Kathy Decker and Lisa Messer face off for Position 4 on VPS Board of Directors

Decker is a former Kindergarten teacher and Messer has 14 years experience as a classroom teacher

VANCOUVER — Kathy Decker and Lisa Messer advanced from the August top-two primary election from a field of four candidates and are facing off for the Position 4 seat on the Vancouver Public Schools Board of Directors.

Clark County Today offers a closer look at these two candidates (in alphabetical order):

Lisa Messer (left) and Kathy Decker (right) exchange ideas at a recent League of Women Voters Candidate Forum held in Vancouver. The two are vying for a seat on the Vancouver Public Schools Board of Directors. Photo by Mike Schultz
Lisa Messer (left) and Kathy Decker (right) exchange ideas at a recent League of Women Voters Candidate Forum held in Vancouver. The two are vying for a seat on the Vancouver Public Schools Board of Directors. Photo by Mike Schultz

Kathy Decker

Decker is a former Kindergarten teacher in the Vancouver School District. She also previously served as a preschool teacher at the Family of Christ in Vancouver and as a Kindergarten and classroom teacher in Corvallis, Oregon and Fairfax, Virginia and as a English conversation teacher in Kyoto, Japan.

Decker received her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. She also lists her community service as 15 years of volunteer work in the VPS classrooms attended by her three children. She has also been a Girl Scout leader, a soccer coach and a Sunday school teacher.

When contacted by Clark County Today, Decker said, “in my race, I believe the key issue to be community involvement. We have many difficult decisions to make in the years to come regarding budget and achievement gaps. These decisions need to be made based on the needs and concerns of the community we serve.’’

Decker also told Clark County Today that in her race, she “would like to have discussed the need for improved climate and culture for the school district faculty and staff.’’

“As an experienced educator with a passion for providing each child with what they need, I have learned … every child deserves the chance to be successful,’’ Decker said in her Voters’ Pamphlet statement. “We know what must be done to ensure that opportunity. The path to success begins with developmentally appropriate practices throughout early childhood. It continues with engaging, integrated curriculum. 

“Ultimately, the path to success offers older students programs to explore, discover, and create a future,’’ Decker added. “Along this path we develop lifelong learners who contribute positively to our community. The research is clear. Every teacher deserves the resources to guide their students forward. 

“Successful schools view their teachers as the professional experts they are,’’ she said. “Successful schools provide comprehensive assistance for children with high needs. Successful schools provide adequate supplies and equipment without relying on teachers funding their own classes. Successful schools are child-centered but teacher driven. 

“Every family deserves the opportunity to be involved fully in their children’s education,’’ Decker added. “Families deserve to know the range of resources available to them. Families deserve easy access to decision-makers: administrators, board members, department heads. Families deserve to be treated as the most important advocates for their children. They must be heard. Every child deserves a champion.’’

Decker closed her appearance at a recent League of Women Voters Clark County Candidate Forum by saying, “Teaching and providing what children need is my passion. I believe that as an early childhood educator, I bring a perspective that has not been on the board before. And with all the information that we have out there about the importance of early childhood, the importance of elementary school and the importance of using research that’s based, that tells us how these children learn. We need to have a voice on our school board, especially when we are making decisions about what to cut and what to keep, and how to implement these programs. We need to have somebody who is intimately familiar with the climate and the culture that is currently pervasive in the Vancouver School District. And I will tell you, it’s not all roses and lavender. So, we need somebody on the board that can speak to what the little ones need as well as the older ones.’’

Lisa Messer

Messer lists no elected experience. She has 14 years experience as a classroom teacher, currently serving as a science teacher at Heritage High School in the Evergreen School District.

Messer received a Bachelor’s Degree in Science Education from Western Washington University after earning an Associate’s Degree from Clark College. Her community service includes volunteering in school classrooms, political action and serving as a Church youth volunteer.

