Pasco School Board President Sherry Lancon and challenger Javier Ruiz have different views on how well the district is serving students.
The district's record for accomplishment and innovation is a point of pride for Lancon.
"Our graduates are on par or above those of the state's other districts," she told the Herald editorial board.
But Ruiz says otherwise, that students are underperforming and teachers are limited in how they can work in a classroom.
"I don't think (the board) has done a bad job, but I think we can do better," he told the Herald. "We need change, basically."
Both are seeking a seat on the board in the Nov. 5 general election.
Lancon has been a board member since being appointed in 2007, winning re-election in 2009. Her children attended Pasco schools and now she has grandchildren enrolled. She retired after 34 years in the banking industry earlier this year.
Ruiz was raised in Connell. He's currently a supervisor for the regional office of the state Department of Social and Health Services but also has worked on the Hanford site and in retail management. He has five children, three of them enrolled in Pasco schools.
Lancon said overcrowding in the schools is a top priority for her should she be re-elected. She and the rest of the board will look to the public to help guide what the district should do next. The district also is challenged by the large number of students who are English language learners or living in poverty.
But the district has been recognized for its prudent financial management and is also innovating new ways of teaching, first by supporting the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, oriented Delta High School. A similar model will be put in place at three new elementary schools being built over the next two years.
"It's a learning concept where everything works together," Lancon said.
Ruiz said he likes the idea of STEM, as he likes anything that gives students options and new ways to engage in learning. But he thinks the district needs to improve overall, as two of the eight schools his children have attended have not been marked by the state for academic underperformance.
Parents, principals and teachers need to have a more personal stake in the district's success, he said. That means giving principals more autonomy to make their schools better, bringing parents into the schools and giving teachers more latitude in how they teach. All of that could lead to even stronger support for the district's proposals.
"The public will buy in if they feel the district is doing a good job," Ruiz said. "If the Pasco School District had more to show for those taxes, the community would say 'let's build another school.'"
"If you're just teaching to a test, you're creating a cookie cutter student who can pass a particular type of test," Ruiz said.
Lancon has questioned Ruiz's motivations for running, as a little less than half of the $3,200 he has raised for his campaign is from the Franklin County Republicans. School board positions are non-partisan. She also criticized Ruiz's lack of involvement in education except when it came to his own children.
"He hasn't attended anything except his own kids' open houses (at school)," she said.
Ruiz said he was motivated to run partially because of the lack of opposition past school board members have faced in elections, but also because he knows how important education was in his life. He said he has been involved in the schools, including volunteering as a soccer coach at a Pasco school in the past during his lunch hour.
He acknowledged the donations from a local Republican group, saying they "saw something they liked so they backed me."
"I'm not anyone's puppet," Ruiz said.
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w Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @_tybeaver