The Bellevue School District community’s deep divisions would challenge an experienced diplomat, let alone a volunteer school board director. Of the two candidates vying for the District 5 seat, Jane Aras is the best suited to bridge the divide.
Aras is a thoughtful listener with a deep concern for students’ social and emotional well-being. She will bring a calming presence to a fractured school community that remains tense and mistrustful after last year’s public power struggle between the teachers’ union, parents, district leadership and members of the school board.
If elected, Aras must be careful not to treat listening as an end goal, but as a first step toward decisive action. She must clearly articulate her own views — something she has sometimes failed to do during her campaign.
This is most evident in Aras’ response to a suggestion that the school board give over responsibility for hiring a new superintendent to a committee of district educators, staff, students, parents and community members. This idea has been supported by a coalition that includes members of the BSD Equity Advisory Group, Bellevue Educators of Color Network, the BSD Asian American Pacific Islander Affinity Group, Parent Alliance for Black Scholars and the Bellevue Education Association.
But hiring, supervising and evaluating superintendents are core responsibilities of any public school board. The only responsible response from a potential board member is a resounding “no.” In an interview, Aras was not so clear.
“I’m not making any statement at this point to create more stress on our community,” she said. “I’m going to put my energy on helping heal.”
When asked a second time, she said she has told voters, “Go back and look at the law — the laws around school board. That is pretty clear. And that’s what I’m going to do.”
Aras finally confirmed that she didn’t think state law would allow the board to abdicate its responsibility to hire a district administrator. But this lack of precision will only deepen frustrations, particularly among those who fear the former teacher who has received the BEA endorsement will prioritize teachers’ interests over parents and students. Aras appears to have students’ interests at heart and is most forceful when advocating for them.
“I think sometimes people get so caught up in their own kids or their philosophical stance that they forget that what we’re talking about is kids,” she said. “Kids without voices. And we need to get off our ego trips and put our energy back on the kids.”
Aras’ competitor, Gregg Smith, is the father of two elementary-aged children and also was elusive in answering specific questions during interviews. He was an active volunteer before disenrolling them from public schools, he says, out of concern that the district might change plans for in-person instruction.
Smith’s positions on diversity, equity and inclusion have generated some controversy among district voters. He has made comments in a private Facebook group that have amplified misunderstanding of the district’s equity initiatives rather than brought clarity. Especially during this tumultuous time, the district needs leaders who will drive discussions beyond fear and rumor to unite Bellevue parents, teachers, administrators and others to common cause.