Richland School Board candidates debate value of Common Core State Standards

Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldJuly 18, 2013 

Candidates for Richland School Board disagreed about the value of new Common Core State Standards at a Thursday night forum for next month's primary.

Candidates for six races, all of interest in Benton County, participated in the forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the Herald and Charter Communications.

Heather Cleary, who has been on the Richland School Board since 2005, said Washington state has committed to use the standards, but they are sometimes lower than the standards used in the school district.

The board will ask that the district maintain its higher standards, she said.

The Common Core State Standard is a defining issue for one of her opponents, Ron Higgins, who has worked as a substitute teacher after retiring from a career that included work for the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The common core undermines local authority and he does not think it requires adequate math skills or enough classic literature, he said.

Jimmie Chastain II, who has worked at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, including as an educator, said the common core can be seen as a fence or as a milestone to show progress.

It can be used as a tool, even if the district knows it can do better, he said.

Just two of the candidates whose names will appear on the primary ballot for the Richland City Council attended the forum. Melody Reed was out of town.

All three candidates are running for a seat being vacated by the retirement of Mayor John Fox.

Gregory Jones, who has worked in engineering at Hanford and the nuclear industry, said the Duportail Street Bridge proposed to cross the Yakima River, would be good for the city's future. But its $32 million cost is a concern.

If Richland gets $20 million from the state for the project, it still must raise $12 million.

The city will need to be creative and choose the most reasonable options, he said.

Stan Bensussen, who plans to retire this fall from a career spent mostly as an attorney for Hanford contractors, said he needs to learn more about the proposed bridge, but said that it would open up an area to growth and development.

Both men questioned the need for a performing arts center.

Bensussen said the schools already do a good job.

Jones, who talked about the need to partner with other cities, said the Tri-Cities has several venues already.

The three candidates for West Richland mayor discussed access to the Yakima River for recreation.

Mayor Donna Noski plans to retire at the end of the year.

Merle Johnson said access to the river is as much a state and county issue as it is a city issue. From Prosser to the mouth of the river there is very little access, he said.

He suggested that agencies involved with river access meet and discuss solutions such as forming a shuttle service to help people reach the river at its limited access points.

Brent Gerry said the city has no property on the river, but could take advantage of grants to provide better access.

A boat launch also is needed, he said, but that could be a long and expensive undertaking as the city works with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Nancy Aldrich said a land owner along the river is more than ready to work with the city and the city has grant money available that could be used to develop access.

The state recently announced a grant award available to West Richland to acquire land and develop a park and trail on the river.

The daunting task will be to avoid impacting neighbors near the river, but steps can be taken such as putting restrictions on hours, Aldrich said.

Candidates for state senate for the 8th Legislative District and the Port of Kennewick also spoke later in the forum.

The forum will be broadcast on Charter Channel 3 and Richland CityView TV and will be posted on YouTube.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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