When contacted by Clark County Today, Messer said, “I think the key issues in this race are, one, the students and, two, community input.  For example, are the budget decisions being made going to have the smallest impact on students? Are we training our teachers to help our diversifying student body? Is the board asking for and honoring community input? Are we attracting and retaining the best teachers to the district (through working conditions or pay)? Are the needs of all our students being met, etc.’’

In her statement in the Voters’ Pamphlet, Messer said, “As the mother of two students at Ogden Elementary, I see the great work done in our schools daily. However, as a National Board Certified science teacher of 14 years, I know more must be done. Our students are changing. Their needs are not the same as in the past, and we as a district, must change with them. In the last decade, we’ve moved from chalkboards to student computers, from textbooks to project-based learning, from spelling tests to state-mandated assessments. The expectations for both students and schools is higher than ever. 

“As a teacher and parent, I have the knowledge and experience needed to help the district navigate and adapt to these changes,’’ Messer stated. “Our district needs to be responsive to these changes. The policies and budget adopted by the school board should reflect the changing priorities and values of our community and the increasingly pressing needs of our students. In addition, we must respect the expertise of educators. It is our people that make our district great. As a school board director, I promise to honor the hard work of our educators, collaborate with the community, and develop a deep understanding of our students and families.’’

At her recent appearance at the League of Women Voters Candidate Forum, Messer closed her portion by saying, “I think I’m the best candidate up here for this position. I have my extensive professional experience in classrooms, especially working with high needs students and I bring that perspective. I have the perspective of a parent in the district through my own son and daughter, and seeing the work that the learning, that they’ve had in the classroom and the areas of improvement in Vancouver. I’ve been recognized by the Vancouver teachers and the Vancouver support educators and have been endorsed by them, as well as other local organizations. I have been nationally recognized as a National Board Certified Teacher, meaning that I’m one of the best in the area in my field.’’

School funding

At the recent League of Women Voters of Clark County Candidate Forum, both Decker and Messer were asked to describe their understanding of the revised funding formula recently enacted in the state of Washington based on the McCleary Decision and its implication specific to the Vancouver School District.

Here’s their responses:

Decker: “Some people call it ‘the McCleary Mess’ and ‘the McCleary Debacle.’ McCleary was based on a lawsuit and has been years and years in the works. The legislature put off making a decision, put off making a decision, and the decision that they made to equalize school funding, I believe is the wrong direction. And, if you want to see what will happen two years down the road, you can take a look at what happened in California with their schools, and what happened in Oregon, where I was before I was in the state of Washington, with their schools. When you equalize funding, typically, that means you’re equalizing funding by bringing expectations down, not by bringing spending and expectations up. Basically what happened is, they raised the state property taxes and capped the levies. That’s called the levy swap. And then, in order to distribute the state funds that are based on the new state income tax, they use an antiquated formula that does not take into account the special needs of the Vancouver School District. And if you want to talk about why we’re in a budget crisis, that is only part of it. You also need to talk about unfunded Special Ed, which is a huge crisis, more so than even ‘the McCleary Mess.’’’

Messer: “Part of the decision that was made is that the state took and capped local levy dollars, how much Vancouver schools could bring in. And then, they decided they would continue taking that money and redistribute it throughout the state. So, while we’re all paying the same property tax levels, Vancouver Public Schools isn’t getting the same amount of funding as it was in the past, which is what’s causing the current budget crisis and difficulties that the district is facing. So, we need to look at how can we fix this problem? One of the solutions is going to Olympia and asking them for more funding, looking at how can they fully fund Special Education instead of how they’re inadequately doing it, as well as bringing our education funding up to what we expect here in Vancouver. Another option is to look at how can we tighten our proverbial belts here in the district, which is kind of unappealing. We’re used to very good Special Education here in Vancouver, and it would be very sad to see us lower that. And our third option is to look at increasing our local levy input. The state recently increased the caps, so we can collect more dollars, but then we’re looking at a housing crisis in Vancouver. How do we balance that with increasing levy money? So, it’s a very complex problem that has a very complex solution that we need to look at.’’

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