Budget, civics issues discussed in Port Townsend School Board race
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
Port Townsend School Board candidates Rita Beebe-Caldwell, left, and Jennifer James-Wilson meet the public in a forum Thursday.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — The sole contested race for the Port Townsend School Board pits a one-term incumbent against her predecessor.

Jennifer James-Wilson, who was first elected four years ago, is facing Rita Beebe-Caldwell, who as Rita Beebe held the Position 2 seat from 1993 until she decided not to run again in 2009, in the Nov. 5 general election for the four-year term.

“I have missed the School Board,” Beebe-Caldwell said.

“I have also missed serving with the public on behalf of the School Board.”

Both appeared before about 60 people at a forum at the Port Townsend Masonic Hall on Thursday night in what is the only scheduled public meeting between the two candidates.

Both said the school district will face budget challenges in the next few years.

“We have to handle our budget very carefully,” James-Wilson said.

“It has been a fragile system for several years, but we have the benefit of getting money from a programs levy in 2011 and a capital levy in 2012, but we still have to take care of some desperate needs,” she added.

Beebe-Caldwell said the capital levy can be renewed in three years.

“But we will need to get hold of the community in much the same way that Team Port Townsend got hold of the community in sponsoring athletics,” she said.

“I'd like to see them as involved in supporting academic programs as they were for athletics.”

James-Wilson, 55, has lived in Port Townsend since 1989 and is married to Scott Wilson, the publisher of the Port Townsend-Jefferson County Leader.

Her three children are all graduates of Port Townsend High School, and she is running “because I want to have a school system that embodies its sense of place and at the same time is connected to a larger world.”

Beebe-Caldwell, 65, is a fourth-generation Port Townsend resident and 1966 graduate of Port Townsend High School, and worked for the Defense Department and the Port Townsend Paper Corp. before her retirement.

She has six children and five grandchildren.

PT and Chimacum

James-Wilson said she doesn't think the Port Townsend School District will merge with Chimacum Schools in the near future but expects to see a greater consolidation of services such as scheduling and services.

“I see us forming a confederation of school districts in East Jefferson County between Port Townsend, Chimacum, Brinnon and Quilcene,” James-Wilson said.

“But I don't see us dissolving our district and merging with Chimacum.”

Beebe-Caldwell, who said on her website that “a merger with Chimacum seems inevitable, due to both districts' declining enrollment,” said other local districts don't want to merge with Port Townsend.

“We should be collaborating in all areas that we can, like training, purchasing power and technology,” she said.

Civics curriculum

Both candidates said civics instruction could be improved.

“Anything that would teach our students about our country, about their individual responsibilities, about their duty to serve and 'pay it forward,' I would be for,” Beebe-Caldwell said.

“Whether it be high school athletes helping with Little League programs or having students go out and work with the mayor, work with the hospitals, work with the mill, anytime you have a student who cannot understand what it means to have civic responsibilities, we have lapsed in our responsibility to them,” Beebe-Caldwell continued.

James-Wilson said: “One of the benefits of living in this particular community is we have the kind of scale in that our kids can immediately know what it is to belong and what it means to have responsibility for the world they live in.

I think that curriculum is going to be developed very intentionally to give kids the readiness to go out in the world.”

In her closing statement, Beebe-Caldwell said James-Wilson had done a “commendable” job on the board.

“I wish that I didn't have to run against Jennifer,” Beebe-Caldwell said.

“I would like there to be an at-large seat I could run for so Jennifer and I could serve together.”

Board member Holley Carlson, who is unopposed in her bid for a second term, attended the meeting but did not speak.


Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: October 05. 2013 5:24PM
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