As they say, all politics is local, and in Lane County, local politics gets heated when it’s school board elections.
The issues are huge in K-12 education — racism and diversity, COVID, standardized testing and more. We are impressed by all the people willing to take on this tough and important duty. Good board members are simultaneously independent thinkers, willing to question how the board is voting and why, and yet also able to function effectively with other board members they may not always agree with to get things done.
It’s great when voters and candidates get fired up about the school board — especially if it means positive changes for the kids. So knowing that Eugene and surrounding communities take their school boards seriously, our small editorial board Zoomed with as many candidates as we could, and sent surveys out to the ones who we either couldn’t squeeze in or who didn’t respond. Some candidates didn’t respond in time or at all.
If your local school board race isn’t in here and you want voters to know about it, please send a letter in about it — Letters@EugeneWeekly.com. Ballots went out April 29, the same day Eugene Weekly is published, but there’s still time before Election Day on May 18 to let readers know what you think. Any letters we can’t fit in print, we run online.
Check out the candidates and vote!
Lane Community College
The Lane Community College Board of Education made history when it appointed Holli Johnson in March, making her the first female African American board member in the college’s history. In May, voters can make history by electing the first-ever African American woman to a four-year term to the LCC board.
Johnson attended community college in Santa Barbara, California, at the start of her education career, and she told EW that a kind administrator helped her navigate the process when she first enrolled. After graduating from community college, she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of Oregon and then a master’s at Oregon State. She’s worked in education for 25 years, with an impressive résumé.
Johnson previously told EW that if elected, she wants to work on the sustainability of the adult and continuing education programs and retaining staff of color with working wages.
With her lived experience as a student and then as a higher education employee, we’re confident that Johnson as a board member will have the best needs of students and staff in mind while addressing upcoming big issues, such as budgets and LCC’s diversity retention problems.
Mike Eyster unopposed
Austin Folnagy unopposed
Zone 5, 2 Year Unexpired Term
For two terms, Steve Mital served on the Eugene Water and Electric Board. Now he says he’s ready to run for the Lane Community College Board of Education — and we agree.
Mital works as the sustainability director at the University of Oregon and founded the Environmental Leadership Program at the UO in 2001. But what we’re impressed with is the manner in which he’s learned to serve as a member of a governing board in his time on the EWEB board. During those two terms, he says he’s learned how to instruct staff politely to present more information about decisions and hold them accountable at the same time.
LCC’s Board of Education will be making big decisions in the next four years, such as the school’s next Five-Year Strategic Plan. With Mital on the board, we know he’ll ask the tough questions to staff, ensuring the board has all of the right information to make the right decisions.
Eugene School District #4J
A longtime Eugene resident with a career in public service, Laural O’Rourke is the advocate for equity and diversity that the 4J school board needs. Incumbent Anne Marie Levis dropped out of the race to support O’Rourke, and we believe the voters should support her, too.
If elected, O’Rourke would be the only Black woman on the board and wants to use her position to support all students and teachers of color. She is also a mother to three children with IEPs and understands the needs and struggles of special education. We admired O’Rourke’s desire to make sure all students have equal opportunities and are getting the help they need to be successful.
A priority of O’Rourke’s campaign is expanding career technical education (CTE) programs, which she calls “skills before bills,” a strategy that encourages students to choose CTEs if it suits them, rather than as a last resort.
As students return to classrooms, the 4J school board will have to navigate through the rest of the pandemic, and we believe O’Rourke’s attentiveness to the needs of students and teachers will serve the board well.
Tom Di Liberto
Starting as a classroom teacher some 40 years ago, Judy Newman eventually moved into working with special education and early learning issues. Highly respected at the state level, she is an important link on the 4J board currently and becomes even more important when major money comes to the district from the state for the Student Success Act.
Now that she has served one term on the board she says she is better qualified to deal with the dynamics of this seven-member governing body. She says she believes there is too much testing of our students. She has formed partnerships with the community, and, as she puts it, Newman knows special education “inside and out.”
Tom Di Liberto, retired Spanish teacher, is well-liked by colleagues he has worked with and has been a leader with the Eugene Education Association, the teachers’ union. Newman is endorsed by education leaders such as former 4J Superintendents Gustavo Balderas and George Russell and former Springfield Superintendent Nancy Golden. Newman’s careful and independent thinking earned her the board’s endorsement.
Dakota James Boulette dropped out
After many years volunteering in 4J schools and on the district budget committee, Maya Rabasa is ready to take on a position of leadership. Her opponent, Dakota James Boulette, thought so too, so he stepped down from running to endorse her, though he was too late to remove his name from the ballot.
Rabasa grew up speaking Spanish and French, learning English in public schools. As a member of Eugene’s Latinx community, she says she has an awareness of the issues facing BIPOC students. She says her vision is to improve equity in the district by more actively engaging with the Equity Tool.
