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Education issues: School board elections in Moses Lake center on mandates on race, sex ed and communication

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | July 21, 2021 1:07 AM

MOSES LAKE — Concerns over the teaching of race, gender and sex in public schools, as well as a lack of trust in the Moses Lake School District fostered by a perceived lack of communication are the things motivating most of this year’s candidates running for seats on the Moses Lake School Board.

Two seats are up for contention in the Aug. 3 primary, and again in November’s general election. Vying for Director District 2 are incumbent board member (and current board president) Vickey Melcher, who was first elected in 2017, and challengers Paul Hill and Noah Zemke. That race was covered in a July 16 article in the Herald.

Facing off for the Director District 4 seat being vacated by Elliott Goodrich, who was first elected in 2017 and then later announced he would not seek re-election, are Moses Lake Police Chief Kevin Fuhr, Rachel Roylance Gallacci, business owner and former Moses Lake City Council Member James Liebrecht, and Matt Paluch.

The two with the most votes in each race will go on to face each other in the November general election.

Director District 4

MLPD Chief Kevin Fuhr, 54, has lived in Moses Lake for the last five years. His daughter graduated from Moses Lake High School and he is a longtime volunteer who serves on the board of the Columbia Basin Cancer Foundation.

“I love what I do,” he said. “Every single day I love what I do.”

Fuhr said he decided to run for the school board because both the board and the district do a very poor job of communicating with the public, and he believes much of the conflict following the 2017 school construction bond could have been averted had the district communicated its vision for the community better.

“They are not nearly as open or transparent with anything that they do with the public, with the community,” he said.

Fuhr pointed to the way the MLPD uses social media to communicate virtually everything it does — arrests, operations, “feel-good” stories about things officers do, annual statistics. He believes the school district should do the same thing with all of its data, so that members of the public can see what the MLSD is up to and even make suggestions.

“What I want to see the school district do is communicate what they are doing with the new high school building,” Fuhr said. “What programs are going to be taught there? What students will be instructed in that building? And what’s that going to look like?”

Fuhr also said he believes the district needs to be much more transparent about what children at all grade levels are taught about controversial subjects, such as sex ed. And he thinks local districts should be willing to consider suing the state — much in the same way Gov. Jay Inslee sued the federal government during the administration of President Donald Trump — over federal laws and regulations they disagreed with over 40 times.

“If we are being forced to teach something that this community does not see as a benefit to our community or maybe goes against our value in this community, what are the options that we have?” Fuhr asked. “Could we look at saying no, we’re not going to teach it, and seeing what the repercussions would be?”

Because one size does not fit all, Fuhr said, and no school district “should have to be forced to do something we don’t want to do.”

Rachal Roylance Gallacci, 37, is a Moses Lake native, mother of three, and MLHS graduate who left the area for a time but came back after becoming a teacher to help run the family’s dairy farm southeast of town.

“I loved it, I loved working with the cows and working with my hands and being outside,” she said. “I’m a full-time mom, that is now my favorite job. I love being a homemaker and taking care of my kids and my family and it brings me the most joy.”

Gallacci said she decided to run for the school board because she loves the Moses Lake community and wants to keep this the kind of place where she confidently sends her kids to public school.

“My kids are my life. I care deeply about them, about their future, and that passion will be put toward my work in the school board, and any decisions that I make will be what is best for the kids,” she said.

Gallacci said she believed the biggest concerns the MLSD faces are the teaching of ideologies like critical race theory that will divide classrooms, schools and the community.

“I don’t think it should be taught in our schools,” she said. “We need to teach acceptance and kindness and love and respect, that environment needs to be fostered in order for the kids to feel comfortable in the classroom.”

The district should focus on teaching core subjects like math, science and English and leave the teaching of values and morals to parents and churches, Gallacci said.

All students should be respected, Gallacci said, but parents should never be excluded from any aspect of a child’s education or school life, especially something as important as the gender a child decides to identify with.

“That would make me incredibly angry if my kids were going to a counselor recurrently and I wasn’t being informed,” she said. “Parents need to be informed. That is a must.”

James Liebrecht, 66, is a Moses Lake native and business owner who has, during a long career, served as a member of the Moses Lake City Council as well as on the city’s planning commission, the parks commission, and currently on the Grant County Solid Waste Advisory Board.

He even worked, for a time, driving an MLSD school bus.

“So I have a little bit of knowledge of our schools and where I’d like to see them go and the things that concern me,” he said.

Liebrecht said he decided to run for the school board out of concern that the MLSD has not done a good job of communicating how it spends money. He described the MLSD’s senior administrators as “a happy family” who “will do as they please” — including paying themselves large bonuses “for nothing” — and do not hold each other properly accountable.

“Information that comes out of the school board is very limited,” he said. “All I ask of anybody is to do their job.”

Liebrecht said the MLSD does not work well with the city of Moses Lake, or any other government entity, and the board does not listen to the people who elect its members.

“I want the people to know I work for them,” he said.

As the owner and operator of Animal Crackers Clipper Kennel & Co., a pet grooming and boarding kennel, Liebrecht said he has to be responsive to customers and give them what they want, rather than try and give them what he thinks is best. He also said he has to rely on his own skills and abilities to make money, and doesn’t have the ability to tax or borrow the way a government does.

“I have to make sure the service is good,” he said. “And that’s the way the school district or any form of government should be doing things. And we’re not getting that.”

Liebrecht said the best way to address the district’s problems is to ensure that business people, rather than teachers, sit on the board. So they can bring both the discipline and sensibility that being in business imposes, he said.

“They need help. That’s what I’m offering, is help,” he said.

Matt Paluch, 41, is a father of three and a long-time professional fishing guide turned congressional lobbyist who helped pass two significant conservation measures — the John D. Dingell Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act of 2019 and the Great American Outdoors Act.

In fact, he decided to run for school board because found the methods he used to lobby members of Congress proved ineffective with the Moses Lake School Board.

“It’s my civic duty to get on there and help make sound decisions,” Paluch said.

Following the dispute over the proposed 1,600-student high school approved by voters in the February 2017 construction bond vote, Paluch proposed an alternative of building a smaller, separate high school and eventually divide the current MLHS.

Paluch said the district needs to do a much better, and far more proactive job, of listening to and communicating with the public, especially as the costly task of beginning to replace many of the legacy schools built by the U.S. Air Force in the 1950s and early 1960s looms on the horizon.

“On many fronts, this is a whole community issue because of the way we have to pay for schools,” he said.

Communication is crucial to avoid a repeat of what happened in 2017, Paluch said, when a group of landowners sued to block the certification of the vote; they felt betrayed because they paid an undue burden of the taxes. That lawsuit left the majority of voters who favored the new high school also feeling betrayed because they did not get what they voted for.

He pointed to his campaign, which is very active on social media, and where he engages with everybody, whether they agree with him or not.

“Even people I know aren’t voting for me are having conversations with me,” Paluch said. “It’s a way to build trust, even if they aren’t happy with something, at least they know they were heard.”