Op-ed: ‘There is a statewide effort by the state teacher’s union to promote and support union leaders to run for positions on local school boards’

Vancouver School District Board President Mark Stoker offers his views of attempts by the Washington Education Association to gain control of school boards

Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in this Op-ed column are those of the author alone and do not reflect the editorial position of ClarkCountyToday.com.

Mark Stoker
Mark Stoker

For months now, I have been telling anyone who would listen that there is a statewide effort by the state teacher’s union (WEA) to promote and support union leaders to run for positions on local school boards. Sure, they will say they’re in it for the kids, and greater transparency and accountability, and other buzz words they think the public will get behind. For me, the motivation is obvious; gain control of local school boards and influence bargaining and budgeting in a way that favors union objectives. These would be the proverbial foxes guarding the hen house.

In my 12 years on the Vancouver School Board, I have seen such efforts in the past. The spouse of a local union executive ran against me and lost several years ago. Recently, Wendy Smith, an Evergreen school teacher and union activist, ran and won, a position on the Vancouver School Board. However, I never expected the union to admit to the plan and try to capture a majority of the board. 

Recently, Evergreen teacher’s union immediate past-president, Rob Lutz, who is also the spouse of current VPS Board Director Wendy Smith, posted the following on his public Facebook page commenting on the resignation of a Tumwater School Board member: “Getting to be the sounding board for a school board director who is not afraid to make noise while in the minority, makes me keenly aware of Director Davis’ account. However, in the case of VPS, Wendy and I decided to fight, instead of quit. These things are exactly why we are fighting to take over the majority in VPS, and ask you to elect Lisa Messer and Tracie Barrows. Furthermore, after we get Bethany Rivard elected in Evergreen, if that board ignores her too, I’m coming for the two seats up in that District in 2021!” 

Vancouver school board candidates Messer and Barrows, and Evergreen school board candidate Rivard, (as well as Smith and Lutz), all serve or have served as teacher union officers. Messer currently works in the same Evergreen school as Smith. The post Lutz made is an explicit statement of intent. This is a union power grab. 

Kyle Sproul is running for position 1 on the Vancouver School Board and is also endorsed by the union. Her independence must also be questioned. Vancouver School District taxpayers deserve better. There is a saying in politics that rings true in this case in terms of who is buying undue influence — “follow the money.” Messer, Barrows and Sproul have all taken union political action dollars to pay for campaign materials or activities. 

Board directors should be beholden to the children, families and taxpayers they serve; not the union. The independent voices for Vancouver School Board are Dale Rice for Position 1, Kathy Decker for Position 4 and Chris Lewis for Position 5. For me, these are the independent choices, and I encourage voters to do their homework before voting.

Mark Stoker

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