As a new voice on the board, Rabasa also says she strongly believes in transparency in communicating district policy and decisions, so that all stakeholders, from teachers to students to parents, are heard.
Rabasa, who has children in 4J schools, says she is committed to making the district better. This is not her first time running, and it’s clear she is committed. We believe that the board would be well off with her on it.
Lane Education Service District
Position 1 Zone 1
Sydney Shenk Kissinger unopposed
Position 3 Zone 3
Vanessa Truett unopposed
Position 6 At-Large
As a Lane ESD board member since 2013, Rose Wilde has the experience and passion to serve on the board for another term. She says after eight years on the board, she has fine tuned her vision for education in Lane County, and we think voters should support it.
Wilde wants to expand opportunities for career and technical education and promote restorative justice over punishments for all students, especially those in special education who are often punished disproportionately. She also wants to ensure all students have equal access to various education opportunities, regardless of education level. EW’s editorial board believes in Wilde’s determination to ensure the success of students across Lane County.
Bethel School District #52
Ashley Espinoza unopposed
Paul Jorgensen unopposed
Debi Farr unopposed
Junction City School District #69
Position 1, 2 Year Unexpired Term
Kari Bennett did not respond
Ryan Ceniga did not respond
Alaire Fajardo tells us that Junction City School District has more than 25 percent BIPOC students, and if elected she will become the first Latinx woman to serve on the board. “I welcome being that trailblazer,” she writes in response to EW’s questions, “and the challenges it may entail.” With endorsements from state Sen. James Manning and Bureau of Labor and Industries Commissioner Val Hoyle as well as a background serving on the district’s Racial Justice Team Strategic Planning Committee, Fajardo is EW’s endorsement and one to watch.
Scott Gibson unopposed
Jesse C. Springer
Jacque Gerdes is the incumbent in this school board race, and we like what she has to say on standardized testing in the pandemic (wait during COVID and assess the need later) as well as her focus on equity and inclusion. Her work in supported employment for individuals with disabilities is an excellent background to bring to this position.
Springfield School District #19
Emilio Hernandez Jr
Zachary Bessett is currently in this seat and is the chair of the school board but isn’t seeking re-election. The crowded field pursuing the position includes some impressive candidates, but for us it comes down to Jonathan Light and Anthony Reed.
Light has experience on the school board, getting elected in 2001 and serving until 2016 when he stepped down. He was a teacher for 15 years, four of which a teacher on special assignment in the Springfield school district. Born and raised in Springfield, Light says students take too many standardized tests, which waste time that could be better spent learning critical thinking skills or career technical education. Schools have taken an assembly line approach to education, but it’s time to make it more individual-based, he tells EW.
Reed grew up in Oakridge but has lived in the Springfield area for 15 years. He’s a union carpenter and a personal service worker for adults with developmental disabilities. As a person who works in a trade, Reed tells EW that he hopes the school district can expand its CTE programs and introduce pre-apprenticeship classes and build partnerships with unions and contractors. He also says he’d like to see the school board offer staff anti-racist trainig and evaluate hiring practcies to ensure they’re following equitable practices.
Bessett endorsed Light in a Facebook post, and Reed has the support from Bureau of Labor and Industries Commissioner Val Hoyle, and EW says Springfield won’t go wrong with either candidate.
Lisa Barrager dropped out
Kelly Mason grew up in Springfield and is the product of the local school district, giving her a unique perspective on the consequences of board decisions. Lisa Barrager, the incumbent, was seeking re-election but decided to drop out of the race to support Mason, and we believe voters would be wise to support Mason, too.
Mason is an academic advisor and bilingual liaison for the low-income, first generation scholarships program PathwayOregon at the University of Oregon, and if elected would be the youngest member of the board. As Springfield’s Latino population increases, we’re confident that Mason can be a figure on the school board to make the district an inclusive and equitable place for all.
Her campaign has an impressive list of supporters, including Lane County Commissioner Joe Berney, Bureau of Labor and Industries Commissioner Val Hoyle, state Sen. Lee Beyer, Springfield School Board Member Emilio Hernandez — and more.
Mason is running against Ruth Linoz, the Republican nominee who ran against state Rep. John Lively in November 2020.
#20-319 – Lane County Yes
Supporting 4-H and OSU Extension Programs in Lane County
The Oregon State University Extension is the service that brings you programs such as Master Gardener, Master Food Preserver, Food Pantry and Master Woodland Manager. And programs such as food security, economic development, wildfire resiliency and emergency preparedness are necessary in our current pandemic, during wildfire season and in case that Cascadia quake hits in our lifetimes. According to Friends of Extension, a local option tax measure of 1.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value was approved by 70 percent of Lane County voters in 2016 and expires this year. The current proposed measure would be a local option tax of 2.8 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for five years, so a property assessed at $200,000 would be charged $5.60 per year. For less than the cost of two lattes a year, you can support Extension and the work 4H does with local youth. Works for us.