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Monday, September 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Cheney school board candidates representing Airway Heights tout elected experience, say district needs more schools

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 11, 2019, 4:05 p.m.

Incumbent Henry C. Browne Jr., left, is being challenged in his re-election bid for his Cheney Public Schools board seat by Airway Heights City Councilman Sonny Weathers in the November 2019 election. (Courtesy photos)
Incumbent Henry C. Browne Jr., left, is being challenged in his re-election bid for his Cheney Public Schools board seat by Airway Heights City Councilman Sonny Weathers in the November 2019 election. (Courtesy photos)

An Airway Heights City Council member is running against the incumbent Cheney Public Schools board director who represents the city.

Both incumbent Henry Browne Jr. and challenger James “Sonny” Weathers are pointing to their experience as elected officials as reasons to vote for them and say the school district needs to build more schools to address growth in enrollment.

“I have a proven record of service. Cheney is kind of a unique school district, and we’ve been faced with many challenges,” said Browne, who has been on the school board since 2012 and has two children who attend Cheney district schools.

Browne said he led the district through a period of growth when he was board president from 2015 to 2018. He said he also successfully advocated for a construction bond in 2017 to expand three elementary schools and Cheney High School.

This past year he said he helped secure a land purchase agreement for a new elementary school in Airway Heights. He also said he is proud the district navigated its budget shortfall of more than $1 million without layoffs.

“I think I can continue to provide this level of service to our entire district,” he said.

Weathers won his seat on the Airway Heights City Council in 2017 and also collaborated on the purchase agreement for a new elementary school in the city.

He said the district needs to continue building in Airway Heights since the city is growing and contributes a large number of students and substantial taxes.

“We’re excited about a new elementary school, but I’m confident it will be full by the time it opens,” said Weathers, who has three children who are students at Cheney schools.

With continued growth projected – about 150 students for this school year – Browne agreed that the district will need to look at building a new high school at some point after the Cheney High School expansion is completed this spring.

Weathers said his primary goal would be to advocate for a new middle school and high school to be built in Airway Heights, in part to eliminate busing.

“It’s tough to send kids out of their hometown because they don’t really feel a connection to their town or the school either,” he said. “Airway Heights needs a strong advocate representing them on the school board, and that’s what I would be.”

Browne said the district tries to minimize the amount of busing as much as possible, but that’s hard to do with the district serving such a large geographic footprint.

Since Airway Heights is the fastest growing part of the district, Browne said a priority of the board is to look at areas in the city and close by for new school construction sites.

“If we find suitable sites that are available, we will look at purchasing those sites,” he said.

Weathers said he thinks the current board is headed in the right direction on other issues, like approving a new capital projects property tax levy for the November ballot.

The board voted unanimously in July to approve the two-year levy of 50 cents. It would generate about $4.2 million for technology upgrades and land acquisitions for future schools.

“I think the district is on a sound footing to face the challenges of the future,” Browne said.

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