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Saturday, February 22, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Election preview: Mead school candidates have similar concerns, different backgrounds

Overcrowding. School security. Measured and intelligent district growth. The appropriate role of state control.

These are the top issues mentioned by both candidates in Mead’s sole contested school board , and their proposed strategies for dealing with the issues are fairly similar. What differentiates them is experience.

Incumbent Robert Olson has been on the board since his appointment in 1985. In that time he’s seen the district grow from 3,500 students to more than 10,000. He said his experience is vital for continuing the board’s work.

His challenger John Hatcher believes Olson’s experience might be getting in the way.

“I know my colleague I’m running against,” Hatcher said. “He’s been in there for 30 years now and maybe it’s time for a change.”

A concern both candidates share is overcrowding. A bond passed in February allowed the district to buy 68 acres on Five Mile Prairie. Currently, a committee is reviewing the district’s boundaries to determine the best way to reduce elementary overcrowding. Both Olson and Hatcher emphasize the importance of seeking public input if boundaries are changed.

Another primary concern for Olson is school security.

“We cannot emphasize enough the importance of doing everything possible to secure the safety of all students,” he wrote in an email.

That would include installing single-point of entry systems in the schools. Olson, who worked as a banker before retiring, said he’s also concerned about state-issued mandates.

“The problem that we have is that the state will give us mandates but they’re not funded,” he said.

Navigating that is tricky and requires experience − something he can provide, Olson said.

Hatcher shares many of the same concerns, especially when it comes to state control.

“In general the board has abdicated some of its responsibility to the state in terms of responding to the needs of the Mead School District,” Hatcher said.

He believes he can work effectively with legislators to resolve some of the funding issues by being “more in tune with the legislators.” Hatcher, who is an occupational therapist, he was active in the effort to get occupational therapists licensed in Washington. That experience gives him some insight into how the legislative process works, he said.

Hatcher also is concerned with the degree the board relies on the state. Specifically he’s concerned with the amount of testing. Hatcher also hopes to improve communication between the district and the community. He points to the changing attendance boundaries and the firing of Mead football coach Sean Carty. He argues that neither issuewas adequately communicated to the public.

“I think we need to have more citizen involvement,” he said. “I’m not sure it happened to the degree that it should.”

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