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Raylene Thomas and Jim Rahi are running for position 4 on the Jefferson County ESD Board

Two Jefferson County Education Service District candidates shared their goals and reasons for running during a candidate forum last week.

The Madras-Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce facilitated the virtual candidate forum Thursday evening, April 22, which was livestreamed from the Performing Arts Center.

The local education service district provides support services to Jefferson County 509-J, Culver, Ashwood and Black Butte school districts. It primarily offers programs for children with special needs, technology support and administration services.

Jefferson County Education Service District position 4 has two candidates, Raylene Thomas and Jim Rahi. Incumbent Joan Starkel and Barbara Ibrahim are running unopposed for position 7 and position 5, respectively. Position 2 had no candidate filing for the Culver Zone representation.

Current board members include Ashwood representative Dani Cowdrey, Culver representative Jacob Schwab, Black Butte representative Daniel Petke, Madras representative Kathleen Marston, and at-large members Marie Glenn, Jamie McLeod-Skinner and Joan Starkel.

The forum featured Rahi and Thomas, who are vying for Madras representation on the JCESD Board, Marston's current seat.

Jim Rahi

TONY AHERN/MADRAS PIONEER - Jim RahiRahi and his wife, who have two grown children and young grandchildren, have lived in Jefferson County for 15 years.

Rahi says his skills and background would make him an asset to the ESD Board. After serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, Rahi attended Clatsop Community College. He then worked for a phone company, was a logger, was a general contractor, was superintendent of a housing project, managed ranches, and served a two-year humanitarian mission in Eastern Russia. He has been involved in school, community and church activities.

"I'm running for this position because all children matter," Rahi said. "I care about the direction modern education is taking. I feel that there is a need to emphasize the basics. Maybe every student doesn't need to prepare for college when so many of the trades are lacking workers."

He believes board members need to listen to those they represent and make decisions that will affect the wellbeing of the disadvantaged students that the district serves.

"I'm a problem solver. I find ways to accomplish things, and I think that I can provide leadership insight to the board for ways that they can get things done," Rahi said.

He believes the lack of social time during the pandemic has been difficult for students, and he would like to seek ways to facilitate more interactions, especially among those who are physically or mentally challenged.

Rahi's acquaintances are from all spectrums of the community, and he has friends in special interest groups and some with special needs children. He says he has empathy for the struggles that people in diverse cultures have.

"With the skills and background I have, I'd be an asset to making Madras' education system more tenable to its customers," Rahi said.

TONY AHERN/MADRAS PIONEER - Raylene ThomasRaylene Thomas

Thomas is an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, where she grew up and currently resides. She graduated from Madras High School in 2005 and then served in the U.S. Air Force Security Forces until 2012. She earned college degrees in social work and criminal justice and works as a probation officer for Warm Springs. She assists community members who are in the system get integrated back into the community. Thomas has volunteered throughout her life, including with Girl Scouts and as a youth basketball coach.

She has a 3-year-old daughter with special needs, and her companion has two children.

"I definitely understand how important support services are to meet the needs of a variety of people and a variety of different circumstances, and I would love to be a part of a team that works together to serve students, staff, families and the communities within the region," Thomas said.

She believes in qualities such as empathy, passion, drive and openness. She would like to improve the relationships between the diverse communities within the district and increase community engagement. Thomas says the ESD needs to have good support systems in place to assist those facing challenging times.

Thomas believes ESD leaders need to have empathy to understand the needs, feelings and situations of those they serve.

"People that are making decisions on behalf of a group of people really need to try to put themselves in the place of the people that they are serving, and empathy embodies all of that," Thomas said.

Election Day is May 18.

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