidate JT Sawyer provided a prepared statement but could not attend because he is fishing in Alaska.
Other than two basic questions — about candidates’ background and reasons for running — from the Mazama neighbors who organized the forum, all questions were submitted by the audience and read by a moderator. The wide-ranging topics — including the teaching of evolution, gender-affirming care, and hardening schools against violent attacks — illuminated community concerns along with Kline’s and Liu’s positions.
Kline, a real estate agent, is running for his sixth four-year term on the board. In his opening statements, Kline said believes that public education and public service are fundamental to preserving freedom. He is committed to continuing the school district’s work of preparing all students for the widest possible range of career, educational and civic positions through traditional academics, internships and apprenticeships. During his time on the board, the school district has expanded academic and extracurricular programs at little or no cost to families, Kline said.
Liu, who had a 36-year career with the U.S. Forest Service, the last nine as Methow Valley district ranger, said he’s running because many people have encouraged him to do so. Liu is concerned by declining test scores among Methow Valley students over the past dozen years, particularly in crucial subjects like math and reading. He believes his fresh eyes will bring a different perspective to the district. Liu also cited parental concerns over issues such as bullying, kids acting out in the classroom, and drug use in the community and at school. He wants to provide more opportunities for parental partnerships with the school, along with more access for parents.
In a statement read for him, Sawyer said he’s worked as a wildland firefighter and smokejumper and, for the past five years, has run a commercial fishing business in Alaska. He has three children and wants to give back and see school succeed for every child. Sawyer envisions an academic learning environment for all students that includes a quiet, respectful library. He favors more ways for parents and guardians to be directly involved in children’s education and school life.
What follows is a selection of questions and candidates’ responses. Questions and responses have been shortened for space.
Are you concerned that any books in the school libraries might be inappropriate?
Kline: Kline has complete trust in professional educators to make decisions about library materials. The school board sets policies, but does not manage decisions by educators, he said. He believes the district is strong enough to debate issues, and trusts students and professionals to conduct this debate.
Liu: Liu would be concerned if there are inappropriate books in the library. He suggested involving parents to a greater degree to review library books to determine what is age-appropriate.
What are your thoughts about the hardening of schools as a means of preventing school shootings?
Kline: “Hardening” needs to be clearly defined, but Kline believes there are better ways to approach school safety. Outdoor experiences are an important part of students’ education in the Methow, and Kline wants to preserve that.
Liu: There are always concerns about safety and access, but we need to strike a careful balance so we don’t lose our freedoms. We need to determine what makes sense for a rural community.
Can you talk about your decision to home-school your children or to send them to public school?
Kline: Because he believes in public education as a foundation of our freedom, Kline said his stepchildren attended public school. He pointed to the value of the district’s R.E.A.C.H. (Responsive Educational Alternative for Children at Home) program, which provides a certificated teacher to support home-schooled students. The board has been looking at the possibility of extending R.E.A.C.H. through 12th grade, rather than ending it after eighth grade, Kline said.
Liu: Because he moved often during his Forest Service career, home-schooling provided an uninterrupted education for his four children, Liu said. One child briefly attended public school but found the pace too slow.
What single change would you make to benefit the school district?
Kline: Kline wants to continue to provide more choices to students from preschool through graduation, and to their parents and families, and to track school programs by measuring students’ success after graduation.
Liu: Liu said there are many things he can’t know until he’s elected, but he would like to delve deeper into the relationship of the school and its teachers with parents, and to make that relationship more solid and transparent.
Should parents have access to materials in the sex-education curriculum so they can instruct students on their own if they desire?
Kline: The school makes an effort to accommodate parental access to all curriculum materials. Parents have a choice about the lessons their children learn and about how to supplement classroom instruction.
Liu: Liu supports giving parents a lot of say in their children’s curriculums and stressed the importance of transparency about educational materials.
How has the board helped assist students and families who have limited resources?
Kline: Providing support for all families and eliminating extra fees has been one of Kline’s goals in his 20 years on the board, and most fees have been eliminated.
Liu: Families have different sources of income, but access to public education should be equal for all.
Do you believe the theory of evolution is accepted science, and should it be taught in school?
Kline: Kline believes in teaching students as individuals who hold different opinions, and that schools provide opportunities to discuss and debate these opinions. Washington state requires some topics to be taught.
Liu: It’s called a “theory” for a reason, Liu said. Educators shouldn’t indoctrinate students, but should teach a range of origin theories.
Would you eliminate or modify any current classes?
Liu: Liu would like to see more emphasis on American history and civics. The fact that students aren’t taught the history of the freedoms they enjoy may contribute to the declining enlistment in the Armed Services, Liu said.
What should schools’ role be regarding informing parents about all matters involving their children, including gender-affirming care?
Kline: The question involves “a horrendous hypothetical” that deals with people’s rights, Kline said. While it’s necessary to respect everyone’s rights, the key is that people have the capacity to make that choice, Kline said.
Liu: There is a legal age for young people to be able to drink and to vote, and issues such as gender dysphoria are an important family decision. The school board can’t go against state law, but can develop policies that encourage kids to talk with their parents about these issues.
Do you support an inclusive curriculum that teaches respect for diversity in our community?
Kline: “How could you not?”
Liu: “If I were on the school board, I would like to set a policy for respect, period.”
What is the role, if any, of religion in the school curriculum?
Kline: It depends on the context. Schools can’t provide preferential treatment for any religion, but can’t penalize anyone for their beliefs.
Liu: Context is everything. It’s important for students to learn about religions across the world, but not give preferential treatment to any one religion. The school is not there to indoctrinate.
One questioner stated that some of the school board candidates attend the same church and asked what inspired them to run.
“More power to them for running — I don’t think we should question anybody’s motives,” Kline said. After Liu said he did not attend the same church as the other candidates, Kline said that it’s nobody’s business where someone goes to church.
The two candidates with the most votes will advance to the general election.
Other school board seats
The three-way race on the ballot is for board Position 5, an at-large seat.
There are also candidates vying for two other school board seats. Scott Larson and Jennifer Zbyszewski are running to fill the seat of retiring school board director Mary Anne Quigley, and Austin Lott is challenging incumbent Judith Hardmeyer-Wright. Because those races have only two candidates each, all candidates will advance directly to the general election on Nov. 7.
The News tried to reach Sawyer to ask him questions from the forum, but he didn’t respond by press time.
A video of the candidate forum can be watched on the YouTube page of the Twisp Valley Grange at https://youtu.be/hQUo04CucgI.