Long-standing controversies about which novels should be offered to Richland students are bound to spill into this fall's school board elections.
At least one incumbent on the board has drawn a challenger who has promised to change the criteria used to select literature used in English classes. Another challenger is a member of the district's book selection committee.
Three of the Richland School Board's five members are up for re-election in November. All three will face opponents, which no other school board race in the Mid-Columbia can claim so far.
Potential candidates have until Friday to file their paperwork with the county auditor.
If more than two candidates run for any one position, they will first face off in the Aug. 16 primary, said Benton County Auditor Brenda Chilton.
If only one or two candidates run, they will go straight to the Nov. 8 general election, she said.
There will most likely be two debates with all candidates before that date, said incumbent board member Mary Guay.
And those debates virtually are guaranteed to revive a long-standing issue in the district -- which materials to put before students in the two high schools' advanced English classes.
Over the past decade or so, some Richland parents have objected to certain books included on reading lists for certain classes. The books in question contained language or descriptions deemed offensive by those parents.
The district has an opt-out policy and requires parents to sign a copy of every course syllabus to show they saw which books are being used in class.
In addition, the district since last year requires that all books used in its schools be read by an Instructional Materials Committee. The committee -- made up of parents, teachers and administrators -- makes recommendations to the school board whether books currently on teachers' lists should continue to be options for students.
But the district still does not use enough caution in its book choices, said Dave Serell, who is running for the seat held by Rick Donahoe.
Serell targeted Donahoe specifically because of the books Donahoe voted in favor of while on the school board, Serell said.
"The main issue for me is that some of the books (the board members) have approved seem inappropriate for students," Serell said. "I have a different view than what they decided in the last two years."
Books used in school should "instill positive values" rather than "drag people down," he said.
Donahoe could not be reached Wednesday.
Serell, who has worked as an engineer in the nuclear power industry for 40 years, said he also has a lot of expertise when it comes to math and science education.
He had two sons go through middle and high school in Richland, but has no kids in school there now, Serell said. He has lived in Richland for 14 years, he said.
Brian Barth, who is running for Guay's seat, hasn't been in the Tri-Cities that long, but he has three kids in Richland schools and one daughter who just graduated from Hanford High.
Barth moved here three years ago and has already gotten involved in school affairs. He is a member of the Instructional Materials Committee.
District records obtained by the Herald show that of the 10 books Barth voted on this spring, he recommended five, stayed neutral -- or "with reservations" -- on two, and rejected three.
However, Barth said the book issue was not on his mind when he decided to run for the school board. "I've had a passion for education for a long time," he said.
Barth got a teaching degree from the University of Nevada Las Vegas and taught in that city, he said. He then got a master's in secondary education and taught in Auburn before switching careers.
He now is a project manager for commercial construction, including schools. He could offer "fresh ideas" in budget and facilities decisions, Barth said.
Barth wants to represent the values of the community on the board, he said. And while his work on the book committee may not have been his reason to run, it has shaped his skills in group decision-making.
"I feel like the committee has (developed) a high level of respect for (its) members' different view points," he said. "I hope that willingness to work together would follow me to the school board."
The third challenger in this year's race isn't motivated by the book controversy.
"I'm aware of it, but it didn't factor into my decision to run," said Jeffrey Dennison, who is challenging longtime board member Phyllis Strickler.
Strickler was the lone board member to vote against Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson this spring. She introduced at least one other motion to remove a novel from the district's reading lists.
Dennison, who works in communications for Mission Support Alliance at Hanford, said his focus would be managing the district's finances under this challenging budget.
He moved to Richland two years ago and has a son going to school in the district. He wants to be engaged in the direction of the schools here, he said.
"I don't want to sit on the sidelines as an observer," Dennison said.