School board candidates share their views--Chris Gartski


August 31, 2023

Diana Zimmerman

Chris Gartski

There are four candidates competing for two positions on the Wahkiakum School District Board of Directors. Two candidates in one race were covered in last week's edition, and two more share their views this week. The pair are vying for a position being vacated by outgoing Director Paula Culbertson.

What did I learn about all four candidates? They may all have different definitions for critical race theory or different ideas about how to help local students, but they all care about the kids.

Interviews were edited for length.

Chris Gartski is one of two candidates vying for the Wahkiakum School District Board of Directors #2 positon being vacated by Paula Culbertson.

Originally from Chicago, Gartski began a slow trek west, finally settling in Wahkiakum County with his wife and family. He has an associates degree in criminal justice and currently works for the highway division of the Washington State Department of Transportation.

He’s been very active in the community for the last 12 years as a volunteer firefighter and EMT. He’s also been a reserve deputy for about eight years, and helps with Search and Rescue. A one time member of the maintenance crew at Wahkiakum School District, he continues to act as a substitute bus driver. Two of his children attend school there.

Why is he running?

“I’m familiar with the school,” Gartski said. “I figured, why not? I think I can make a difference on the school board to help improve the schools, both the buildings and the curriculum.”

“I know the buildings need a lot of work,” he said. “I know they are held together with duct tape and baling wire. But at the same time, we’ve also got to be creative about how we can fix this stuff. I’m under full understanding that the tax base in this community does not have much money. We really can’t burden them much more than we are now. We’ve got to figure out ways to make do with what we have or find alternate funding.”

He is also concerned about transparency.

“Working at the school I kind of heard people, they never knew what the school board did or what was going on, or anything like that, and didn’t know where to look,” he said. “I’ll be open and honest and tell them everything we talk about. I’ll try to make it as easy for people to find out what actually is going on. My view is complete transparency, I’ll let you know everything, especially when you are dealing with that much money.”

As for the curriculum, he’d like to see the district get back to basics.

He learned while talking to some recent graduates that “a lot of kids were upset because they weren’t taught how to change a tire or cook an egg.”

“I think some of the old skills are still applicable,” Gartski said. “I think we threw out a lot of good old knowledge for all the new stuff and some of it should be brought back.”

"I know that there has been a huge push for everybody to go to college for all these years,” he said. “Why don’t we gear them to actually enter the workforce or go to a trade school? I’m not saying education is bad, I’m just saying its not necessarily the path for every kid. I think some kids are being left behind because of that.”

“I think for too long too many people have been taught not to get their hands too dirty,” Gartski added. “Unfortunately in this world you’ve got to get your hands a little dirty sometimes. I think it would benefit everybody to be exposed to it a little bit.”

What are the top needs of the school district?

“Getting the kids an actual education they are going to use and need for the future,” Gartski said. “Giving them a safe place to go, both the building and the atmosphere. Honestly, transparency for the general public. A lot of people don’t even know what goes on. I’ve heard of lot of rumblings where people are unhappy because they have no idea what happens at the school at all.”

The school website is not very user friendly, he said, and he would like to see school board meetings recorded and available for viewing online to accommodate people who are unable to attend.

On the lawsuit

"We’re waiting to see what happens,” Gartski said. “I’ll be honest, if we get that money, great, if not we spent a lot of money to not get the money. Time will tell on that one. On that one I’m just sitting back and watching. Even if I was put on the school board tomorrow, I have no say on what path we are on with that now.”

What do you hope to accomplish?

"I understand, despite what I may want to do, I am just one vote,” he said. “I understand that even if people vote for me a certain way, they need to talk to me. That is one thing I plan to do if elected, is put out polls all the time. I want to know what the public thinks. I don’t want to just all the sudden be in there, and then in a year everybody’s going, we don’t want any of that. The school board is supposed to be elected representation so I need the feedback from the people.”

What is critical race theory and is it being taught at WSD?

“There are so many different views on what it actually is,” Gartski said. “From the earliest things I found online for it went back to a Harvard professor who started to teach this stuff, and in my mind, it was through a very radical lens that he was teaching it. I’m not saying that this country doesn’t have sins in the past that need to be atoned for, what I’m saying is we do not need the overcorrection either. Yeah, sure we can teach about all the bad, and we should be teaching the bad, but we do not need to make it so lopsided that people are basically browbeaten into feeling bad about being an American. They don’t know what this country has done, both good and bad. There is a lot of the pendulum swinging super far both ways. The pendulum just needs to stay in the middle.”

After talking with some older students, he doesn’t think they are hearing much of it.

“It’s not as bad as the news or these podcasters want you to think, at least in our school district,” he said.

“I do not want a kindergartener or a first grader being taught all of this stuff,” he said. “Especially the lower levels, they need to be as neutral as possible. When they are juniors or seniors, they are getting old enough to be making up their own mind.

He spoke of a Black Lives Matter flag and pride flags in a school hallway.

“As long as I still see the American flag up, and that’s a predominant thing, great, but if I start seeing that being replaced by some other flag, that’s where I’ll have a problem. We are in the United States of America and I’m proud of my country and our flag should not be taken down to be put up by whatever the latest flavor is.”

“We’ve just got to be vigilant. Those are discussions that the school board should have. And that is the point of the school board in my book, is to figure out that stuff, and to find out what the community thinks and have the discussion with the community. I will admit, if the whole community wants one thing, who am I to stop that? I do have my personal views in my life, but everything I do in the outside world, your job is to be neutral and I’ve worked really hard to accomplish that the best I can.”

“When it comes to things like the schools where everybody from the community has got to be, it has to be neutral,” he said. “I know we are going to have biases because we are humans. But it can’t be too far one way or the other. Despite whatever my views are on CRT or the other stuff, it doesn’t matter.”

Sex ed

Gartski is mostly concerned about it being age appropriate.

“There is an age to start introducing that stuff,” he said. “As far as the rest of that stuff, that should be up to the parents.”

Diversity and safety

“I’ll be honest, I realize the state has mandates and different stuff,” Gartski said. “I understand parents objections to all of it. In full openness, I’m a Christian. I do not believe in a lot of the stuff that the state pushes, like the equity stuff, the gender stuff and all of that. To me it’s almost appearing as a religion right now, as far as the way they treat it. That shouldn’t be forced on the kids. If you want to have an outside extra curricular activity with stuff like that, to each their own on that stuff, but it shouldn’t be put in the classroom.”

He worries that any child with a different opinion will be villainized. On either side of any issue.

“School is supposed to be a place for everybody to learn and feel comfortable and safe and that should be the primary objective,” Gartski said. “If that means we have to be creative problem solvers and figure out ways to teach stuff without offending people or making them feel horrible, then that is what we need to do.”

Gartski said he is not being funded by any organization or group.


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