RICHLAND -- A pair of engineers is battling two educators for a single seat on the Richland School Board.
The candidates for Position 3 include incumbent Rick Donahoe and challengers Dave Serell, Gordon Comfort and Elizabeth Nagel. Donahoe and Serell are numbers guys; Comfort and Nagel are teachers.
The top two vote-getters from the Aug. 16 primary will face off in the Nov. 8 general election. Primary ballots were in the mail last week.
School board members are elected to four-year terms leading the district of nearly 10,000 students. They receive $50 per school board meeting they attend, but no other compensation.
Donahoe, a 60-year-old engineering manager at the Hanford vitrification plant, has held the seat for 20 months.
He has lived in the Tri-Cities for 17 years and saw three of his four children graduate from Richland schools.
Donahoe said he wants to continue the work he has started on the board. The issue that concerns him most in school matters is the uncertain future of state funding.
His 30 years of project management prepare him well for dealing with upcoming budget issues, he said.
Donahoe knows his way around a classroom too -- he was an English teacher before he became an engineer. "Engineering is a lot easier than teaching," he said with a laugh.
Serell, 62, is a mechanical engineer at Areva. He volunteered at his kids' schools when the family lived in California, he said, but has not held any other office in public service.
Two of his three children went through middle and high schools in Richland. He has lived in West Richland for 14 years.
Serell is "phasing out" of his career, he said, and wants to use his time for public service.
He is concerned that not enough students show interest in math and science, and wants to be involved in steering young people toward those subjects.
Serell said he has a good understanding of financial issues and could help navigate the district through upcoming levy elections.
Comfort was a teacher and principal for 11 years before becoming the CEO of Goodwill Industries of the Columbia this summer. The 37-year-old most recently headed up Richland High School.
Comfort, who has lived in the Tri-Cities for four years, will have three kids in Richland schools this fall.
School budgets would be his main focus if elected to the board, Comfort said. Class sizes and how to keep them down will be "a big deal" in coming years, he said.
As an educator who has worked at different levels of the school system, Comfort would bring a "unique perspective" to the board, he said.
Nagel also is an educator -- she teaches teachers, as the academic director for education at Washington State University Tri-Cities.
The 54-year-old is the chairwoman of the Delta High School advisory board and is on the boards of the Children's Reading Foundation and the STEM Foundation.
She has lived in the Tri-Cities for more than three years and has no kids in Richland schools. She has not attended any school board meetings, she said.
Nagel is familiar with the latest research on teaching practices and how to support teachers, she said. She said she is well-versed in "good models of teaching and learning."
The next school board -- much like the current one -- likely will have to grapple with decisions about the district's language arts curriculum. A group of parents has criticized the novels used in some high school English classes as being offensive in language and content.
The district more than a year ago put a new policy in place to address this controversy.
Donahoe said that policy just needs to be adhered to. Nagel and Comfort said the policy should be made clearer by establishing more precise guidelines on how to evaluate a novel.
Serell, who in the past has said he chose to enter the race precisely because of the book issue, said he would want to change the policy. The reviews passed on to the board should be more detailed, and character and values should be emphasized when selecting books, he said.