RICHLAND -- The Richland School Board member who has had the longest continuous run in office drew two challengers this election season.
The candidates for Position 5 include incumbent Phyllis Strickler and challengers Brett Amidan and Jeffrey Dennison. Strickler has served on the board for 16 years.
The two candidates reaping the most votes in the Aug. 16 primary will advance to the Nov. 8 general election. Primary ballots were mailed 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.
Strickler, a 69-year-old former teacher, has helped steer Richland school policies since 1995.
That experience gives her an advantage on several issues the district will face in the coming years, she said.
Strickler has been involved in planning and financing decisions for several large construction projects during her time on the board, she said. Richland soon will need to remodel some of its aging schools and may need to build a new elementary school at the fast-growing south end of town.
Strickler feels strongly about fiscal responsibility, she said. The district hasn't always been in good shape financially, but has sufficient cash stocks now, for which Strickler takes partial credit.
Strickler is experienced in bargaining with the unions representing district employees. Many candidates don't realize how much time and energy it takes to negotiate with the district's eight unions, "especially when times are tough," she said.
Negotiating compromise in tough situations is another candidate's self-proclaimed strong suit.
Dennison, 36, is a spokesman for Mission Support Alliance at Hanford. He also is a former board member of the Prosser Economic Development Association, the Poulsbo Chamber of Commerce and the Housing Advisory Committee in San Jose, Calif.
His job and volunteer experience made Dennison a "coalition builder," he said. He has "the skills and the mentality to bring people together and involve parents more" in district matters, he said.
Dennison said he has attended several board meetings.
He has lived in the Tri-Cities since 2009 and lived in the Lower Yakima Valley for four years before that. He has one child in a Richland school now; another is a year away from starting school in Richland.
Amidan has three kids in Richland schools and one who just graduated. He is originally from the Tri-Cities, moved away and has been back for 14 years, he said.
Amidan works as a statistician and researcher at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. He said growing up in the Richland School District was "a great experience."
Since his return to the Tri-Cities, he has combined his love for math and teaching -- Amidan is an adjunct instructor for business classes at Washington State University Tri-Cities.
Amidan said he is a problem solver and emphasized his strong background in cost analysis. "I can help solve the budget crisis (for the district)," he said.
The 43-year-old said he would bring youthfulness and new ideas to the board. One such idea is to donate the $50 per diem paid to board members into a fund that would go toward rewarding especially successful teachers.
Amidan said he has not been to any board meetings.
Concerning the controversies about novels taught in Richland schools, two of the three candidates had minor quibbles about the district's book policy.
Amidan said the policy, which was put in place in 2010, "seems a little vague still." He said he liked that the students could opt out of reading any book they or their parents found objectionable, but would like to add more direction for the committee reviewing the novels.
Strickler said the "policy we have is good," but that she would like to see clear standards added as to "where the boundaries are." At this point, the committee's decisions are based on the opinions of its members, she said.
Dennison said he supports the policy as it stands. He would only improve communication with parents and community to build more trust, he said.