Clarification: In the email interview with Jimmy Stewart, he did not mention that he worked for the Seattle Police Department, that his “expertise” in security comes from working with the SPD, or that he was representing the SPD in any way. The Courier-Herald was made aware of his employment with the department through public records. The article has been updated.
Plateau voters should have received their ballots last week, which means it’s almost time to choose who to represent you on the Enumclaw School District.
Last week, the Courier-Herald looked at the contest between ESD District 3 Director Tyson Gamblin and challenger Cadematori — this week, we’re examining the heated race between Jimmy Stewart and Scott Mason for the District 1 seat.
Unlike with Tyson and Cadematori, online chatter regarding the Stewart and Mason campaigns has turned sour in recent weeks, with allegations of hacking, PDC violations, and police policy violations (Stewart is an officer with the Seattle Police Department).
The Courier-Herald will get into those rumors, but first, the candidates and their platforms.
Given that Stewart and Mason are running against each other to be on the ESD Board, their platforms aren’t as different as you might first think.
Stewart, a former Black Diamond resident who moved to Enumclaw ten years ago, said he and his family have made strong connections with many different facets of the district, from “organized sports,… teachers, paras and school staff at different schools” through their children.
“It’s nice to have our fingers on the pulse of the district,” he said in a recent email interview, adding that he and his wife have been members of the Byron Kibler Elementary PTA, and his wife has served as PTA president, vice president, and secretary for Kibler.
“I decided to run after some respected people in our community approached me and told me they would give me their support,” Stewart continued. “I was very honored that they were willing to trust me to represent them, other parents, kids and voters at the Director’s table.”
Mason has lived in the area as an adult for 29 years, though he also lived nearby as a child — his parents were founding members of the Black Diamond Historical Society, and Mason joked that as a kid, he threw “fits” when he was dragged to those functions, though he realizes how valuable of an experience that was now that he’s an adult.
Like Stewart, Mason has children in the district — six of his own, plus another 13 foster kids that he helped navigate the local school system in some capacity.
“I’ve always been blown away by the support that I’ve gotten from everyone in the district, from teachers to administrators to bus drivers… everybody,” he said. “I was taught at a very young age the important of giving back to your community, and I think the biggest way that I’ve done that in my life… is through kids. Running for school board is my next natural step.”
Mason touted his business experience with Boeing as a former IT project manager as a plus, since he’s experienced with large projects and knows what to look for when it comes to effectively examining the district’s $80 million budget.
Trust and participation
Maybe one of the biggest key words you have heard in all of the ESD Board races this year is “trust” — as in, voters have little or none for the current Board. That trust has been eroding, some have said, since 2015, when a bond issue that passed with four votes ended up not paying for all of the promised projects (the district has held that the mistake their consultants provided the then-Board with incorrect estimates).
Then came the February 2023 special election with another bond measure for $253 million, which failed by 75% of the vote.
“The trust between the voters and the ESD has been slowly dissolved over the years. Without a renewed trust, it will be difficult to keep our school district alive and competitive,” Stewart said. “The first step is listening. A School Board member must listen to its constituents – voters, parents, teachers – and use that feedback to work on solutions. My specific goals will depend on this feedback.”
He added that part of that is getting parents and guardians to participate in district politics again.
“I want to encourage parent/guardian participation, which has largely been lost. This is crucial,” he said. “The teachers can only do so much, and we know education outcomes improve with parent participation.”
Another way to gain trust, Stewart said, is to “reinforce parents’ rights” at ESD.
“Parents should know what curricula are being used, with full transparency and answers to concerns. The classroom should be neutral, with the expectation that differences of opinion are respected, and no one political, religious or social construct is being pushed,” he said.
Mason said that a lot of trust has been lost via a lack of transparency, or at least the appearance of a lack of transparency, between ESD and local parents and voters; he wants to work on how the Board can better communicate clearly with the public “so the community can really understand what is really going on, and not get wrapped around the axel about things that aren’t true.”
Mason provided examples like how the district doesn’t teach Critical Race Theory (though he added he’s been asked about that more than a dozen times) and there is no lack of a parents’ control over their kids’ education.
“Parents’ rights aren’t being taken away at school,” he said. ‘That’s just another one of those things that fear mongers are putting out there.”
Mason suggested town hall meetings, or another way for the public and the Board to communicate back-and-forth, are needed (an idea that Stewart, Cadematori, Tonya Pettit, and Ben Stouffer — collectively called the Candidates for Change — have also floated) to regain trust in the district.
School test scores
Stewart, like the rest of Candidates for Change, have a platform of improving ESD student test scores, noting that only 54.3% of ESD students met ELA standards, 42.5% met math standards, and 48.2% met science standards in spring 2023 — higher than some local districts, but lower than others.
