Local attorney, George McCoy, is running as a write-in candidate for Camas School Board, District 4 position against Bamini Pathmanathan, who was appointed to the position earlier this year when Doug Quinn stepped down to serve as Camas City Administrator. Lacamas Magazine asked McCoy several questions about his candidacy.
Why are you running?
I decided to run for school board because of the way the school board handled the recent labor stoppage. The messaging from the board and our Camas School District Superintendent put a wedge between teachers and the community. I don’t think they are transparent in the way they handled the process. I think they could do better.
There was a number of emails sent to parents and the community after the strike were sent to all of our students, as well.
They sent an email about their last final offer and that wasn’t true. They sent emails about union representatives not meeting in a timely manner. All of those communications were very divisive in their nature, and it never really felt like the School Board and Superintendent valued the community. They didn’t understand the value of teachers in our community. So many teachers and parents felt this way during the entire process.
I think the current Superintendent is trying to run the district more like a business than a school district. We should treat teachers like people. Now, we have this irreperable rift between teachers and parents. The danger is the lack of trust between parents and the school district and it’s created a lack of trust between voters and the teachers.
I also feel we’ve gotten a little complacent in Camas about our School Board. We’ve had great schools for a long time, and we have three school board members running unopposed, and that’s not healthy for democracy. Nobody on the school board seems to be comfortable with conflict; they don’t engage in debate. They’ve been given budgets that don’t make sense, so they need to question what’s in them. They don’t do that.
If elected, what are your priorities?
Transparency to the public. Transparency in communications is so vital; it’s about respecting hard-earned tax dollars. If we have contested labor negotiations we need to start those early. There’s no reason why the teachers should have been forced to go on strike.
We also need to keep all the current high schools open. The alternatives for the community work for them because we have a very diverse community. There are kids that live very different lives with very different needs. Having Odyssey, Discovery and Hayes gives them the opportunity to learn and thrive.
I think we do need a baseline of equity where everyone has the opportunity to learn and thrive. We need the alternatives and options for those who are highly capable. We’ve seen an erosion of that in Camas schools.
Class size has to be prioritized. You can’t give attention to the kids when there are so many kids in a classroom. We need to ensure we are able to set up a a diverse curriculum. We are able to do both of those things if we have 1:1 time. I think the adjustments with McCleary have been difficult for Camas and we can’t use levy money for that. On the flip size, we aren’t pushing back on the state. We need to prioritize that. Just accepting that isn’t the right answer, either. The state has too many unfunded mandates and we need to push back on that, and fight for what’s right. We have to fund PE and special education.
We are in this perpetual situation, and this is not good enough.
Is the public school system broken?
I think the best education is in a public education setting. I don’t think it’s an optimal situation right now, but I think it’s better than the alternatives out there. I think it’s better than a home school setting. I think the social interactions in school are important.
I think learning from folks with different perspectives is important. Not everything in our schools is academic. One of them in the social-emotional piece.
I have four kids in this system ages 13, 10, 8, and 6. I want them to thrive. I want all the kids to thrive, but our system needs a significant overhaul.
I think one thing to fix is uniformed communication between parents and teachers. The communication level you get varies depending on the teacher. I get some communication weekly, some monthly, some never. Maybe once a week we could budget time for teachers to communicate more. It’s helpful for parents to know what their kids are doing.
Ms. Swan is great at communicating. That’s something we could improve upon. Let’s give them an extra 20 minutes a week.
Second thing: We have to lean into different opportunities available for our children. We can’t talk about removing programs and schools. Students that might be struggling need programs and opportunities to lift them up.
What are we doing right?
We have hired incredible teachers over the years. We have great teachers. I think we’ve had a good job getting folks in the classroom that really care about students and the community.
I think we have great athletic programs. Not speaking to our Superintendent but others have done a good job promoting these programs.
Pinpointing the wrong turn in our district is difficult. I think complacency has built up over time. It’s been a bunch of small things over the years that have taken us in the wrong direction. Like the frog in a pot of boiling water.
Are parents paying enough attention?
They are paying attention to the information given them.
How does a write-in candidate succeed?
I think people are fed up, and we’re getting the message out. I’m reaching out to people on Facebook. I put up campaign signs. We are walking neighborhoods. I have a small group getting the word out. We are trying to do everything we can in a short window to win this campaign. We need people showing up at school board meetings and talk about what they’re doing wrong.