Four vie for Battle Ground school board seat

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Battle Ground Public Schools has the most heavily contested school board seat in North County, as four seek election to the District 1 seat.

Incumbent Mary Snitily faces Devin Scroggins, Chloe Seppala and John Siemssen Sr. in the August primary election.

Although BGPS technically also has a primary race for the District 3 seat, candidate Tori Denfeld has indicated she will not be able to fulfil the duties of the position if she is elected, effectively withdrawing from the race.

Snitily, who was appointed to the board in March, has served in a range of capacities in the education sector, including as a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent and a trainer of teachers. Snitily, who has four grandchildren in the district, stressed a focus on what happens in the classroom when it comes to directing the district.

“Things change, cultures change, but I think that bottomline, people really want for their own child to find success,” Snitily said.

She supports the district having a variety of choices among its educational offerings as something to meet that end.

“We have to be responsive to our community, and we have to be responsible with the money that they give us to educate kids,” Snitily said.

She noted the district recently had trouble with measures on the ballot, as the district failed to pass a levy earlier this year.

“I think people do support the schools and I have every hope that the levy will pass when it is re-run,” Snitily said. “I think it’s our job to be transparent to the community, so that they know we are spending their money wisely.”

Snitily said the board needs to balance input from the community regarding issues the district faces, like approving curriculum, while not losing sight of the overall goal to support students.

“What happens in the classroom is really what’s important for kids,” Snitily said. “I think when you get down to talking about sound bites or agendas or programs, you’ve kind of gotten away from looking at individual children.”

From her experience in education, Snitily says she has a deep understanding of the role a school board plays in running the district.

“You’re not the administrator of the school, you’re the governance piece,” Snitily said. “Sometimes I think people get on a school board with an agenda thinking they can change a specific thing that’s happening in schools.”

Scroggins, the work crew chief for Battle Ground Municipal Court and a retired officer of the U.S. Coast Guard, said finances are the biggest issue in the district. The levy failure and the decline of enrollment that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic complicated the usual financial constraints, he said.

“We’re really behind the 8-ball here,” Scroggins said.

A self-described conservative, Scroggins said one reason the levy failed is because of a lack of representation among the board for part of the district’s constituents.

“There’s a huge block of conservatives out in the school district that the district isn’t listening to,” Scroggins said.

He said voting for him would provide a good opportunity for those voices to be heard.

Speaking about now-state mandated comprehensive sexual health education, Scroggins said the district should “push back” where it can and find a solution that fits with the interests of the district’s population.

Through the Coast Guard and through his experience leading the court’s work crew, Scroggins said he has experiences with all kinds of different people, which allows him to complete the job when working with a diverse range of individuals.

“The goal is to get people to be a success and that’s what we want for our kids,” Scroggins said. “Not only from a conservative background, a liberal background, I think that the bottom line is we need to see the good in everybody and meet in the middle somewhere and I think I can do that.”

Neither Seppala or Siemssen gave responses to The Reflector, though both submitted information for the voter’s guide.

Seppala, a communications director and Summit View High School graduate, wrote that
“(c)hildren are the most valuable heritage in this life,” adding she believes they deserve education that “equips them for success and assists in building good character.”

Seppala expressed concern over critical race theory and comprehensive sex education curriculum, which she wrote were causing withdrawals from public schools “in droves.”

“Children should be taught in a politically neutral environment,” Seppala wrote.

She added that community values should be put before state mandates.

Seppala wrote she is a “youthful and fresh pair of eyes” who will research the issues and work with parents on solutions for the district.

Siessman, a 20-year Navy veteran turned truck driver and Battle Ground High School graduate, wrote the district needs to adapt to meet changes in technology. He noted he was able to experience a number of different cultures while in the military, including ones in the U.S.

“(I) will always have the best interest of children and young adults in mind,” Siemssen wrote.

Ballots for the primary election must be submitted before
8 p.m. on Aug. 3.

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