Thursday, July 25, 2024

WA state superintendent candidates pledge to address funding, mental health

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Three of the four candidates for Washington’s highest education office pledged to make funding among their largest priorities at a virtual debate moderated by students on Tuesday.

Two-time incumbent Chris Reykdal said he asking state lawmakers in the next session to dedicate $1 billion to help schools combat rising inflation. His challengers Reid Saaris and David Olson said they would also push hard for funding in light of the fiscal crises many districts say they are in because of the pandemic.

The candidates — none of whom said much that was new — seemed largely in agreement with each other during the debate, which was hosted by the League of Education Voters. They called for distraction-free classrooms and better gun safety legislation to prevent minors from accessing firearms.

Their differences were more in the details.

On a question related to high teacher turnover and shortages, Saaris, a former teacher, said the emphasis should be placed on policies that reduce teacher workload. Properly addressing student mental health in schools, one of the key points in his campaign, would help toward that end, he said. Well-crafted social media and smartphone policies would also help teachers struggling with classrooms of distracted students.

Reykdal, also a former teacher, said that currently turnover is actually more pronounced among paraeducators and that he supported increasing wages for these employees. Class size reductions and increasing professional development days would be where he would place emphasis.

Olson, a Navy veteran and school board member in the Peninsula School District, suggested giving teachers more autonomy over what they teach, and more paraeducator support in the classroom. He also stressed a solid social media and smartphone policy. His school district is one of several that have passed a cellphone ban.

Reid is still leading the others in campaign donations and spending so far. He’s raised north of $300,000 and spent more than $120,000. Reykdal’s raised about $182,000 and spent just under $50,000. Olson’s contributions total nearly $60,000 and he’s spent about half that amount.

A fourth latecomer candidate, John Patterson Blair, was not at the debate. He hasn’t reported any campaign contributions or expenditures. The Aug. 6 primary will narrow the field down to two candidates.

The entire debate can be viewed on YouTube.

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