Three in running for Hockinson school board

Candidates split on vouchers, charters in growing district

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer

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Like the rest of the county, the Hockinson School District is growing.

Scott Swindell, who was appointed to the school board in May, thinks it’s the biggest issue the district is facing.

“The Hockinson School District is growing and is likely to continue to grow,” he wrote in an email. “The board needs to ensure it stays ahead of the needs which come with growth, whether that be in the areas of transportation, facilities, staffing, curriculum materials and/or technology.”

The district is months away from the opening of its newest building, a $27.4 million replacement middle school. Funding for the new middle school comes mostly from a $39.9 million bond voters approved in February 2015, with the state adding $7.7 million in capital construction money.

The three candidates for District No. 5, which was vacated by Katherine Davis after she moved out of the district, said they’d use bond funds for projects, but there are a few factors to consider before going that route.

Lorin Erickson wrote in an email that using bonds for funding needs to be looked at on a case-by-case basis, and Swindell wrote that bonds should “only be requested by the district as the need arises, keeping the district accountable to the taxpayers.” Gordon Smith wrote that if he ends up on the board, he would speak with as many people as possible “to see how they feel about additional bond funding.”

In February, residents in Hockinson voted down a capital project levy to replace Hockinson High School’s main athletic field with synthetic turf. It was the third year in a row Hockinson turned to residents for help in an election, after voters approved the bond in 2015 and a three-year $13.9 million replacement maintenance and operations levy in 2016.

All three candidates agreed on a variety of topics, such as Hockinson looking into more niche schooling options, like the project-based learning campus the Camas School District opened this past school year.

“Realistically, not all of our students are going on to college and they shouldn’t be,” Smith wrote in an email. “We need to provide those students that are going into a trade the same opportunities as our kids who are going off to a university.”

They also think the district should invest in digital curriculum.

“I will support investment in digital curriculum if deemed beneficial for the students,” Erickson wrote. “I think textbooks will eventually be phased out and, though I don’t think we should be at the experimental leading edge, I do think the district shouldn’t be very far behind.”

The three candidates also had differing responses to a question sent in through our Clark Asks feature asking their opinion on charter schools and vouchers.

“This is another difficult topic that I find myself on both sides of the debate,” Erickson wrote. “But, generally, I support charter schools and vouchers as I believe competition can help improve systems which in the end should benefit the students.”

Smith wrote that he believes “public funds should be used for public schools.”

Swindell wrote that they can be a good option if implemented properly.

“Most proposals tend to ‘gut’ public education,” he wrote. “I am a strong supporter of the public education system and believe that our education system is one of the main reasons why our communities and societal structures are as strong as they are here in the United States.”

Another Clark Asks question from a reader wanted to know if the candidates would require that all new energy systems use renewable energy. Smith and Swindell both said they’d do so if fiscally responsible.

“I would recommend but not require renewable energy,” Erickson wrote. “My current occupation gives me knowledge of the financial costs of renewable energy and I wouldn’t want the requirement for renewable energy to cause a project to not be built because it was over budget. This topic is very much case by case. Depending on timing, there are many things to consider, such as tax credits, rebates, technology lowering cost barriers, budget (and) feasibility.”