A Cheney Public Schools board member running for re-election and his challenger say the school district needs to plan for continued growth but disagree on how the school district should raise and spend money.
Incumbent Mitch Swenson, who was first elected to the board in 2015, said the school district needs the two-year capital property levy of 50 cents per $1,000 on November’s ballot to acquire land for future schools and upgrade technology in schools.
“I appreciate the fact that it’s hard when taxes go up,” Swenson said. “But I think sometimes you have to take yourself out of that and think that it’s the kids. We want to continue to be the best district that we can be.”
Challenger Bill Johns, who said he’s been at most of the Cheney school board meetings over the past four years, said he believes the capital levy is a result of excessive teacher pay increases causing the district to dip into reserve funding.
“The teachers raises, it bothered me,” John said. “That’s what stimulated me to run more than anything.”
Without those raises, he said the district could use reserve funds for land acquisitions. And he said students could go a few more years with older computers.
In July, Cheney Public Schools projected spending between $1 million and $1.2 million of its reserves for the 2019-20 budget. If the capital levy is approved, the school board expects it would generate about $4.2 million.
“I’ve done a lot of door belling in this district on other issues,” Johns said. “And not a lot of these people can afford it.”
Swenson said if the school district had not passed a school expansion levy that Johns opposed a few years ago, “We would be putting kids in tents today.”
“If we don’t move forward with more construction and more acquisitions it will be worse,” he added. “I want to continue on the path that we’re on.”
Johns said he would like to see another high school built in the coming years for growth, but he wants to plan to avoid hurting taxpayers.
“There needs to be more planning on what happens not just reaction to the problems,” he said.
Johns added that he will be a unique voice on the board and won’t vote with the majority. He said he would like to discuss issues like cellphones, vaping and marijuana at school board meetings.
In addition to planning for growth, Swenson said he wants to have stronger partnerships with local universities, like Eastern Washington University, to prepare college-bound students.
“There are a lot of smart people in our region in Cheney, so why not continue to marry those?” he said.
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