Both candidates running for Position 3 on the Richland School Board are former English teachers who now are business managers. Both say their experiences are needed on the board.
The incumbent, Rick Donahoe, taught three decades ago and then became an engineering project manager. He has worked on the Hanford site for 17 years. Donahoe was appointed to the board two years ago.
The challenger, Gordon Comfort, taught for the past 11 years and was the principal at Richland High until this summer. He now is the head of Goodwill Industries of the Columbia.
Richland School Board members serve four-year terms and are paid $50 per meeting. The election is Nov. 8; ballots are in the mail this week.
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Both candidates tout their professional experiences as important assets to the school board in what is guaranteed to be another season of budget-cutting.
The state Legislature will convene for a special session in November to find more ways to reduce spending. One of the programs reportedly at risk of disappearing is levy equalization -- money that goes to districts with relatively low property values.
If the Legislature were to cut all of that money, Richland schools would lose $4.2 million, Donahoe said. The district will need people who know how to carve up a budget, he said.
"I've got 31 years of business experience," Donahoe said. "I'm responsible for budgeting $300 million (at Hanford)."
Comfort said his experience inside school buildings means he knows where spending could be cut without hurting students. He would first look for opportunities to save that are as far away as possible from the classroom, which means in administration, he said.
But that is what the incumbent board members already have been doing, Donahoe said. The district has cut a deputy superintendent position and four vice principal positions in the past 12 months, he said.
There is no more room to cut administrator positions without losing programs, Donahoe said.
"It depends on who you talk to if there's room or not," Comfort said.
Both candidates believe the policy that regulates which books should be allowed in Richland classrooms needs to be adjusted slightly.
Comfort said parents find out too late which class their kids will be attending, which means they have little time to check if that teacher will be using potentially offensive books in class. School schedules need to be changed so that parents have a chance to go through the books and possibly take advantage of the district's opt-out policy.
Donahoe said the book policy works well, but he would like to see more detailed recommendations coming from the district's Instructional Materials Committee. Currently, committee members send book reviews to the board that either reject, approve or approve "with reservations."
That last category is too open to interpretation, Donahoe said.
"They should make that a clear option, for example, 'recommend but only for 12th grade,' " he said.
Comfort said the board has become too insular and set in its ways.
"There needs to be some new blood infused," he said.