Molatore, Fernandez sweep elections unopposed

Voters on Tuesday returned Keith Steele to Position 5 on the West Linn-Wilsonville School Board, choosing the incumbent over challenger Ron Parton.

Voters also elected Regan Sonnen Molatore and Rob Fernandez to serve four-year terms with Steele, alongside current board members Kristen Keswick and Betty Reynolds.

As of Wednesday morning, Steele led in Clackamas County with 4,071 votes, or 73.2 percent, to Parton’s 1,421 votes, or 25.5 percent. In Washington County, Steele received 12 votes, or 57.14 percent, to Parton’s eight votes, or 38.1 percent.

At the same time, Fernandez received 97.5 percent of the vote in Clackamas County, with 4,476 votes. He carried 100 percent of the 22 votes in nearby Washington County.

Molatore captured 4,603 votes in Clackamas County, for 97.5 percent. In Washington County, she had 100 percent of the 23 votes.

A West Linn resident, Steele has served on the school board since he was elected in 2009. Before that election, he served on the school district budget committee and was co-chairman of the 2008 capital bond campaign.

With the departure of the longest-serving member of the current board, Dale Hoogestraat, who did not seek re-election, Steele becomes the most senior member of the board.

He stepped into the vice chairman role in 2009 and served in that position until this past July, when he became chairman.

Explaining his decision to seek re-election in an earlier interview, Steele said, “I’m running to continue the leadership and work we’ve had since (Superintendent) Dr. Rhoades came on. With Dale leaving, I’m the senior person and I think it’s in the best interest of the board and the district that I stay on.”

Regarding his re-election Tuesday, Steele said, “I am honored this evening to be able to serve our kids and our community for another four years. We have a very special school district here and I’m excited to continue working with the board, Dr. Rhoades and his leadership team to help make us even better.”

The father of three students in the district, Steele singled out his family and supporters, saying, “This has been a very rewarding experience thanks to all of you.”

Reynolds said, “Keith’s experience with bond campaigns and local option levies, as a board member and as (chairman), are great assets to the district. I’m looking forward to serving with a highly functioning board that is ready to hit the decks running.”

Keswick echoed Reynolds’ statement.

“I appreciate the experience and leadership he brings to the school board," she said. "Keith is well respected by the district staff and has strong connections with the community. These relationships will be critical in leading the board and collaborating with the district to continue to build on the successes we witness in schools throughout the district.”

Molatore elected to Position 1

After running an unopposed campaign, Molatore expressed her readiness to dive in, acknowledging that one of her first priorities, along with working with board members and administrators, will be to learn more about the West Linn and Wilsonville residents she was elected to represent.

“I take the role of acting as a representative of their voices seriously,” she said. “My job will be to listen to and seek advice from everyone touched by our schools. That includes elementary, middle and high school families as well as those who don’t have children in our schools but who gain from our successful schools.”

A Wilsonville resident, Molatore graduated from West Linn High School; her two children attend school within the district. She has served recently as the vice president of the West Linn-Wilsonville Education Foundation.

Acknowledging Molatore as a “newcomer” to the board, Steele said he had known her for several years. He endorsed her “enthusiasm, dedication and passion for the interests of kids,” calling her “a smart, engaging and energetic spokesperson for public education and our community."

“I have witnessed Regan’s strong work ethic in relation to the foundation,” Keswick said, calling Molatore “enthusiastic, tenacious and … great to work with.”

Noting Molatore’s experience as an attorney, Reynolds said, “She understands school laws and knows how to research and analyze complex issues and make tough decisions. … (I) am looking forward to her energy, collaborative skills and commitment to kids and to constituents.”

Voters tap Fernandez for Position 3

Keswick and Reynolds joined Steele in welcoming the addition to the board of Fernandez, who was elected to Position 3 after running unopposed. Noting Fernandez’s experience on the school district budget committee and his short service on the school board, following the resignation of Lori Beight in 2010, Steele said, “He has quite a bit of knowledge about how things work in the district and on the board coming in. Coupled with his deep community roots and his unique ability to get out of the box in his approaches toward problem solving, he promises to add great experience, humor and value to our deliberations.”

A longtime Wilsonville resident, with three children in district schools, Fernandez previously has served on budget and bond oversight committees for the school district.

“There are some very critical financial issues facing the district,” Fernandez said in an earlier interview. “Unfortunately, the school funding stuff — it’s convoluted. So it really helps to have some context from prior budgets.”

Fernandez said he “absolutely” looked forward to returning to the school board. Having served in the interim on the budget committee, he added, “I never really left.” He described the current atmosphere on the school board as “very positive,” noting that one difference in the current board’s makeup was that all the members had children in the school district. “That’s an important connection,” he said.

“My priorities have been consistent for all the years” he has served, Fernandez said. “My spending priorities begin in the classroom, and then you move out from there.”

He acknowledged continuing challenges as the board moves forward, and he praised Rhoades and Business Manager Doug Middlestetter for their vision. “They’re really looking at this as a multiyear process,” Fernandez said.

Having seen firsthand Fernandez’s work on the district’s budget committee, Keswick said, “I have been impressed with his genuine desire to gain understanding in order to make informed decisions.”

Reynolds characterized Fernandez’s experience as “invaluable,” saying, “I’ve enjoyed working with him on the budget committee and appreciate his financial skills and his ability to ask good questions to assure transparency, accountability and quality education in our district.”

Steele thanks Parton for his candidacy

Although Steele prevailed over Parton in the election, he thanked Parton for his willingness to run for the school board.

“I send my gratitude to Mr. Parton for his candidacy and interest in serving our kids and our schools,” Steele said. “His willingness to roll up his sleeves and contribute epitomizes the dedication and care our community has for its schools, and I am thankful for it.”

Looking forward to the new board, Steele summed up his personal philosophy by saying, “A key to success is to surround yourself with the smartest and most driven people you can find. With the addition of Rob and Regan to the board we are well positioned for continued success in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District.”

Keswick said, “With ever-changing requirements and funding from the state, it is important to have a board that can work effectively to understand these varying conditions and support the district in creative solutions."

Molatore summed up her approach to her new position: “I will approach my work on the school board with the belief that we all share the same fundamental goal of providing our children with an excellent education in a safe, supportive environment that allows them to grow into caring and competent adults,” she said. “I believe our collective energy should be directed toward the needs of the children and not our differences as adults, should such differences appear.”

That seems to be an area of early agreement for the new board members.

“My number one (priority) will be to build rapport and a good professional relationship with other board members so we can be effective,” Fernandez said. “It’s important to respect each other, so we can have honest, spirited discussion” and still work effectively together, he added.

The newly elected school board members will take their seats beginning July 1.

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