Races have often been uncontested
The Methow Valley School Board will look slightly different when it meets on Nov. 30, with Jennifer Zbyszewski replacing director Mary Anne Quigley, who didn’t seek re-election after 16 years on the board. But voters returned incumbents Frank Kline and Judith Hardmeyer-Wright to the board by generous margins.
Zbyszewski was elected with 73.5% of the vote over Scott Larson, who received 26.3%. Kline outpolled challenger Michael Liu 66% to 33.6%, and Hardmeyer-Wright defeated Austin Lott 68.5% to 31.2%. As of press time, 10,510 ballots had been counted, with 468 left to go. Between 3,100 and 3,300 people cast votes in the three school board contests.
Having three contested races for the school board is a rarity, since candidates have run unopposed in almost every election for the past two decades. With five school board seats, up for election every four years, there have only been three contested elections since 2003.
Kline, just elected to his sixth four-year term, ran unopposed for his first term in 2003. Since then, he’s had only one challenger before Liu ran against him this year. Hardmeyer-Wright, first elected in 2015, ran unopposed for her first two terms.
Gary Marchbank, who wasn’t up for re-election this year, has had two challengers since he was first elected in 2007. Dana Stromberger, who was first selected to join the board in 2009 to replace a director who resigned mid-term, has never run in a contested election.
“I’m still excited about the participation — the fact that we had competition on all seats,” Kline told the Methow Valley News this week.
Having a challenger spurred him to revisit his positions and to evaluate if the district is still heading in the right direction, Kline said. A contested race forces incumbents to make sure they’re doing the best they can for the schools and for students, and the election results show that people believe the district is on the right track, he said.
When Kline first ran 20 years ago, one of his goals was to make the school board a body that people would want to serve on — a position that’s rewarding and important, not merely an obligation, Kline said. The interest in serving this year shows that’s increasingly how the school board is viewed, he said.
“I feel so fortunate to live in this community, where so many people care about our kids and our schools,” Zbyszewski told the News this week. “Despite our different opinions about some issues, we are all standing on that strong common ground,” she said.
Liu, who’s consistently heard concerns from parents about declining academic achievement and poor math-proficiency scores — and about disciplinary issues from both parents and bus drivers — told the News after the election that he plans to be a voice for these people and for others with similar concerns. Liu wants to ensure there are consistent and meaningful consequences for bullying and unacceptable behavior at school and on school buses.
Ultimately, it’s not about who’s in a board position — what’s important is to make sure important issues are addressed and that parents and students are heard, Liu said.
Lott, the only candidate with school-age children — he has four children at Liberty Bell High School — will remain engaged in school issues.
Running for the school board gave Lott additional perspective. Misconceptions about some of the candidates — the notion that Larson, Liu and Lott were “Christian fundamentalists who were anti-science” — persisted throughout the campaign, although from the beginning, those candidates stressed the importance of addressing academic issues, Lott told the News.
Larson told the News that he plans to remain engaged with the community by promoting traditional values. He’s already involved with the reintroducion of a local PTA and will be meeting with concerned parents of girls who participate in sports.
“I will continue to represent those values that I ran on, specifically transparency within the school district and parents, and adhering to our state constitution regarding ‘freedom from sectarian influence,’ including the influence of ‘woke and gender ideologies,’” Larson said by email.
It’s not new to have different ideas about how to get things done — school board members have differences of opinion all the time, and they discuss and debate the issues, Kline said. But once they reach a decision, they all support it, he said.
“Competition is good — my hat’s off to everyone who ran,” Kline said.
Hardmeyer-Wright couldn’t be reached by press time.