Wenatchee School Board Member Martin Barron Running for Re-Election
Current Wenatchee School board member Martin Barron is running for reelection, choosing to stay while the district undergoes huge changes in the next school year.
Last year, the board replaced their at-large voting system with a regional district voting system, dividing four of the five districts into separate geographic areas and leaving all seats available for newcomers.
This change was made in order to avoid a possible violation of the Washington Voting Rights Act.
Barron is running for the at-large seat, competing against candidates Tricia Cleek and John LaCasse.
Barron has been serving on the board since 2019, and was briefly board president in 2022. He currently sits on the budget committee, policy committee, and the Washington State advisory committee for migrant education.
Before retiring, Barron worked as a chemical engineer, was a development economist in Papua New Guinea, served in Agribusiness Production and Logistics Management in both north and south America, and worked in various finance and administrative positions in Ecuador and Wenatchee.
“I'm aware of cultural differences, I happen to speak Spanish. I worked in agriculture and a variety of other areas,” Barron said. "I think all of those things are complementary, plus my interest in education to what a school district does, so I'm willing to do it without an agenda.”
Barron also served as the Director and Treasurer for Wenatchee Confluence Rotary and volunteered at the district for three decades.
He said that running for another term would provide some stability to the board during this transitional period.
“I wasn't originally intending to run, but it was suggested to me that it would be very helpful for the school district if I carried on running,” Barron said. “It's in a period of transition, so I could add some stability and continuity with my experience and I very much believe in the value of working on the school district. So I was convinced to change my plans and this is the right thing to do.”
Within the past two years, the district has been grappling with declines in student enrollment, resulting in cuts to both staffing and the general budget.
Barron says that he has been working closely with Interim Superintendent Bill Eagle on the 2023-24 budget.
Back in May, Eagle shared that next year’s budget will be $200,000 less than their initial calculated budget.
As a result, the district will be cutting 39 staff positions.
Barron says a cut to staffing is something that will be necessary in order to ensure financial stability.
“So we're a little late in starting the redactions, some mitigation has been possible,” Barron said. “But that's the other factor and it has made a more steeper cut than would have been ideal.”
Barron also said that the district will no longer receive COVID-19 relief funds from the state, which is also leading to a more conservative budget.
Another change coming to the district is that their three-year levy is expiring in less than 18 months, requiring voters to either accept or deny a new levy next year.
Barron said that levy funds finance programs within the district that do not receive state assistance, and if residents vote down the new levy, then they will have to cut certain programs, nor can they revitalize facilities at Wenatchee High School.
“I don't think we can have a backup plan,” Barron said. “The backup plan is not good. We have to work to get it passed.”
Barron says that the district will also need to analyze what education will look like in the future when remodeling Wenatchee High School.
“We need to do the homework on how to do it well, in terms of building capital infrastructure and that's going to be a heavy lift,” Barron said.
He says one of his proudest moments working within the district was making financial literacy courses a graduation requirement for students.
“That's teaching students how to survive in insurance taxes, minding budgets [and] debt after they graduate,” Barron said. “The world is full of the gig economy and independent contractors and people no longer are as sheltered as they were.”
Other changes that could come to students are recent innovations in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and being able to spot misinformation.
Barron stresses the fact that once a new member is elected to the board, they need to act as a cohesive unit alongside the superintendent, and not try to push an agenda.
“It's great to have a range of opinions, in fact it's very helpful to have a range of criteria and opinions on the board,” Barron said. “But go into that board with the idea that you're going to work with your colleagues.”