Two candidates for the Westerville Board of Education have declined participation in the Westerville Education Association's candidate-endorsement process.

Two candidates for the Westerville Board of Education have declined participation in the Westerville Education Association’s candidate-endorsement process.

Pete Wilms and Carol French, who will compete with Cindy Crowe and Al Hammond Nov. 8 for two open seats on the board, sent letters to the association saying they would not fill out questionnaires or undergo interviews with the union’s representatives for endorsements.

Wilms and French also asked the union not to endorse candidates in the election, saying the endorsement process poses a conflict of interest for future board members who will have to approve union contracts.

“Board members are called upon to vote on changes in collective bargaining contracts,” Wilms said. “I don’t want to feel an obligation or beholden to a group that supported me in my election campaign when it comes time to spend taxpayers’ dollars on changes to those collective-bargaining agreements.”

French agreed.

“We shouldn’t be seeking endorsement of somebody we’re going to have to basically stand judgment on. We’re going to have to vote for pay raises for teachers and that type of thing,” she said. “The WEA should not even be asking for us to be screened for endorsement.”

The union, which represents the district’s 1,030 teachers and licensed personnel, ultimately issued endorsements for Crowe and Hammond, who participated in the process.

In the last four election cycles, the union has gone through the questionnaire and interview process but has chosen not to endorse any candidate, Westerville Education Association president Chris Williams said.

The current political climate in the district led the union to endorse candidates this time, he said.

Wilms and French have aligned themselves with groups that are opposed to the levy being sought by the district and are focused on the budget rather than on the improvement of the district, Williams said.

“This time, we had candidates that were very well separated from each other,” Williams said. “Cindy and Al were more supportive of the process for our kids, whereas the other two candidates are aligned with the anti-levy and anti-tax groups.”

Williams disagreed with Wilms’ and French’s stances that the endorsement created a conflict of interest.

He said the union aims to have a good relationship with all board members and candidates and, he said, past negotiations have shown that board members are tough during contract negotiations.

That is obvious because the average salaries of Westerville’s teachers are lower than the average salaries in surrounding districts, Williams said.

“We’ve had pretty tough sessions at the bargaining table,” he said. “We do have a good working relationship with candidates, whether they’ve been endorsed or not.”

Crowe and Hammond said they are pleased to receive the union endorsement and said they don’t believe the endorsements create a conflict of interest.

Crowe, who is serving her fourth term on the board, said she believes the endorsement process is part of the open dialogue that board members should have with the people they work with.

“I need to talk to everyone I work with. Listening and having discussions are one of the biggest parts of being a board member; being able to communicate and learn from each other is huge in the process of moving our district forward,” she said. “I openly welcomed an invitation to have an interview.”

Crowe said the endorsement does not create a conflict of interest because it does not change her political beliefs or how she would vote if re-elected.

“My stance is not changed. I’ve had the same views, the same values, the same expectations in my first race, my second race, my third race, my fourth race,” she said. “It didn’t really matter if I received an endorsement or I didn’t receive an endorsement. I stood by what I believed in.”

Hammond said he believes the endorsement process is merely an opportunity for union members and district employees to hear what the candidates believe in order to find those who will value the issues they do and work to improve the district.

“I think they’re looking for the betterment of our students and the betterment of our district,” Hammond said. “I think that’s what we’re all looking for.”