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Gianni, Bond advance to November school board election | CORRECTED

Betty Bond, left, and Rocco Gianni, right, will face off in the general election this fall for the school board director position 5. Gianni led the primary with nearly 49 percent of the 2,932 returned ballots. Miriam Coates, center, was eliminated from the race.  - Record file
Betty Bond, left, and Rocco Gianni, right, will face off in the general election this fall for the school board director position 5. Gianni led the primary with nearly 49 percent of the 2,932 returned ballots. Miriam Coates, center, was eliminated from the race.
— image credit: Record file

Come November, Rocco Gianni and Betty Bond will face off for the first contested school board seat in years.

More than 2,900 ballots were cast in the only primary on South Whidbey this fall. Gianni, a 30-year physical education teacher at Langley Middle School who retired this year, led with a strong edge at 1,423 votes, about 48.5 percent of the total ballots returned.

Bond, a retired teacher, finished second with 997, or 34 percent.

Miriam Coates, the only candidate with students in the school district, was bumped from the race with 512 votes counted by Tuesday evening.

No candidates could be reached Tuesday night.

The election was rife with intrigue and controversy, though the candidates never engaged each other amid the chatter.

In the days leading to the end of the primary races, controversy swirled around a letter submitted and published by the South Whidbey Record. The letter supported Bond’s run for the position and was signed by Shawn Nowlin, Mary Lawson, Mary Green and Amanda Fisher. Next to Nowlin, Green and Fisher’s names, however, was their affiliation with the South Whidbey Elementary School Parent Teacher Association (SWEPTA) and the Readiness to Learn Foundation, of which Bond is a board member.

Parent Teacher Association groups and the Readiness To Learn Foundation, as tax-exempt nonprofits, are not allowed to endorse political candidates. Though members of the organization are allowed to express freedom of speech in endorsing a candidate, use of the affiliation, as it was in the letter to the editor, is prohibited.

According to the Washington State PTA guidelines, “... any written materials in which an individual’s name appears should not contain any mention of PTA or a PTA position held by the speaker.”

Gail LaVassar, executive director for the foundation, confirmed the endorsement and the use of the organization's name was not authorized.

During the filing period in May, Gianni initially registered for the position 5 seat, which two-term school board director Jill Engstrom will vacate this winter. At the time, there was another available position held by Fred O’Neal, who had publicly stated he was unsure whether or not he’d run for another term with the South Whidbey School District.

Eventually, O’Neal entered the race, creating two contested school board positions - quite a contrast from the previous school board elections two years ago. Back in the fall 2011 election, three candidates - Steve Scoles, Damian Greene and Linda Racicot - ran unopposed.

Gianni, facing a race against an incumbent, withdrew from that position’s race and filed for the already contested position 5 race, creating a primary election on South Whidbey.

The school district had to pay for the primary’s mailing and processing of some 12,000 ballots, which was estimated to cost the schools about $28,000.

The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 5.

 

Editor's note: A previous version of this story provided incorrect information about contacting candidates Tuesday evening. Each was phoned but Miriam Coates' line was busy and a follow up call was not made. The Record regrets the error.

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