Richland voters have two choices for Position 4 on the school board next week -- an incumbent who has spent 20 years on the board and a challenger who is on the committee that recommends novels for Richland classrooms.
Board members are elected to four-year terms. They are paid $50 a board meeting.
Mary Guay, an 83-year-old retiree who came to the Tri-Cities in the 1950s, has been on the board for the past 12 years. She also served on it for eight years in the '70s.
Guay is deeply involved in school politics, also serving on the legislative committee of the Washington State School Directors Association.
"I'm always out doing something about schools," Guay said. "It's my whole life -- I don't do other things these days."
Her five children -- now adults -- all graduated from Richland schools, she said.
Brian Barth, her 47-year-old opponent, has three of his five children in Richland schools.
He serves on the district's Instructional Materials Committee, which evaluates novels for use in English classes. The committee's recommendations have been at the center of controversies about books with mature themes being used in Richland classrooms.
Barth also used to be a teacher in Las Vegas, where he taught Japanese and social studies until he switched careers 14 years ago. He now is a consultant for construction management, including school construction.
Both candidates said they are in favor of the district's plan to buy the building that houses Delta High School, a school geared toward science and engineering that is jointly run by all three Tri-City school districts and a private foundation.
The tough financial times looming ahead as state legislators discuss yet another round of cuts leave school officials no choice but to increase class sizes, Guay said.
"It's about the only option we have left," she said. "The only places you can go (for cuts) are the classroom and staff. That's where the money is."
Barth said he didn't "really have an answer" about how to best cut the district's budget. Not being on the board makes it harder for him to gauge the district's finances, he said.
"Trust with the voting bloc is really the key," Barth said. "We have to be very careful about what we're spending our money on so that trust remains high."
As to the book issues that keep creating controversy in Richland, both candidates said they trust the committee set up to help with the process. Both said they would not change the district policy governing how books get approved for the classroom.
Guay said the committee's recommendations "need to be more definite."Currently, the system allows committee members to recommend a book "with reservations." School board members have not always agreed on how to interpret such a recommendation.
Barth said he is "not satisfied with the current stance (the board) is taking on the books. There should be a limit to what we're exposing kids to."
The election is Tuesday.