Eugene Weekly : News : 5.14.09

How They Differ
Comparing 4J and LCC board candidates
by Ted Taylor

Two positions are contested in the 4J School Board elections May 19, and all the candidates have similar views on the need to cut costs to match falling state revenues and reduce the achievement gap in the district. They all want to maintain school days and keep class sizes manageable. On what issues do they disagree?

4J Position 2 is an open seat being vacated by Charles Martinez and the three candidates are Paul Bertucci, John Lehmann and Anne Marie Levis.

School choice is a hotly debated topic in Eugene. Both Levis and Lehmann favor keeping it intact but dealing more effectively with the inequities it has caused over the years. Bertucci is an outright opponent of school choice, saying it creates inequalities and “works directly against  our city’s master plan from a geographic service area and infrastructure basis.” He does support some language-immersion schools.

 The district has a $10,000 “buy-out” bonus to encourage older teachers to take early retirement, to be replaced by younger teachers at lower pay. Bertucci is “emphatically” against it, saying it undermines the quality of education. Lehmann and Levis both favor the buyouts, with reservations. Lehmann says he doesn’t like the idea philosophically, but “it would save up to $35,000 a year per teacher and help save other teacher jobs that could be lost.” Levis says she’s concerned about consolidation forcing out “new, engaged and diverse teachers.”

On the topic of city taxes to support 4J, both Lehmann and Bertucci are against the local option levy and the idea of an income tax, and Bertucci thinks a sales tax would be more equitable. Levis would not favor an income tax, but she wants to lobby the Legislature to boost the district’s limits on the local option levy.

Levis is the president of a local PR firm and an active schools fundraiser. She ran unsuccessfully against Betty Taylor for City Council in 1996. Lehman is a retired teacher, coach, principal and district administrator. Bertucci is a software executive, business manager, schools fundraiser and author. Levis and Bertucci have children in 4J schools. 

4J Position 3 is currently held by Beth Gerot, and she’s being challenged by Gary Rayor and Yan Seiner.

On school choice, Gerot wants to continue choice and sees the district making progress in dealing with the inequities. Rayor says, “It is possible to take choice too far, and I think the 4J board is doing a good job of that and wasting resources.” Seiner is a “strong supporter” of choice and wants to “provide a single, district-wide lottery, where every school participates.” 

Gerot favors early retirement incentives as a way to save younger teachers, but Seiner says, “Don’t get rid of experienced staff, but give younger teachers more responsibility.” Rayor favors replacing some older teachers with unemployed teachers and substitute teachers rather than hiring teachers fresh out of college.

Seiner is the only candi-date to object to closing more schools.

On the idea of city taxes to support 4J, Rayor says it doesn’t make sense to mix city and school funding. Gerot says the local option levy shows community support for schools, but, she says, “We need to look at restructuring our state tax system so that our schools and other vital services are adequately supported.” Seiner does not rule out a city income tax for schools.

Gerot and her husband own a nursery. She has been on the board for 10 years and is currently chair of the board. Rayor is a civil engineer and former city councilor, and Seiner is a civil engineer. Both Rayor and Seiner have children in 4J. 

LCC Zone 4 position is currently held by Susie Johnston, who has been on the board for 10 years and is currently the chair. She is being challenged by Gordon Culbertson and Jose Ortal. All three are committed to keeping tuition affordable and supporting LCC programs that are vital to the area’s economic recovery.

Regarding the downtown campus and its future, Culbertson says, “Now might not be the best time for improvements.” Ortal says, “Refurbishing an older building such as Lane’s Downtown Center can be an expensive proposition. Conversely, the college’s educational access imperative would be undermined if the DTC’s accelerating deterioration continues.” Johnston says “Some of our most marginalized students are at DTC and we want to provide access to them. We expect to have a very vibrant program mix that will be a nice complement to our main campus as well as add to downtown.”

Both Johnston and Culbertson speak positively of President Mary Spilde, but Ortal says he is not satisfied with Spilde and her relationship with the board and community. He did not elaborate.

Johnston is a longtime community activist and worker in social services and is currently back as a student at LCC. Ortal was laid off from the LCC staff. He has a master’s degree in history and serves on the Lane County Commission for the Advancement of Human Rights. Culbertson attended LCC and went on to a successful career in the timber industry.