SIGN OF A CONTESTED ELECTION – District 1 and 2 La Conner school board incumbents Kate Szurek and Janie Beasley are challenged by John Agen and Marrlys Baker. An independent group of concerned La Conner citizens advocating change coordinated the purchase and distribution of 100 signs placed throughout the district over the weekend. Unlike mushrooms popping up after a rain, contested elections, and candidates’ signs, are a rare thing in recent years. – Photo by Ken Stern
The only contested election in greater La Conner turned out to be no contest. Challengers John Agen and Marlys Baker resoundingly defeated La Conner School District incumbent Directors Kate Szurek and Janie Beasley, respectively. Agen won the District 1 position with 60% of the vote out of 984 ballots cast. Baker won the District 2 position even more decisively, with 66% of the vote, of 931. All votes have been counted.
No candidate explicitly made Superintendent Whitney Meissner’s tenure an issue in the race, but Meissner has been at the center of turmoil in the school district since the spring. Beasley, chair of the five member school board, and Szurek, chair last year, were widely seen as strong supporters of Meissner. In June the teachers and support staff unions each passed no confidence votes in Meissner by overwhelming margins and in July asked the school board to replace Meissner. In a July column in the Weekly News they stated, “we firmly believe that our school district needs a new superintendent.” Neither Agen or Baker ran aggressive campaigns, but in mid-October 100 yard signs supporting Agen and Baker with the words “vote for change” were placed throughout the district. This was done independently of the candidates. At an October candidates forum, Agen responded to the issue of turmoil: “It is amazing to me in a community as small as ours that there is so much passion with the two unions. The board seems oblivious. It is the board’s duty to manage the superintendent so that the superintendent gets along with all the staff.” Tuesday night at the Skagit County election office, Baker said she needed time to work with Meissner, that she did not have experience with her and had not formed an opinion on keeping Meissner. Baker did say “I am really excited and know that people, the community are ready for change. I did it for the kids.” Tuesday afternoon Agen expressed doubts that the rift between the superintendent and the teachers was repairable. He intimated that as a board member he would look “for a gracious exit for the superintendent that won’t be too expensive.” Neither Beasley nor Szurek responded to email requests for comment Tuesday evening. Agen and Baker take office at the first official board meeting following the December certification of election results. Lynette Cram was reelected as a director and Susan Gardner Deyo was elected to the seat she was appointed to last spring. Brad Smith is the fifth director.