Bamini Pathmanathan is running for Camas School Board, District 4 position. She was appointed by the School Board earlier this year to fill the vacancy of Doug Quinn, who resigned to work as Camas City Administrator. She is running for a full four-year term. Pathmanathan answered several Lacamas Magazine questions, and here are her answers.
Why are you running for school board?
Quality education is the cornerstone of a strong community, and why many of us chose Camas as the place we call home. I am a dedicated advocate for high-quality education and am passionate about our Camas community, as demonstrated by my work on the Camas School Board, the Camas Educational Foundation, the Prune Hill PTA, and the hours I have spent in my children’s classrooms. I am committed to supporting positive impacts for students in our schools, ensuring an exceptional learning environment and enhancing the experience for all students.
A positive, outstanding, and quality educational experience teaches our students to enjoy learning and empowers them to achieve their goals. It is said that “it takes a village” to raise and educate our children. I understand, first hand, the importance of education, experience of caring teachers and a system that wants every child to succeed. Excitement and apprehension intertwined as I embarked on a new chapter in my life as a young immigrant child, starting in a fifth grade classroom filled with children speaking a language I could not comprehend. I came to this country knowing “Hello, my name is Bamini” and the entire alphabet with the letter “Z” pronounced as “zat.” I was assigned a classmate to be my “guide,” to be my voice. Both my sister and I were provided an educator over the summer and extra help with reading and writing to get us to grade level. We required more and they saw our needs. We were also children of immigrant parents, who were trying to navigate life in this foreign land and provide for their children. The system did not fail us because of the dedicated teachers and the kindness of the community. I have experienced the struggles and isolation that children should not have to experience. In our household, we uphold the value of contributing to the community. When the community gives to you, paying it forward is not just a choice but a heartfelt obligation. It was due to the support from the school and the community that led to our success.
I understand the importance of a collaboration between the citizens of our community, the school board and district is integral to every student’s success. I believe in being a part of collaborative decision-making processes, with input from our community, our teachers, our students, and outside experts, as needed, to support a positive and successful direction for our district. I want to be a part of a team that helps every student find their success.
What are your priorities, should voters elect you, over the next four years?
Adequate funding for our schools is required to ensure quality education and to ensure all students are successful and have their needs met. The goal is to have a sustainable financial foundation that supports the diverse needs of all students and educators. School districts and board members need to advocate for sufficient and equitable funding, particularly at the state level, where over 80 percent of our funding comes from. Working with our legislators is vital to the Camas district’s financial stability and success. The state funding formula aims to ensure a basic standard of education for all districts; however, it is not enough to provide the level of support and teaching on which Camas prides itself and desires for its students in the future. Overall health, including social, emotional, and mental health, of each student will always remain a priority.
The school board is ultimately responsible for approving budgets. Why do we keep running deficits, and how would you approach the budget should you be re-elected?
The last few years have been a perfect storm – a worldwide pandemic, slower enrollment growth, and a state funding model change, which negatively affected the money we receive per student compared to previous years and was inadequate to support the structure of the existing Camas educational system. While the school board is responsible for approving the final budget, the school budget goes through various phases before it lands in the hands of the board. As assessments of educational needs and priorities of the district are evaluated, revenue projections are established using state and federal funding, local taxes, and other sources of revenue. Transparency and effective communication with stakeholders are also established to ensure that the budget reflects the priorities of the school community. As a member of the Camas School Board, I intend to continue to work cooperatively with the Camas community, Superintendent, and staff to find creative solutions and commit to advocating on behalf of the District with state legislators. I will continue this important work with the support of this community.
Many voters blame the school board for the tone of the recent labor negotiations. They say you set a negative tone and drove a wedge between teachers and parents. How do you respond to that?
Negotiations can take a toll on the community and can cause disharmony. Finding a balance that satisfies both parties, with consideration of their respective needs and concerns can be emotionally taxing. However, through this arduous process, neither of the bargaining teams lost focus on what matters most to all of us, the students. There were lessons learned from this experience by both parties, particularly around proper communication with the community and each other. The district and CEA bargaining teams are currently engaging in an after-action review process, and I support their goal of reflecting on what went right and wrong in order to learn from this experience. It’s this collaboration that will help us return to a negotiating process in two years that more resembles the tone of previous rounds of bargaining. I believe continuing to have open communication, addressing concerns proactively, and analyzing the impact are essential to mending broken relationships and trust. Our community and our kids are watching, and we have shown we can learn and grow as one unified school district.
