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Kent School Board faces significant changes as three incumbents say they won't run

Kent School Board Directors Karen DeBruler (second from left), Ross Hardy (third from left), and Debbie Straus (fourth from left) say they will not run to retain their seats.
Ashley Gross
Kent School Board Directors Karen DeBruler (second from left), Ross Hardy (third from left), and Debbie Straus (fourth from left) say they will not run to retain their seats.

UPDATE, May 20: Updates to say that two people withdrew their names from the race for the Seattle School Board District 2 seat.

The Kent School District, which has contended with budget shortfalls in recent years and criticism from its teachers’ union, will have significant changes on its school board after this November’s election.

Three incumbents on the five-person board said they will not enter the race to retain their seats. Karen DeBruler and Debbie Straus made that announcement at the last school board meeting. Ross Hardy told KNKX Public Radio in an email that he also will not run.

Kent serves more than 25,000 students and is one of the biggest districts in the Puget Sound region. The district has been trying to recover from a budget crisis that emerged a couple of years ago after overspending. The school board has found itself on the receiving end of significant criticism from parents and labor groups, including the Kent Education Association.

KEA President Christie Padilla told the board and Superintendent Calvin Watts at a May 8 school board meeting that the teachers’ union building representatives reconfirmed a vote of no confidence in the district’s leadership and school board, faulting the district for its process of informing provisional teachers that their contracts will not be renewed for the coming school year.

Hardy, who was appointed to the board in October 2017, said he’s pushed for increased scrutiny of capital projects and procurement, as well as increased clarity in the budgetary process. He said he’s received positive feedback for being approachable and for being willing to dissent from other board members, but that the continued criticism, particularly from the teachers’ union, has taken a toll.

“I cannot ignore the overall sentiment that the community seeks a completely new board of directors,” he wrote.

One parent who has been a vocal critic of the district and the board, Michele Greenwood Bettinger, has filed to run for the seat DeBruler is vacating. Bettinger filed a complaint last year against the district after saying she had failed to get answers regarding Kent’s budget difficulties. David Canterbury also has filed to run for that seat.

Leah Bowen has filed to run for Hardy’s seat, and Leslie Kae Hamada plans to run for the seat Straus is vacating.

The seven-member Seattle school board also will experience significant changes.

Incumbents Rick Burke, Jill Geary and Scott Pinkham have not filed to run for re-election. Betty Patu, who was re-elected in 2017, said earlier this week that she plans to give up her seat next month. The board will choose her replacement.

In District 2, which Burke currently holds, Lisa Rivera Smith is the sole candidate. Two others, Melissa Westbrook and Rebecca Wilson, had filed but later withdrew. 

Zachary DeWolf, who represents District 5, has filed to run for a Seattle City Council seat.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.