Kiona-Benton City School Board election heats up

Charles Gray stands by how he's performed as a Kiona-Benton City School Board member. The two men challenging him for his seat in the August 6 primary election say something needs to change.

The district has been through a lot in recent months -- an ongoing dispute with teachers, a state audit of special education funding, and the recent investigation of an administrator who allegedly stole property from the district and sold it online.

In an interview with the Herald, Gray called for better communication between the district and the teachers union to get problems resolved.

"I would still stick with how we've done it," he said of the district's response to the recent issues.

His challengers -- Ivan Howard and Daniel Johnson -- say they don't like how the district is run and want to see more transparency, accountability and attention paid to public input.

"Our focus is these kids and getting them the best start," Howard said. "A lot of this bickering and fighting needs to go by the wayside."

Gray, a lender at Sterling Savings Banks who declined to give his age but said he's in his early 50s, has served on the board since 2001. He recently stepped down as chairman of the board so he could address some family matters.

Gray is proud of improved test scores at Kiona-Benton City High School when it comes to state standards, he said. Test scores at the district's middle school are also improving.

The board is focused on improving the district's grading policy to ensure rigorous academic standards for students, Gray said. He looks forward to completing that work if reelected and plans to continue lobbying the Legislature to provide the resources students need, he added.

"I'd like to see the return of better state funding," he said.

Howard and Johnson, however, see a need to change the culture of the board and district administration.

Johnson, 59, a Hanford contractor who moved to Benton City five years ago, said he was motivated to seek office by his dissatisfaction with the handling of a bullying incident at his daughter's school.

Johnson started attending board meetings and was bothered by the unilateral way the board and district administrators made decisions, he said.

"I watched them ignore the concerns of parents," he said.

Howard, 48, a Teamster who works at Hanford, threw his hat in the race for the same reason, saying the district unjustly disciplines teachers and the board and administration don't fulfill their responsibilities.

"They went about it the wrong way, there needs to be due process," Howard said.

Howard and Johnson said they'd strive to listen to people on district matters and consider that input even if they didn't personally agree with it. That includes members of the public and the district's teachers.

"There's always two sides to the story and if you only listen to one, you're never going to get the complete story," Johnson said.

Johnson also said good financial oversight is needed, both to avoid penalties from costly arbitration with the teachers union and accounting mistakes.

Howard wants to make sure the district continues to allow students to enroll at Tri-Tech Skills Center, a vocational program that has served many students well, he said.

Two other board seats are also up for election this year but will not appear on the primary ballot, because they have less than three candidates.

Incumbent Dan Raap will face challenger Wade Haun this fall for Position 5. Leslie Johnson is the sole candidate for Position 3. Jill Renz-Whitman is the incumbent, but is barred from running again as she has moved out of that part of the district.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver