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Election preview: Airway Heights mayor who resigned running for Cheney School Board

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 6, 2015

The former mayor of Airway Heights, who resigned his position after posting comments on Facebook that other council members said were racist, has a new chance with voters this fall.

Patrick Rushing is challenging incumbent Henry Browne for the Cheney School Board seat that represents the Airway Heights area.

Browne is a Liberian refugee who moved to the United States in 1999, a background that gives him a unique perspective on education, he said. He recalls having to fight for a seat when going to class, for example. Browne is running for his first full term after being appointed to the school board in December 2012.

“I think that I have a lot to offer as far as life experience, and perspective and diversity of opinions on the school board,” he said. “I have a passion for education. I still have a thirst for knowledge.”

Browne’s primary concern is addressing overcrowding in the Cheney district. Cheney High School was built to accommodate 900 students and currently has 1,200. After two bond initiatives failed this year, Browne said the district needs to rethink its communication strategy.

“The biggest struggle now is connecting with our community, and properly articulating the needs, particularly the infrastructural needs of the district.”

Rushing, who resigned as mayor of Airway Heights in September, didn’t respond to multiple interview requests. However, Rushing outlined his campaign on the Spokane County Elections website; he said there that he believes that the city of Airway Heights isn’t fairly represented in the district.

“Our City is rapidly growing and is not much smaller than the City of Cheney. Yet, the majority of our property taxes are going to the Cheney School District and all we have to show for those taxes is Sunset Elementry,” Rushing wrote. “The School Board must place more emphasis on the growing educational needs of Airway Heights students.”

Karen Runyon, president of the Cheney Education Association, agrees that the district’s geographic size can make it difficult for everyone’s interests to be represented.

But “to build a high school out there we would really run less programs in two high schools than we do in one,” she said. “In a way I think we would be hurting kids.”

Instead, she advocates upgrading the current elementary school and using that space more effectively.

The union hasn’t endorsed a candidate yet, Runyon said. However, she agrees with Browne’s concerns about overcrowding and the importance of communicating with community members. Additionally, teacher compensation will be a concern, she said. The union is in year two of a three-year contract.

“This district does a lot of things right,” Runyon said. “It’s a great district to work for. It’s a great district to have your kids educated in.”

Rushing sparked controversy when he compared President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama to monkeys in a Facebook post. He said he did not realize his comments were racist.

He resigned as mayor of Airway Heights in August after initially refusing City Council requests for his resignation. He cited “declining health issues” in a news release accompanying his resignation.

“I have the same right as every other American,” he said in an interview at the time. “I have the right to say stupid stuff. I said stupid stuff.”

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