In one of three contested Cheney School Board races this election, voters will have their pick between an air force veteran and a candidate with 14 years’ experience on a West Side school board. Both have similar perspectives on next year’s bond and Legislative action.
After Bill Hanson served 20 years in the air force, he said he spent extensive time volunteering in his kids’ classrooms, an experience that affords him a first-hand perspective on the needs of educators.
After three years away from his position on the Lake Stevens School District board, John Boerger is ready to re-enter the world of school politics. He said he’s learned a lot about community outreach and Legislative lobbying through involvement in Lake Stevens and more recently in Cheney, and is eager to apply this experience to Cheney’s board, if elected.
Below is a look at how the two feel about some top district issues.
Boerger was a co-chair on the long-range facilities planning committee, a group of community members tasked with designing a bond proposal for the school board.
While still awaiting the board’s approval, the suggested proposal has both candidates’ support. The committee suggested seeking a $68 million bond to fund the building of an elementary school in Airway Heights, purchasing two plots of land for an elementary and secondary school and existing facility renovations. The plan also mentions building facilities on those plots in future bond cycles, a stair-step style both candidates argue makes the proposal more palatable to taxpayers.
“It works toward solving the needs, but it does it in a way that doesn’t overburden the community up front,” Boerger said.
The proposal would increase taxes by 53 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, for a total property tax rate of $1.94 per $1,000 for bond projects.
Boerger argued projected growth in the district necessitates additional facilities under the proposal; district calculations estimate enrollment will grow nearly 14% in the next decade and without another elementary school, elementary school classroom capacity will be at 129%.
Hanson agreed that the population swell expected in the district necessitated additional structures, but he proposed the district focus energy also on alleviating strain in the more urban areas of Cheney proper through adding wings or renovating existing schools.
Focusing on the $10 million slated for improving existing facilities, Hanson said he would prioritize funneling money to Salnave Elementary and Three Springs High School, schools rated poor or unsatisfactory.
Hanson acknowledged a hesitancy from voters in past years to approve property tax increases used to pay for construction of new schools. If this year’s bond renewal should fail to gain 60% voter support, Hanson proposed additions to current elementary schools, such as Salnave, as a cheaper alternative he thinks would alleviate swelling student populations.
“We need to try and take care of what we have,” he said. “Before we go off on all the bells and whistles, can we bring what we have up to standard?”
Having led the facilities committee, Boerger said that moving forward, he would champion a similar framework of having the community provide input on district matters. Should the district build another school, he said future boundary adjustments could use community feedback.
Both candidates said they support levy renewal. Property owners pay $1.39 per $1,000 in assessed property value in taxes under the current levy to be renewed in 2024, and the amount headed to February ballots has not been determined by the board. Levy dollars pay for everything outside of basic education, including extracurriculars, additional teachers, support staff, AP classes and other expenditures the state doesn’t fund.
One of the roles of the school board is to represent the needs of the district in Olympia and lobby for and against state policy made at the Legislature. Supported by the Washington State School Director’s Association, board members determine legislative priorities
Hanson said he would first advocate for staff needs, motivated by observations he’s made while volunteering in his kids’ classrooms. By keeping staff happy at work, students will also thrive, he reasoned.
“If I get the opportunity to support our school district and our community, it’s going to be worker-driven,” Hanson said. “I want to advocate for our teachers, our custodians, for our bus drivers, our kitchen staff; those are the folks that make day-to-day experiences for the kids.”
Boerger echoed the intention of advocating for staff needs if he should be elected. Specifically, he said statewide employees’ insurance, under which school staff are covered, favors educators on the West Side, where there are more options for covered providers. To keep Cheney competitive and aid in employee retention, Boerger said he’d advocate the Legislature amend the insurance to equitably support workers in this region, and employees in rural areas and in public education in general.
“I can tell you that a lot of those folks could get better benefits and salaries if they went out and worked in the private sector,” Boerger said. “We have to figure out how we attract and retain teachers, not only from an environment, but also from a financial and health benefit perspective, because the competition is just too fierce out there.”
He also said he’d advocate for more alternate pathways for students to get a high school diploma outside the standard model. Dual credit options allow students to get workforce training while earning credits toward graduation. He said this is something the board could advocate for on state level, but it also falls within the district’s scope.