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

Choices for Nine Mile Falls School Board call for different levels of change

By Nick Gibson For The Spokesman-Review

Two candidates for a seat on the Nine Mile Falls School Board are calling for different levels of change to the district that surrounds both sides of the Spokane River in Spokane and Stevens counties.

The race for position 1 on the board features two political newcomers: Ken “Kenny” Wuesthoff, an Avista construction manager and longtime area softball coach who says the district is on the right path; and Stephany Harper, a Rosauers price coordinator and grandmother of four, who believe parents need a stronger voice in the district.

Wuesthoff, 54, said he decided to run because he cares deeply for the district, and would like to do his part in maintaining the health of the schools where his three daughters attended.

The quality of the schools in the Nine Miles Falls district is one of the main reasons he and his wife decided to put down roots and raise a family there in 1995, he said. His wife, Karen Wuesthoff, has worked as an educator for Spokane Public Schools for 31 years, he said.

Wuesthoff emphasized that the role is nonpartisan, and said he does not intend to make radical changes, nor does he have an agenda.

“We have a really good school district, and so it’s really a preservation of that and then finding those small pieces and continuing improvements on our system as a whole,” Wuesthoff said. “It’s a direct reflection of your community; when you have a strong school, you have a strong community.”

Harper, 53, said the way the school district handled the COVID-19 pandemic concerned her and motivated her to run and advocate for more parental control. Her two youngest daughters attended schools in Nine Mile Falls, with one of them currently in high school. She bristled at the pandemic-era restrictions like mask wearing, and said she felt the school board at the time was not receptive to her concerns, and those of other parents in the district, when those complaints were brought forward.

“Parental control has really gone downhill,” Harper said. “You don’t have a lot of control over what your kids learn and how things are run at the schools. I think we need a change.”

That change needs to start with holding teachers, parents and administrators accountable, Harper said. She believes all three entities share the responsibility of a child’s educational success, not the student. As such, Harper said everyone should be transparent through the entire process and remain in a collaborative and open dialogue.

“You have to hold kids accountable, don’t get me wrong,” Harper said. “But we have to also hold the teachers accountable for what they teach and be transparent on what they are teaching.”

Wuesthoff said he didn’t see anything in his daughters’ curriculum that concerned him while they were attending, but he does think the district’s facilities are overdue for improvements. He’s served on the district’s facility advisory committee since 2015 and has watched three bond measures fail over the years, which would have funded the construction of a new high school building first and foremost.

Lakeside High School is designed in the shape of an eagle, with zigzag hallways spread out into two wings on one side of the building, the cafeteria and gym on the other side and main entrances in the middle. Wuesthoff said the layout presents security concerns, is energy-inefficient and makes it expensive to keep in operation, especially with heating and cooling costs.

Wuesthoff said the necessary improvements stretch across the district at every level of K-12 education. All of the district’s buildings and facilities will need to comply with Washington’s Clean Building Performance Standard by 2028 or it could cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. While the district has tried to make improvements where it can, he said they need to find long-term solutions.

“I guess it’s the old term: you’re putting lipstick on a pig,” Wuesthoff said. “It’s just really in dire need. When it comes to building and materials costs, building is just about twice as much now than when we first proposed it. We missed a huge opportunity.”

Harper agreed that funding needs to be secured to bring the schools up to standard, but added that she thinks the district does not do a good job of making that need clear to the community. She emphasized that more transparency would lead to more community members getting involved, and garner support for a future bond measure.

Both candidates said they would like to see more opportunities for students interested in the trades, and agree that the job is an opportunity to give back to their community at an important time for the district.

“I think we have some changes coming that we have to, as a community, we have to be able to work together to get through them,” Harper said.

Wuesthoff echoed Harper’s sentiment, adding that the supportive, small-town atmosphere of Nine Mile Falls is what makes him passionate about the opportunity. He said he loves giving back and being a part of it, whether it’s volunteering on the chain crew for high school football games for the past 10 years or coaching traveling fastpitch softball.

“I think the energy that our board has now, and our community, I think it’s only going to get brighter,” Wuesthoff said. “I just want to be a part of it, really.”