2 strong candidates for Richland School Board, but we recommend the incumbent. Here’s why | Editorial

In the Richland School Board race between incumbent Jill Oldson and challenger Rama Devagupta, it’s a shame only one can win.

Both candidates are excellent, and both are running for the right reasons: They truly care about children, and they want to help bring the school district together after a year of upheaval.

This summer the interim school superintendent was let go under divisive circumstances, and there is still uncertainty in the community about how the district will move on.

We believe Oldson is in a unique position to help the school district heal, and that’s why she ultimately gets our recommendation.

But voters should know that in this particular race, they can’t go wrong.

Devagupta radiates calm and attentiveness. She is highly educated and also sensitive, and her perceptive qualities would be a welcome addition to school district leadership.

Before becoming a stay-at-home mother, she earned a doctorate in chemistry. After volunteering in the school district while her children were young, she decided to become an educator and she now teaches at Southridge High School in Kennewick.

She said she decided to run for the Richland School Board because of the turmoil with the interim superintendent, but also because she sees a lack of enthusiasm in many students. She wants to help change that.

Devagupta said she would like to provide inspirational leadership, and we think if elected that is exactly what she would do.

She is highly accomplished. In addition to raising two Richland High School graduates and teaching, she is an artist, a freelance writer and has conducted scientific research at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Devagupta is impressive — no question.

Oldson is an incumbent, but barely so.

She ran for the school board in 2015, but the race amazingly ended in a tie and she lost the coin flip. Then, in May 2018, she was appointed to fill a vacant seat.

Oldson came to the school board after Nicole MacTavish already had been selected as the interim superintendent, and also after an audit revealed issues with the district’s special education program.

MacTavish was charged with helping fix the issues in the special education program, and her handling of the situation is believed to have led to tensions with the teacher’s union and parents. Soon after, she agreed to walk away from her superintendent contract along with a sizable settlement.

Oldson, being new to the school board during this tumultuous time, had an insider’s view — but with a fresh perspective.

She says in the 411 Voter’s Guide that the school district has become “a bit apathetic regarding communication and sharing district details.”

Oldson told the Tri-City Herald editorial board she would like to see more workshop meetings where school board members could discuss ideas more freely in public. We would like to hold her to that and hope she makes that happen.

Oldson has a daughter who graduated last spring from Richland High and a son who is now attending the school. She was a devoted school volunteer before she ever ran for public office, including serving as president of the PTO.

After joining the school board, she became involved on a state level with the Washington School Directors Association and is participating in its leadership program.

She isn’t one to give up, and now that she is not on such a big learning curve she can apply that tenacity to helping the district move forward.

Building trust in the community is her main goal. Oldson comes across as extremely approachable — like someone you could stop at the grocery store and she wouldn’t mind.

We think she is in a position to become a strong conduit between the school board and the community, and that’s why she gets our recommendation.

The Herald recommends Jill Oldson for Richland School Board, Position 5.


Behind Our Election Recommendations

Who decides the recommendations?

Members of The Tri-City Herald editorial board interview political candidates, as well as advocates and opponents of ballot measures. The editorial board is comprised of experienced opinion journalists and community members, and is separate from The Herald’s newsroom. Conversations are on the record.

What does the recommendation process entail?

Whenever possible, The Herald editorial board meets with opposing candidates at the same time. The questions are largely focused on a candidate’s qualifications and goals, and the hour-long session resembles a conversation more than a scripted interview. The editorial board then discuss the candidates in each race and decides who to recommend. In the case of ballot measures, we strive to have representatives from both sides of the issue in the room at the same time so we can get past the political rhetoric and obtain firm answers. Board members seek to reach a consensus on our recommendations, but not every decision is unanimous.

Is the editorial board partisan?

No. In making recommendations, members of the editorial board consider which candidates are well prepared to represent their constituents — not whether they agree with us or belong to a particular political party. We evaluate candidates’ relevant experience, their readiness for office, their depth of knowledge of key issues, their understanding of public policy and their ability to work with the current board . We’re seeking candidates who are thoughtful and who offer more than just party-line talking points. The editorial board will endorse both Republicans and Democrats.

Why are the editorials unsigned?

Our election recommendations reflect the collective views of The Herald’s editorial board — not just the opinion of one writer. Board members all discuss and contribute ideas to each editorial.