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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Two newcomers debate politics, experience in race for Riverside School Board

By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Politics and experience are shaping a contest to help lead a school district in northern Spokane County.

A retired principal on Riverside School District’s school board with more than four decades of experience in education is facing a conservative newcomer who said he wants to make sure the district is “not subjected to a trendy social agenda.”

Peter Finn, who moved to the Riverside area in June 2022, said he spoke to board member Tommy Mowles when he was considering whether to home-school his four children or send them to public school. He said Mowles expressed what he considered “concerning” comments, which made him decide to run for Mowles’ school board seat.

“I wanted to make sure Riverside had someone who shares the values of the community,” he said.

Finn said Mowles told him he wanted to make sure the school district “moves forward with the rest of the country” and that he’s worried that Mowles meant following a “trendy social agenda.” He said he’s also concerned Mowles has donated money to Democratic candidates in the past as well as progressive organizations such as, which is currently running a campaign against book banning.

Mowles said he makes all his school board decisions based on what he believes is in the best interest of the students and that he makes it a point to keep his political views to himself.

“My political affiliation I believe has nothing to do with serving on the board,” he said. “I stand by my decisions on behalf of students.”

Mowles said he and his fellow board members do not discuss politics and he has no idea what their political ideology is.

“We have a very strong board and a board that works closely together,” he said. “We have really escaped a lot of the difficulties that other boards have in terms of politics. We’re there solely to serve the students of Riverside School District. I find that refreshing.”

Finn, who has owned Finn Wealth Management since 2022, spent his entire life in Alaska before moving to the area to be closer to his wife’s family. His wife attended Riverside schools. He said he wants to make sure his children and other students continue to get a good education and that he wants to protect the good things going on in the district and prevent division.

He noted he is a strong believer in parental rights.

Mowles spent his entire life in Texas before moving to Riverside three years ago, having fallen in love with the area while visiting family 15 years ago. He had a 42-year career in education as a music teacher and then as an elementary school principal for 20 years. He worked in both rural and urban schools, giving him a wide range of expertise. He was appointed to his current seat on the school board to fill a vacant position in January 2022.

“I feel like I have a very thorough background in education, as a teacher and an administrator,” he said.

Mowles said Riverside’s superintendent, Ken Russell, is the best he’s ever worked with. “None of them measure up to Dr. Russell and what he has done,” he said of his previous superintendents. “We call him the mayor of Riverside. We have an outstanding superintendent.”

He wanted to serve on the school board as a way to start paying back the benefits he got from his education, Mowles said. He grew up in a poor family, but several of his teachers over the years saw his potential and supported and encouraged him, he said. “I’m a strong supporter of public education,” he said. “I have a debt to pay to the people who helped me when I was growing up.”

Mowles identifies himself as a financially conservative progressive. He said he’s proud of the fact that the Riverside School District has the lowest tax rate in Spokane County while also offering a wide range of programs for students. “Being a financially conservative progressive means I support making progress to provide the highest quality education for our students while being good stewards of our taxpayer dollars.”

Two of Finn’s children attend Chattaroy Elementary and Finn said he doesn’t like that the school is K-4 instead of K-5, forcing students to attend fifth grade at Riverside Elementary before moving up to Riverside Middle school. Finn said he doesn’t know why that is, but said switching schools that often is an “unnecessarily jarring experience.”

Mowles said he agrees wholeheartedly that fifth -grade students should be brought back to Chattaroy Elementary, but there simply isn’t enough room for them. “Chattaroy Elementary has outgrown that building,” he said. “It’s very overcrowded right now.”

He also doesn’t like that students have to shift schools to attend fifth grade and then change schools again to attend sixth grade. “It needs to change,” he said. “We need to have fifth grade at Chattaroy Elementary.”

Mowles said adding classrooms to Chattaroy Elementary is one of several improvements suggested by a committee that spent the last two years analyzing the district’s infrastructure and future needs. The committee recommended that the district run a bond next year to pay for several construction projects, including Chattaroy Elementary renovations.

Finn said he would need to research any bond or levy request from the district to determine if a real need exists and if there are any strings attached to matching construction dollars offered by the state.

“I’m a big fan of fiscal responsibility,” he said, adding that he believes he would be a good representative of the community if he is elected.

“It’s important that people on the board have skin in the game. I think it’s important that they have children or grandchildren in the district.”

Mowles said he wants to continue to work to offer a good education to students. “If we can offer them a quality education, we can offer them a door to opportunity,” he said.