Pasco School Board contenders differ on job philosophies

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldOctober 27, 2013 

Bill Leggett, the longest-tenured member of the Pasco School Board, faces a challenge from Hanford engineer Steve Christensen in the Nov. 5 general election.

The two men offer differing philosophies about the job.

Leggett says it's not the role of the board to micromanage district administrators, while Christensen says more of the distict's business needs to be out in the open.

"Most of the hard work is done outside the board meetings," Leggett said. "Administrators don't bring things (up) the board won't accept."

That's part of the problem, Christensen counters.

"I'm not seeing a lot of interaction (on the board)," he said. "There aren't a lot of substantive questions."

Leggett has held the seat since 1997. He previously worked for the district for 21 years as a principal at several schools. He didn't plan to spend his retirement on the board, he said, but ran for election because it was "dysfunctional."

Leggett cites his experience as the main reason he's running again.

"We have a rather young board and it seems to be getting younger," he said. "I am fearful of turning the board over to completely inexperienced people."

Christensen moved here with his family 12 years ago to work at the Hanford site. All his children have attended Pasco schools and his youngest will graduate this spring. Friends asked him to run for the school board but he also wanted to give Leggett, who didn't face an opponent in 2009, a challenge, he said.

Christensen's children have had good and bad experiences with their schooling but "all in all, I think we have a good school system," he said.

Neither candidate likes the possibility of having to use measures such as double-shifting and a multi-track school year to address the district's overcrowded schools. Leggett said three new elementary schools being built over the next two years with a $46.8 million bond will help, but not for more than a few years.

Both called for greater parent involvement in education, with Christensen saying teachers need to be the first to reach out. Leggett said how to get parents involved is an age-old question, but the district has made progress with a program that brings businesses into classrooms to work with students.

Leggett also has no opposition to the presence of charter schools, which would receive public money but operate independently of the district, he said, but studies show they aren't better then public schools. Christensen said charter schools would introduce healthy competition that has been lacking in education.

"It's kind of like running for the school board without a challenger," he said.

Christensen called for the board to be more involved and administrators held accountable. Superintendent Saundra Hill and other administrators don't provide enough information to the board, such as in a recent presentation on student performance, he said. The board's decision to give the three new elementary schools a science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, curriculum was not discussed openly, he added.

Leggett would like more thorough data at times, he said. He questions applying a STEM model to three schools before trying it at just one.

There is room for improvement on the board, Leggett said, but he stood behind the district's administration and the board's work.

"I have no criticism for Saundra, she does an excellent job," Leggett said.

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-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402;; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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