Kiona-Benton City School Board candidates already made their mark

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldOctober 11, 2013 

BENTON CITY -- Kiona-Benton City School Board candidates Ivan Howard and Dan Johnson already have ensured change is coming to the district's leadership.

The challengers knocked incumbent Charles Gray out of re-election in the August primary. Both men said they're glad to have made a mark on the board already but neither is stepping aside ahead of the November election.

Howard was born in Prosser and has lived almost his entire life in Benton City. He has four children, two of them still in school, and works on the Hanford site as a herbicide sprayer as well as a trainer for the Teamsters union.

Johnson moved to Benton City a little more than five years ago after taking a job with Hanford subcontractor URS. He has five children, two of them still in school. He's also a 26-year veteran of the Navy.

Both men have some shared concerns about the district, such as a desire for more transparency of the board's activities and a better working relationship between administrators and teachers, who have embroiled the district in arbitration and legal disputes for several years.

"You can't fire someone just because of the way they look one day," Howard said.

Johnson specifically wants more accountability of district administrators, particularly Superintendent Rom Castilleja.

"I see a lot of protectionism from the administration for certain individuals," he said.

They also are critical of the Common Core State Standards, new math and language arts benchmarks adopted by the state. Students will be tested on the standards beginning in spring 2015.

While Howard called the standards indoctrination rather than education, he said he doesn't know how the district could opt out, but he would work to do so if voters wanted to, even if it meant losing some funding.

Johnson said he is bothered by the standards' disregard for classical literature and would seek stricter academic performance goals than the standards provide for.

Johnson also said he wants to push students more in their academics. His experience with his own children's education in the district showed him that students aren't encouraged to challenge themselves and prepare for a post-secondary education.

"College isn't for everybody but I don't see that availability (of courses) out there today," he said.

Howard said he'd also like more focus paid to career and technical education, such as promoting the district's connection to Tri-Tech Skills Center in Kennewick and possibly bringing in tradespeople, such as carpenters and plumbers, to talk to students about their work.

"There's a lot of kids who can't do (college)," he said.

Despite a similar desire to rehabilitate the district's image and improve student performance, each candidate says he is best suited for the job.

Johnson said his naval and work experience has provided him the best people skills to be a board member. He said he's also concerned about Howard's connection to unions and how he may favor the district's teachers union in disputes if elected. Teamsters and others have given $3,550 to Howard's campaign, according to a report from the state's Public Disclosure Commission.

Howard denied that he would give preferential treatment to anyone in his role as a board member. He'd hold everyone to a high standard, including himself.

Howard added that while he will be on a learning curve for the first few months if elected, he expects to be held accountable by district residents and to hear from them when he does a good or bad job.

"I want people to know they have a say," he said.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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