Oregon City voters called for change in schools on May 18 by electing candidates who have been outspoken in their criticism of school reopening delays.
Michele Lee Stroh, Debbie Hays, Michael Canchola and Mandi Philpott have held joint campaign events together, and are "like minded" in their feeling that the school district needs a different direction. Stroh took on Martha Spiers after the school board chair supported delays in reopening schools and the Oregon Government Ethics Commission recently found violations.
Unofficial election results in the Stroh-Spiers race held in Stroh's favor as the remainder of ballots without signature-matching issues were counted by 5 p.m. on Wednesday. Stroh's 51.3% will be enough to defeat Spiers with 48.3%. Clackamas County Elections Office has had website glitches in posting its results online, but it has released a copy of the total tally of ballots, minus those with signature-matching issues, to Pamplin Media Group at 5 p.m. on Wednesday.
Stroh told district staff on May 12 that she decided to run after realizing that children are not as resilient as parents would liked to have believe them to be in surviving the lack of interaction forced on them during the pandemic.
"Without the bridges our students are falling into the deep divide, and if we don't stop them from falling soon, we are going to risk not being able to pull them up to safety," she said. "An effective board would be one that is able to look for things that we have in common."
Spiers was the only board member running for re-election, although she supported recently appointed board member Rob Clamp, who will lose his seat to Philpott, according to unofficial election results showing him as the candidate with the second most votes with 27.7% of the vote compared to 44.4% for Philpott. Members of the Oregon City Education Association supported Spiers, Jeana Gonzales and Jason Kemmerich, who with 45.3% of the vote lost the race for an open seat against Michael Canchola's 54.4%.
Gonzales' race against Hays remained too close to call at 49.7% to 49.9% in favor of Hays, as additional write-in votes were counted on Thursday for voters in Jennings Lodge, the area where many people were attempting to sway the uncontested election of Clackamas Community College board member Dave Hunt.
Regardless of the Hays-Gonzales result, voters will add diversity to the board. Hays is first-generation Asian American, and her mom still resides in Taiwan. If elected, Gonzales would be the first Latinx member in the board's history. Born and raised amid the Mexican culture of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Gonzales traces her ancestry to her great-grandfather who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico City.
Getting kids back in schools seems to be especially important for Oregon City families, compared to average families statewide. Oregon City School District's enrollment fell 8% from 8,018 students last year to 7,380 this school year. The state as a whole saw a smaller 3.7% decline in the number of students enrolled in school this academic year. State education officials attributed the decline in enrollment to school closures causing "significant challenges" for families and anticipated that enrollment will rebound once students resume in-person learning.
While candidates who were endorsed by teachers unions all won their elections in Gladstone and North Clackamas school districts, that was not the case in Oregon City, although recent ethics violations were not a factor in Gladstone or North Clackamas.
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