Oregon City school reopening candidates sweep election
Candidates who advocated fully reopening Oregon City schools in the May 18 election swept all all four school board races to create a new majority on the seven-member board.
A fourth race remained undecided for three weeks after the May 18 contest, until the Clackamas County Elections Office posted official final results this month, showing school reopening advocate Debbie Hays beat Jeana Gonzales by 61 votes, or 50.08% to 49.45%. About 110 voters had a June 1 deadline to resolve signature issues, but Hays increased her 52-vote lead going into that deadline, as voters who either forgot to sign their ballots, or whose signatures changed significantly since they last registered as a voter, submitted new signatures to the elections office.
In thanking voters and supporters, Hays assured the community that she respects the "magnitude of responsibilities" of taking public office.
"Our community and our schools are currently facing many challenges, and as the votes show, we are deeply divided," Hays said. "I have faith that we can overcome them if we rise above politics and focus on what really matters, our children."
Gonzales congratulated Hays for the victory and expressed a hope that the new board would embrace a "spirit of togetherness" by finding solutions that benefit all community members.
"I will continue to be a voice for the voiceless and will keep working to make Oregon City more inclusive and diverse," Gonzales said.
With the results being so close, Hays said she'll have to represent everyone in Oregon City, not just her own opinion.
"About half of the people voted for Jeana, so I'm going to have to represent their opinions as well," Hays said. "One thing was clear: people wanted change, and having a board with more diversity is a strong suit."
Hays adds diversity to the board; she's a first-generation Asian American whose mother still resides in Taiwan. OC school reopening candidate Michael Canchola, who won his race by more than 54% in unofficial returns, will also add diversity to the board. In paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jr., whom Canchola called a "wise man," the OC candidate explained why he mentioned his Hispanic heritage in filing documents for the seat, but not in the Voters' Pamphlet.
"I'm a guy that judges people on the content of their character," Canchola said. "I come from a wonderful mixed heritage and I ran on my character of giving back to the community over the years, but I'm proud of my heritage."
Mandi Philpott was among two candidates who unseated an incumbent to win a seat on the board.
"Common sense and reason, coupled with the prevailing conclusions of the experts who have studied the effects of COVID lockdowns on children, all point to the fact that children are suffering; their mental health has declined," Phillpott wrote to board members in January. "As an attorney who has represented numerous children in state care, because their mental health needs are beyond that which a parent can manage utilizing the available mental health resources this state provides, I know full well that the system is broken and inadequate."
Canchola works in the construction industry, graduated from OCHS and had his own children attend OC schools. Regardless of final vote tallies, he believes school board members will all push to get children back in school full-time this fall.
"We need to bring that confidence back that it's safe to go to school," he said. "It'll be a positive for the community, which has had a lot of frustration about moving too slow on reopening."
Currently the president of the Oregon City Youth Football Association, Canchola has coached several youth football teams, along with serving as head track coach for St. John the Apostle School.
"I'm honored to be elected and to serve the community, which is what I've been doing for years through sports and other activities. Now I'll be doing something different, but I'll still be president of Oregon City football this year," he said.
Oregon City's election results also showed a surge in interest in voting for Oregon City School Board candidates. About 9,500 OC voters cast ballots for candidates in the current election, compared to between 5,300 and 5,500 votes cast for OCSD board candidates in the 2017 and 2019 elections.
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