Pasco School Board: Challengers say it's time for change

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldJuly 21, 2013 

Pasco School Board President Sherry Lancon is facing two challengers in the primary election -- Javier F. Ruiz and Taylor Franklin Taranto.

The top two finishers in the primary will advance to the November general election. Ballots may be mailed or taken to Franklin County collection boxes until Aug. 6.

Lancon, 66, has helped the district through a time when Pasco is leading the state in growth, she said. She was appointed to the board in 2007 and elected to a full term in 2009.

The district has made strides in recent years, particularly with the recently passed $48.6 million school bond, Lancon said. Projects include three new elementary schools that will help children get a start in high-demand science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

The district was able to save money while fighting overcrowding by building elementary schools instead of middle schools, Lancon said. Elementary schools are less expensive to build.

"It gives all of our students better opportunity for better growth," she said.

She takes pride in seeing more than 800 students graduate from Pasco and Chiawana high schools this year, she said. She volunteered in the district long before she ran for the board.

"I've never been a political one, it's always about what's best for the kids," she said. "You can't have your own agenda. That's why we've always had a very productive board since I've been on."

Ruiz and Taranto say it is time for a change, however.

Ruiz, 41, a supervisor with the state Department of Social and Health Services, wants to improve the district's accountability, but, most importantly, student achievement, he said.

"We just need to get all of our schools up to par and teaching the standards the state has set for them," Ruiz said. "To me, it's just a matter of getting back to basics and reevaluating our priorities. Student achievement is our real goal."

Ruiz has three children in Pasco schools now and two more who have already graduated, he said. He wants to have town hall meetings to better inform constituents, and also do more to get the public interested in school board meetings and other events.

"I think there are quite a few people who are anxious to give feedback, who are interested in the direction the school district will go," he said.

Taranto, 27, is a small business owner who attends classes at Columbia Basin College.

He and his wife home-school their two children, he said. He became concerned about the district because what he sees at Ochoa Middle School in east Pasco, not far from his home.

For example, Taranto doesn't understand why the district keeps lights in the park running all day, yet shuts off the drinking fountain even in hot weather, he said. The first thing he would look to do if elected is audit the school district in order to help find efficiencies.

"Some of these wastes end up costing the taxpayers quite a bit of money," he said.

Taranto talks with a teacher friend who complains that he has no control over what can be taught in his own classroom, he said.

The board needs to make more clear what areas it can control and where it needs approval from the state, he said.

"I think the school board can add additional functions to our role, but I don't think we can change the curriculum ourselves," he said.

School board members serve four-year terms and are paid $50 a meeting.

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