Donald Cook sworn in Dec. 13 to the Kent School Board. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

Donald Cook sworn in Dec. 13 to the Kent School Board. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

Split votes come early for new Kent School Board members

Election of board officers filled by three returning members as two newcomers come up a vote short

It didn’t take long for a split vote among the three returning Kent School Board members and the two new members.

Shortly after new members Donald Cook and Andy Song and returning member Meghin Margel were sworn in at the Dec. 13 meeting after winning seats on the Nov. 7 ballot, those three and incumbents Tim Clark and Awale Farah unanimously voted for Margel as president of the five-member board.

But each of the votes for vice president and legislative representative were 3-2.

Returning members Clark, Farah and Margel voted for Farah to be vice president. Song and Cook voted for Cook. The member with at least three votes wins. Members can vote for themselves.

For legislative representative, Clark, Farah and Margel voted for Clark. Cook and Song voted for Song.

The president and vice president roles are for one year while the legislative representative is a two-year term. The board will vote for president and vice president again in December 2024.

Song ran unopposed in the general election and replaced Joe Bento, who didn’t run for reelection.

Cook defeated incumbent Leslie Hamada on the Nov. 7 ballot. Margel, who was appointed to the board in September 2022 after Michele Bettinger resigned, defeated challenger Andy Carter.

History of board roles

Bento took over as president and Margel as vice president in April after Clark resigned as president following public outrage at an insensitive comment he made about Somali families at a March 20 study session. Clark remained on the board.

In December 2022, the board had voted 4-0 (Bento abstained) to elect Clark as president. The board voted 4-1 to elect Farah as vice president as Bento voted for himself. The board elected Hamada with a 4-0 vote (Bento abstained) to be legislative representative.

Things got crazy at an April 26 board meeting to replace Clark as president. Farah, who briefly served as interim president, went on a tirade after Hamada nominated Bento to be president following Clark’s nomination of Farah. Farah said he was resigning as vice president.

After a 20-minute break to cool things down, the board returned and unanimously elected Bento as president. It voted 3-2 to elect Margel as vice president. Bento, Hamada and Farah voted for Margel. Clark and Margel voted for Hamada.

Looking ahead

After their swearing in by Superintendent Israel Vela, Song, Cook and Margel shared a few comments about their upcoming four-year terms.

“I’m very honored and privileged to be in this role and this position,” said Song, who joined the meeting remotely. “My primary duties and responsibilities are outreach to connect with the community to learn and hear from families, children, students and all others.”

Voters elected Cook over Hamada in a tight race.

“I am so happy and proud to have done all the work to get here and I want to thank every single one of you that has supported me and I will do my best to support the mission we have here and provide that support for all constituents even if you didn’t vote for me,” Cook said. “I am here to help you and do what’s necessary to get this place where it needs to be.”

Margel also appreciated the voter support.

“I want to thank the community for continuing to support the Kent School District and the opportunity to serve students, administration and staff, but most of all the students,” she said. “It’s a humbling experience to be here on the dais and part of a great team.

“I think we’ve done good work in the last year and I look forward to continue that work in the years to come.”

Voters elected Clark and Farah to four-year terms in 2021.

The next board meeting is Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024.

Bento bids adieu

Bento, who was appointed to a board vacancy in 2021 and elected to that seat by voters in 2022, had a few comments during his final meeting before he left to make room for the incoming board.

“I’m really glad we didn’t ban books,” said Bento about the board’s narrow decision in June 2022 to reject a special committee’s decision to remove a book from the Cedar Heights Middle School library. “As a district, we don’t need to ban books and we need to remember that and I’m very glad we were able to do what’s right for students.”

Bento, a Renton High School teacher, also spoke about his support for LGBTQ+ students.

“As a champion of LGBTQ students, I’ve been doing training supporting queer youth for 20-some years, queer youth are not always given the things they need or treated well,” Bento said. “As adults, and as the board, we need to make sure we have knowledge and experiences to help us support our students.

“As a queer person, I’m not always treated well by folks, but I hope our students never have to deal with what I’ve experienced. Being someone actively supporting and advocating for queer people, I want to make sure that doesn’t go away just because I go.”

Bento emphasized his main point about a board member’s role.

“Students are why we are here and we need to always remember that,” he said.


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Meghin Margel sworn in to the Kent School Board. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

Meghin Margel sworn in to the Kent School Board. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

Andy Song, via video, sworn in to the Kent School Board. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

Andy Song, via video, sworn in to the Kent School Board. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

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