Mukilteo Beacon - Your Hometown News Source

By David Pan 

School board candidates square off at forum

Incumbent Schwab challenged by newcomer Swardstrom in Position 2 race

 

Last updated 10/27/2021 at 2:45pm

From left to right: Judy Schwab, Peter Swardstrom, Jayme Lee Vail, Charles Hauck

Voters have two distinct choices in the Mukilteo School District Director District 2 race.

Incumbent Judy Schwab is seeking her seventh term on the school board, while challenger Peter Swardstrom is making his first run for public office.

The two, along with Director District 4 candidate Jayme Lee Vail, made their cases to voters during the Mukilteo Chamber of Commerce's Candidate Forum Thursday, Oct. 14, at Rosehill Community Center. Charles Hauck, Vail's opponent, was not at the forum.

Schwab touted her experience and involvement with the Mukilteo Schools community. She has lived in the district since 1982.

"I have been a staunch supporter of initiatives to increase and support academic success," Schwab said. "Half of our students live in poverty. Over 18 languages are spoken. These challenges only increase our determination to hold all of our students accountable for high academic standards and to give them the support they need to achieve them."

Schwab noted in several of the district's schools nearly 70% qualify for free or reduced lunches. The district has made a concerted effort to help those students. On the district's website, there is a toolbar with a help button that takes the user to services and resources for families. Schwab said nutrition services is providing meals, and every school has a food pantry that provides backpacks with food to kids to take home on the weekends.

The district has school support advocates and mental health counselors to support students living in poverty.

"We know that they face challenges, and we're going to support them with that," Schwab said. "But we're still going to do our best to teach these kids, and bring them along because an education is a path to rising out of poverty," Schwab said. "And parents support that. Families support that. And kids believe in it, too."

Swardstrom, who has a background in program management and business development management, has two sons in the district – one in middle school and one in high school.

"We have a vested interest in making this community great and making our school board better," Swardstrom said. "As a parent and as a member of the Mukilteo community, as many of you experienced over the last few years, our voices haven't been heard."

Swardstrom noted the district spends $19,000 per student, one of the highest amounts in the state.

Swardstrom listed a number of what he considered unfavorable statistics – 54% of the district's students aren't proficient in math; 50% are not proficient in science; 42% are not proficient in reading comprehension; and 13% are not graduating.

"We need new leadership in Mukilteo," Swardstrom said. "We need a voice for the parents. We need the community and the teachers to be heard."

A question on how the two candidates view sex education in the district brought out a sharp contrast.

"I personally have heard some horror stories and some shocking things," Swardstrom said. "But I really do want to investigate and look into it."

Swardstrom said the district may need to reevaluate the curriculum it uses, and he added people have described some of what they've seen as undignified, inappropriate, and even pornographic.

"I need to look into that further," he said.

Schwab described the district sex education curriculum as very well thought out.

"It is my understanding that our instruction to students is age appropriate," she said. "We are not teaching sex to children. And I think that is in no one's interest. And I think that it's important for kids to know what is appropriate behavior and how to avoid inappropriate behavior or again to report to their families or a trusted adult. But I haven't seen anything in the curriculum that I think is objectionable."

Both viewed the teachers union as playing a key role in the operation of the district.

"I see the teachers union and the parents as equal partners in raising our kids," Swardstrom said. "For a very long time, I think that the teachers' union may be overrepresented on the school board. I think it's time that we bring some of the community and the parents on board as well. We're partners."

Schwab described the teachers' union as an integral part of students' education.

"It is a partner with our leadership, our administration, our paraeducators, our classified," Schwab said. "All of us are partnered in the work of teaching our kids. And it's incumbent on us to honor the work of our teachers and to support them as well."

In interviews with The Beacon, the two candidates were asked about the state vaccine mandate for educators and school staff, and the mask mandate for students and staff in schools.

Swardstrom did not support either, preferring to leave the decisions up to individuals and families.

"Nothing should be mandated," he said. "I think it should be a matter of choice. ... I do not support mandatory vaccines."

Swardstrom, who said at the forum he contracted COVID-19 in March 2020, declined to say whether he had been vaccinated, adding he is glad vaccines are available.

"They are tremendously needed by some people," he said.

Swardstrom also said he's fine with people wearing masks if it makes them feel more comfortable.

Schwab said the district doesn't have much choice in the matter because it has to abide by state and county health regulations.

"I support vaccinations with staff with exemptions – religious and medical," she said. "I support masking up. I think it's effective in stopping the spread of the virus."

Schwab said she is vaccinated and also recently had a negative COVID test.

The Beacon also received some comments from residents concerned about some of Swardstrom's social media postings.

Swardstrom said politics needs to be kept out of the classroom, and he is definitely cautious about taking somebody's word on social media.

Schwab stressed the need for transparency.

"It's important for voters to know that school board members are transparent about their views," she said. "I really think politics should not enter into school board decision-making. It's what's best for students, how we can help them achieve, and how we can support them. That's my philosophy as an individual school board member."

Vail says she is a reflection of the community

Jayme Lee Vail, a candidate for Mukilteo School District Director Position 4, describes herself as a representative of the community.

"I've worked a full-time job. I've been unemployed," said Vail, who has 16 years of experience as a long-term care worker in assisted living, Alzheimer's, and dementia care. "I've been a stay-at-home mom. I've been able to provide for my family financially. I've been on state assistance.

"I have been where everyone is. And I know I can be a voice for the community, for the students, and for the teachers because I have been for the last nine years."

Vail has been a PTA board member and volunteer at Odyssey Elementary School.

If elected, Vail vowed to be a voice for all.

"I'm passionate about equity and providing each child with a 21st century education full of opportunities," she said. "As a school board member I plan to serve students, staff, and the community with compassion, patience, thoughtfulness, dedication, and heart. I know that, provided the opportunity, I'll do everything I can to ensure that the children have what they need to achieve success."

Listening to people is an important quality she would bring to the school board, Vail said. "That's the most important thing."

In response to a forum question on the role of the teachers' union, Vail said she sees it as important.

"They are on the front line," she said. "They're the ones dealing with the students and parents and getting to know our kids. And it's important that we partner and come and listen to them and do the best that we can to support them."

In an interview with The Beacon, opponent Charles Hauck said one of the reasons he's running is to return power back to parents and students.

"It's time to reign in the teachers' union," said Hauck, who said he has two grandchildren in the district. "The union has yielded too much power and decision-making. I believe it's time to review these policies and to restructure our educational system. We need to reevaluate budgets and where the money is going to, and make the best use of our resources."

Hauck, a real estate broker, is concerned about the district's test scores and the 13% of students who are not graduating.

"We need to review the reasons why kids are not performing to where we expect them to perform," Hauck said. "We need to find out what the problem is. I want to be able to talk to parents and students, and get some input from them. I want to put the power in learning back in the hands of parents and students."

Hauck is against mandatory vaccinations and mask mandates. Those decisions should be left up to parents and students, not to schools, he said.

"I believe it's the individual's responsibility to determine whether they want to be vaccinated or wear masks," said Hauck, who said he is not vaccinated. "That's their individual choice."

Vail supports children wearing masks in school.

"It's keeping our kids safe," she said.

Vail also is vaccinated, as is her 13-year-old daughter. Vail added that if and when her 3-year-old daughter can be vaccinated, she will be.

 

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