Regarding school safety, would you support more School Resource Officers in our schools? If not, what other things should we do to protect our students?
Schools must be safe and feel safe for students and teachers to achieve their full potential. Promoting school safety and protecting Camas’ schools is a priority. School Resource Officers can help prevent school-based violence, possibly identify and connect at-risk students to needed services, and create safe, secure, and peaceful school environments. Continuing a strong relationship between the schools, its students, and our local law enforcement agency is important to the school safety system.
How do you address the growing mental health issues affecting students?
Acknowledging the fact that we have these important issues affecting our students is a great start. Promoting awareness about mental health issues to reduce the stigma will create a safe space for this student community. Providing access to counseling services at each school, training educators and staff to recognize signs of mental health issues, and encouraging empathy and understanding among educators are a few steps to addressing the issues affecting our student’s mental health. In order to provide these services, advocating for funding for school mental health providers/counselors at each school would be the ideal place to start.
The school board pushes for equity across the school district. How does equity differ from equality?
Equity recognizes that each child is unique in their own way and students have different needs that may require an individualized approach. Treating everyone exactly the same may produce different results. Equity acknowledges there are differences and therefore aims to ensure that everyone has access to what they need to be successful.
Equality ensures that everyone has the same resources, and opportunities and assumes the “one size fits all” approach.
What three things do you want to fix in the Camas School District?
Funding is crucial to all aspects of school. We have amazing educators, support staff, and administration who can produce a top-tier educational experience for each student with the proper resources. Unfortunately, changes to the state funding model in 2018 caused Camas to experience declining state revenue that outpaced our expenses. Financial constraints can limit resources and opportunities for students and teachers. Therefore, advocating for changes to how Camas receives state funding, which accounts for 80 percent of our budget, would make an impactful difference in our student’s lives and experiences. Continuous advocacy efforts are required in this area of securing funds for our schools that align with our expectations for a fair and excellent public education.
Continuity of care: It is important to continue to focus on seeing and serving each student, from the time they enter our schools to the day they graduate. We need to continue to look at how students and families access learning, resources, and experiences in our district and ensure that a student’s circumstances in life are not a hindrance to their level of success in our schools. Early detection of concerns, timely interventions, and coordinated management become more feasible when there’s continuity in the care of the student. This proactive approach to a student’s educational journey can lead to better outcomes and greater success. Consistent and connected care, attention, and support can profoundly impact every child’s experience and growth in our schools. It is vital to continue our efforts in seeing and serving our students.
Recent negotiations have shown us the importance of relationships and how easily trust can be eroded. It has shown us all that open communication is key. It is important to listen to the community’s concerns and work collaboratively to rebuild our connections and trust. So improving on transparency and willingness to work out differences for the greater good of the students and teachers is paramount.
What three things is CSD doing correctly?
Creating a community within a community: Camas School District’s staff and teachers aim to foster a sense of community within each of our schools. Organized events such as the Track Meet for all 5th graders and Twilight Meet for all middle schoolers, are examples of bringing schools together. DECA and robotics programs, for example, invite and encourage parent and community involvement in learning opportunities for the students. These examples are just a few of the many opportunities for the schools to come together as one.
Opportunities to learn: Investing in modern teaching tools and technology, finding innovative ways to teach, and providing extraordinary experiences for their students, are all part of the educational experience at CSD. Camas Education Foundation grants opportunities for all schools to further enhance the educational experiences for their students and teachers. There are different school options, various academic program pathways, and the number of clubs and strong athletic programs are all made available here at CSD.
Community Involvement: Strong community involvement and support also add to the success of this school district. Camas School District can provide a robust educational experience for students with the help of community members, businesses, and parents’ engagement with the school. Connections create a strong bond with a strong foundation for learning and growing.
What are CSD’s strengths?
In 2008, we embarked on a cross-country move for a job in Vancouver, WA. With three young kids in the family, where we would reside was solely based on schools. Education in Camas was described as “quality” and “extraordinary.” Camas School District is well known for its excellence in education with possibilities for all students. A key component is the highly qualified and dedicated teachers who provide a positive, impactful learning environment to their students. A place that aims to provide students with a well-rounded education. CSD has a successful system; a system that is intricately woven into the dedication, expertise, and collaborative spirit of its people. It is the collective efforts, skills, and commitment of these individuals that breathe life into the school’s functionality and overall effectiveness.