A lot has changed in the 20 years since Rocky Treppiedi won a seat on Spokane Public Schools’ board of directors.
But not Rocky Treppiedi.
The former assistant city attorney, who now works as an administrative law judge for the state, was first appointed to fill a vacancy on the five-member school board in 1996, a year after losing an election for another seat. He went on to defend his board seat three times – in 1997, 2003 and 2009 – to become one of the longest-serving elected officials in Spokane County.
Voters will decide in August whether Treppiedi should serve another six-year term. He faces two other candidates for the school board’s position 3: Donald Dover, a retired Washington State University administrator, and Jerrall Haynes, a staff sergeant at Fairchild Air Force Base.
“It’s more important now than ever to have experienced board members, with respect to big changes in the education system,” Treppiedi said, citing recent decisions by the Legislature on school funding and class sizes.
Treppiedi is credited with leading the charge to expand full-day kindergarten to all 34 of the district’s elementary schools, a feat that required the school board to commit more than $2 million in 2013, well ahead of state funding targets that won’t provide for full-day kindergarten until 2017.
He also pushed the school board to join the list of plaintiffs in the state Supreme Court’s landmark 2013 McCleary decision, which called for smaller class sizes in grades K-3.
Treppiedi stood in opposition of teachers two months ago when they walked out of their classrooms for a day in protest of low salaries, large classes and standardized testing. Treppiedi said he empathized with teachers but strongly opposed the walkout, which violated their contracts.
“Their message could have been made without breaking the law and causing harm to students,” he said.
Dover and Haynes both said they support the teachers’ decision.
“I definitely sympathize with the teachers for feeling so backed into a corner and not feeling that their voices, needs and concerns are being heard,” said Haynes, who has secured an endorsement from the Spokane Education Association, the area’s teachers union.
SEA President Jenny Rose said the union endorses Haynes for his unique perspective.
Raised by a single mother in Summerville, South Carolina, the 26-year-old joined the Air Force in 2010 and plans to finish an associate’s degree at Spokane Falls Community College. He said he volunteers regularly and previously worked retail jobs to help pay for his three siblings’ college educations. An African-American, he is the secretary of the Spokane branch of the NAACP.
“We like the idea that we will have diversity on the school board,” Rose said.
Dover, 55, has lived in Spokane for 30 years. He studied broadcasting at Eastern Washington University and then managed local TV stations for 14 years. He spent another 14 years overseeing communication among the Washington State University campuses and took an early retirement in 2013 after being diagnosed with a genetic disorder that causes partial paralysis in his limbs.
An active member of the Spokane County Democrats, Dover ran unsuccessfully last year for Republican Kevin Parker’s seat in the state House of Representatives. He’s also a citizen member of the Spokane County Emergency Services Communication Board, a panel of fire, medical and law enforcement officials.
Dover and Haynes both said current board members are focused on preparing students for higher education but have fallen short in promoting technical and vocational schools.
“We’re really focusing on everybody going to two-year and four-year (colleges), but there’s also a need for technical skills,” Dover said.
Haynes echoed that sentiment, referring to the school district’s “T-2-4” motto, which stands for technical, two-year and four-year colleges.
“I can represent the T and the 2,” he said.
Treppiedi said his biggest goal is “firming up” the transition to smaller classes in grades K-3. To meet that requirement, the school district has been hiring additional teachers and installing portable classrooms in several of its elementary schools.
“We need both,” Treppiedi said.
Dover took issue with the new classrooms, though, saying it’s wasteful to let buildings sit empty during some hours of the day. He said there are creative ways to accommodate students using available space, and new buildings should be purchased sparingly.
“I believe in taxes for people but not for buildings,” Dover said, adding, “We should tax ourselves to the limit on public school funding.”
Haynes said new levies should be a last resort, and the school district should find creative ways to work within its means. It’s about “trying to find that perfect balance” of new staff and new buildings, he said.
According to the state Public Disclosure Commission, Dover and Treppiedi haven’t raised any money for their campaigns. Haynes still has not filed with the PDC, although the deadline to do so was in late May. He said he has been working with the PDC to file online and has received a little more than $1,700, including $950 from the Spokane Education Association.
Treppiedi was fired from his job in the Spokane City Attorney’s Office in 2012 after his controversial representation of the Spokane Police Department against a lawsuit from the family of Otto Zehm became an issue in the mayoral campaign the previous fall. He now works in private practice and in the state Office of Administrative Hearings.
Only two candidates filed for the other open seat on the Spokane School Board, position 4, so that race won’t appear on the ballot until November.
The Spokane County Elections Office sent out more than 205,000 ballots this week. Ballots are due back Aug. 4.
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