Portland school board race sees newcomers, big money
The Portland Public Schools board is about to get a shake-up, as half the board seats are up for grabs in the May 21 race, with only one incumbent running for re-election.
The filing deadline for the PPS board and several other regional education boards was March 21. Director Amy Kohnstamm is the only candidate who is running to retain her seat on the board to represent Zone 3. She faces challengers Deb Mayer and Wes Soderback in the May election.
Soderback has become a familiar name on Multnomah County ballots. He ran for the PPS board in 2015. In 2018, records show he financed his own campaign for the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, to the tune of $100,000. He had run for the county position before, unsuccessfully. Soderback has spent $4,744 so far on his current campaign, but still has $96,156 at his disposal in leftover campaign funds from a personal loan to himself from his last bid for office, according to election records. He did not respond to requests for comment.
State elections officials confirmed that spending and fund balances for candidate committees are self-reported and often not verified for accuracy unless the Secretary of State's office receives a complaint.
Meanwhile, Paul Anthony, Julie Esparza Brown and Mike Rosen did not file to run again.
In a statement released in late March, Esparza Brown, vice chair of the PPS board, underscored the need for diversity on the board and said she felt the board made "significant strides" toward systemic changes to the benefit of students.
"As the first Latina school board member in the history of this district and currently the only member (of) color, I know how critical having diverse voices on public boards is," Esparza Brown wrote. "Regardless of who will replace me, the Board of Education must continue to seek out the voices of communities of color and of those who represent (other) diverse groups in board representation and decisions."
Rosen also released a statement, saying he won't seek another term, but is proud of the progress the current board has made over the last four years.
"Four years ago I ran for a position on the Portland School Board because the school district was adrift — accountability and transparency were lacking in basic district decisions, and not all of our students were leaving Portland Public Schools ready for their futures," Rosen said.
He cited the 2017 school construction bond, the opening of two new middle schools, increased transparency, and "culturally specific" curriculum.
PPS board members are volunteers.
Andrew Scott and Jeff Sosne are running to represent Zone 1, which covers Sellwood and includes Wilson High School.
Scott is the deputy chief operating officer of Metro. So far, he's seen the bulk of campaign donations, with $8,100 in his coffers, including a $500 donation from current PPS director Julia Brim-Edwards.
Sosne is a child psychologist who runs The Children's Program.
Zone 2 covers portions of southeast Portland up into the Lloyd District and includes both Jefferson and Benson Polytechnic high schools. That race will see Portland State University program coordinator Shanice Clarke challenging Michelle DePass, who works as a community engagement and policy coordinator for the Portland Housing Bureau. United Way Program Director Carlos Richard also is on the ballot.
In Zone 3, Kohnstamm, the incumbent, lists no current occupation. She previously worked in media relations for Mercy Corps and TriMet and has served on several nonprofit boards. The zone covers southwest and northwest portions of the district, including Lincoln High School.
Mayer lists previous jobs as a teacher in Florida and Indiana.
Soderback is a retired U.S. Navy veteran and is self-employed as a systems integrator.
Eilidh Lowery, who serves as a pastor with United Methodist Church, and Robert Schultz, a single father of three, are vying for Zone 7, which includes Cleveland High School and the Woodstock neighborhood, among others.
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