BENTON CITY -- The Kiona-Benton City School Board is guaranteed to welcome two new members in December.
Incumbents Joe Schroeder and Gary Howell did not get enough votes in the primary to advance to the general election.
Wayne Elston and Charlotte Burruss are competing for Schroeder's seat. Tim Cook is running against Jill Renz-Whitman for Howell's seat.
School board members serve four-year terms and are unpaid.
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Cook may end up on the board alongside Renz-Whitman, because of an unusual situation in this year's election.
Each Ki-Be board member represents a geographic area within the district. A candidate must live in the area he or she is running for.
Renz-Whitman represents District 3, where she lived during the 2009 election. But she has since moved.
If she simply served out the two years left in her current term, she could not run for re-election for that seat, as she now lives in District 1, Renz-Whitman said.
And the seat representing District 1 is not up for election in two years -- it is on the ballot now.
That's why Renz-Whitman is running now, even though she has two years left in her term, she said.
"It would ensure me four more years," she said. "I still have work that needs to be done here. I need to see it through."
If she wins the election and moves to seat No. 1, residents of District 3 could apply to finish out her term. Renz-Whitman and the rest of the board would interview applicants and appoint a new member to serve the two years until seat No. 3 is up for election.
But if Cook beats Renz-Whitman in the election, district rules allow her to serve out her current term, said Superintendent Rom Castilleja.
The district is heading in the right direction, in part because of steps taken while she has been on the board, Renz-Whitman said. Ki-Be has spent more than $1 million on teacher development, which is paying off, the 42-year-old said.
"I don't want to see that improvement stall," she said.
Renz-Whitman ran a day care and preschool in Benton City for 15 years, but now is a stay-at-home mother of five, she said.
She also is the board's legislative representative, and has spent a lot of time lobbying legislators to keep state budget cuts to Ki-Be as low as possible, she said.
Renz-Whitman spent some time on the board as an appointee before winning election two years ago. Her challenger said she has been on the board long enough and has had her chance.
"She promised change in the last election," Cook said. "She's been on the board for a long time and we haven't seen the changes."
Teachers and parents asked Cook, a 35-year-old welder at Hanford, to run for the school board, in part because many are frustrated with the lack of information on contentious issues in the district, Cook said.
The district has seen some controversy in the past two years. After months of arguments between teachers and administrators, the Ki-Be teachers union filed a complaint against the district with the state's Public Employees Relations Commission in July 2010, alleging retaliation and discrimination against union members.
The commission sided with the union on most of the allegations this year.
And at the beginning of the current school year, Ki-Be's high school principal allegedly threatened a student with a knife. The district disciplined the principal. The prosecutor's office did not file charges but said the principal's actions were highly inappropriate.
During these tense two years, Cook went to many school board meetings but got few answers as to what was happening in the district, he said.
"It's always, 'Can't talk about this,' or, 'We'll get back to you,' " Cook said. "The public nominates the school board -- it should try every avenue to keep the public informed."
Communication between administrators and teachers also is poor, Cook said.
"It's starting to affect kids," he said. "We got to get back to making (everybody's job) about the kids."
Current board members are not open enough to parents' opinions and comments, he said.
To address future budget cuts, the district could start looking at small things that help save money, Cook said. It should hand out fewer contracts for work that could be done by its own employees, for example, he said.
It's a proposal Cook shares with his de-facto running mate, Wayne Elston.
Elston is a 39-year-old who works for Benton County's public works department in road maintenance. He has seen instances in which the school district hired expensive contractors for work its own maintenance workers could have handled, he said.
Elston also has been frustrated with what he sees as the current board's lack of communication.
"The board doesn't seem to want to hear parents' concerns," Elston said. "Tim (Cook) and I came to the conclusion we needed to run."
Elston knows what it means to work for the public best interest, he said. And although he doesn't decide on public budgets in his job, he is used to working with and within budgets for the county, he said.
His opponent in the race for seat 4, Charlotte Burruss, is used to working with Ki-Be school budgets. She was a board member for nine years in the 1980s, she said.
And she has handled budgets since. The 63-year-old worked at a Benton City bank for 17 years before moving to the budget group for waste and fuels at Hanford, she said.
"Numbers run in my head a lot," she said.
The district could do more to access available grants, Burruss said.
And she agreed with most of her fellow candidates that the board needs to communicate better.
"The more you tell people, the better off you are," she said.
The election is Nov. 8. Ballots were mailed last week.