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South Whidbey school board hopefuls Gianni, Bond advance to November ballot | UPDATED

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

More than 3,300 ballots were cast in the only primary on South Whidbey. Gianni, a 30-year physical education teacher at Langley Middle School who retired this year, led with a strong edge at 1,619 votes, about 47.9 percent of the total ballots returned.

“I was completely humbled, probably the most humbling experience I ever had,” Gianni said.

“When I saw that, I was overwhelmed and very grateful and happy that people remembered me and had confidence in me.”

Bond, a retired teacher, finished second with 1,183, or nearly 35 percent.

“I want to thank all voters who cast ballots in the primary race and I particularly want to thank those who have faith in my vision and abilities to help solve the issues facing the South Whidbey School District School Board,” wrote Bond in an email to The Record.

She declined to be interviewed by phone.

Miriam Coates, the only candidate with children who attend district schools, was bumped from the race having earned 580 votes or 17.1 percent.

She also declined to be interviewed.

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

Days before the Aug. 6 primary election, controversy swirled around a letter submitted and published by the newspaper. 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, respectively.

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 Readiness to Learn Foundation’s name was not authorized.

“This was never an official business item for us,” she said. “The board is fully aware of our 501c3 status and the regulations around being non-political.

“They had nothing to do with that, they did not authorize their title being used.”

Bond, who is on the board of directors for Readiness to Learn, declined to comment on the issue.

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, creating a primary election on South Whidbey.

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

“Vote for Bond” signs were scattered around South Whidbey ahead of the primary. They were the only physical promotional tools used by any of the candidates.

Coates used a website, www.miriamcoates.com, now mostly blank except for a single post “Thank You!” dated Aug. 8.

Gianni said he trusted voters, especially parents, would know who he is and what he would support as a school board director.

“I talked to people as I went and people were kind to say they had voted for me and say there were confident I’d do a good job,” he said.

The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 5.

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