This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.
The races for Tacoma school board won’t be decided for another month, yet there’s already been an upset.
In the August primary, retired schoolteacher and principal Connie Rickman lost her bid for a second six-year term. Rickman, a supporter of ousted schools superintendent Charlie Milligan, faced some formidable challengers.
One of them, Catherine Ushka-Hall, is headed to the general election’s runoff for Position 2.
She is running against Jerry Thorpe, a former Tacoma teacher, Metro Parks commissioner and Port of Tacoma commissioner.
Thorpe’s prior public service doesn’t recommend him for the job. On the park commission, he showed a tendency to posture and pander in accordance with the shifting winds of public opinion. At the port, he had a reputation for not appreciating his policy-making role and trying to meddle in administrative matters.
Ushka-Hall is the better choice by far. She is one of the best candidates we’ve met this year in any race, and certainly one of the only newcomers who would be prepared to step right into the job from day one.
Unlike Thorpe, Ushka-Hall’s public service has been primarily dedicated to public schools. She has been a member, and a vocal one at that, of a number of school district advisory committees and school funding campaigns.
Ushka-Hall, who works as a supervisor for Expedia.com, is also a member of the Tacoma Human Services Commission and Eastside Neighborhood Council. She’s endorsed by Mayor Bill Baarsma, five Tacoma City Council members and Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy.
Ushka-Hall says she wants to hold the school district accountable for improving the graduation rate and boosting the performance of minority and low-income students. She also wants the district to be more welcoming of parental participation.
In the other school board race on the ballot this year, incumbent Kurt Miller is seeking re-election. He deserves voters’ support.
Miller is the board’s constructive critic. When a board majority tried to fast-track a passing grade for Milligan despite mounting evidence that he was causing strife, Miller was one of two members to speak up and say slow down. He has kept the pressure on the school board to set high expectations for its superintendent and is most likely to ask questions about district initiatives.
His challenger, Stan Smith, is a stay-at-home dad and former social worker for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Smith has some beefs with Miller’s service, one that dates back five years and others that are largely based on speculation.
He is a well-intended candidate who has been pushing the district to come up with a plan for making its facilities and programs more accessible to the disabled. But Smith doesn’t make a case for unseating a proven school board member who has been instrumental in helping the board flex its independence.