Though he didn’t address this issue in his email interview, Stewart wrote on his Facebook campaign that “test scores aren’t everything and they’re right, they aren’t,” but that they’re also the measurement used to judge how well students are learning and how the district is performing.
“I’ve heard through a couple of parents, that the high school kids don’t like testing, so they don’t do it, or take it serious,” he asked. “Our teachers are skilled and are amazing, so I’m wondering where the disconnect is?”
Mason said that he doesn’t want to get “bogged down” by test scores.
“I don’t want state numbers to be driving our school board,” he continued. “I want doing the best for our students to drive it.”
Mason added that he would like to explore how to bring basic life skill education — resumés, taxes, job interviews, etc. — back into the district.
“It was taught when I went to school, and it’s a class I benefited from greatly,” he said.
Both candidates indicated support for a new bond if the one for $103 million on the Nov. 7 ballot fails.
Mason said that he’s seen how crowded Black Diamond Elementary is, and that as a Board member, wants to work on repairing what he sees as a geographical rift between Enumclaw and Black Diamond so that students in both cities can have appropriate facilities for education.
“I see a lot of the divides in the community, not just opinions about the School Board, but Enumclaw against Black Diamond,” he continued. “I want to do everything I can to try to bring us together as a community… if we don’t, we’re never going to be able to get anything accomplished.”
However, Mason said that he would only support a bond that would pay for a new Enumclaw elementary and Birth to Five building, a new Black Diamond elementary, and funds for upgrading school security and various other necessary repairs — nothing like the previous $253 million bond that also included a new performing arts center and sports stadium.
Stewart added that though he would support another bond measure to build a new Black Diamond school and “fix or replace” Byron Kibler in Enumclaw, he would do so only if there’s “full transparency” about where money from the bond is being spent.
“ESD must be responsible with taxpayers’ money and deliver what they promise,” he said. “I believe a new Board will be willing to look at both options, instead of approving a massive cost for replacing just one school.”
Stewart also strongly supported increasing school safety.
“I know I have expertise in this area,” he said. “Every person attending a ESD school or event expects and deserves to be safe. My goal from day one, will be to do a full analysis of the schools and their safety-related needs. I’d like to form a Safety Council, made up of people in our community, including first responders.”
Rumors and accusations
There have been a few harsh words and allegations thrown at both candidates in this race.
One involved a supporter of Mason accusing the Stewart campaign of “hacking” Mason’s Venmo, which was collecting donations; Mason said this was a misunderstanding between him and supporter Kristiana de Leon, a Black Diamond council member, and her social media post regarding that accusation has since been deleted.
There was also an alleged Public Disclosure Commission campaign violation on the part of the Mason campaign, as supporters of Stewart noted that Mason’s father was disturbing political material on ESD school property, and the flyers failed to identify a sponsor.
Stewart’s campaign said that they were at this time uninterested in pursuing a PDC complaint, and that they would rather focus on actual issues regarding the race.
But perhaps the most serious accusations regarded multiple Seattle Police Department Office of Professional Accountability investigations into alleged policy violations on the part of Stewart; one social media post noted “numerous misconduct problems” but failed to provide specifics.
According to Open Oversight, a Seattle Tech Bloc that aims to improve law enforcement transparency in the PNW, Stewart has been involved in at least 16 various Office of Police Accountability investigations into policy violations between 2014 and 2021, all of them minor.
Some Office of Professional Accountability reports on these alleged violations were not immediately available for review.
However, seven of the complaints appear to have been found to be related to a “performance issue or minor policy violation” that did not need a full investigation, according to the OPA, and another five complaints were found to be unfounded or inconclusive.
There was one 2015 violation regarding training and qualification, which resulted in an oral reprimand; a 2016 violation over failing to activate his in-car video system resulted in a written reprimand; and one 2021 for acting “unprofessionally” by making “unnecessary and potentially escalatory” comments at a demonstration, resulting in a written reprimand.
The most serious violation occurred in 2017 for failing to turn on the in-car video system, which resulted in a suspension without pay.
“This is going down the road of a personal attack and not sticking to what matters most. I’ve never done anything egregious but voters might read that and think it’s horrible,” Stewart said in response, calling the complaints “frivolous”. “I’ve worked in Seattle and have for about 20 years. I’ve probably contacted over 100,000 people while I’ve been a police officer, and I have three complaints that were sustained, two of which were violations of camera policy, where I thought my camera was on but it wasn’t. The other was my work and personal schedule, which wouldn’t allow me to attend a training day, so I got a complaint.”
He added that for the demonstration complaint, someone took his words out of context.
Stewart noted that he’s also received several awards over the years, including an Excellence Award in 2018, a Life Saving Award in 2022, and is a two-time Seattle Police Officer’s Guild Officer of the Month.
A related rumor is that Stewart has been on administrative leave from the SPD since late 2021; campaign manager Jessica McCoy-Storton said that is a “blatant lie”.