Oregon City School Board future in limbo on May 18 ballot
Two slates of candidates are going head-to-head in the Oregon City School Board election next month as the majority of board seats are up for grabs on the May 18 ballot.
Four seats are up for reelection this year, and only one candidate is running for reelection, OC School Board Chair Martha Spiers. One set of four candidates is associated with the teachers' union or the current board chair, and another set of four challengers have been outspoken in their criticism of school reopening delays.
Four challenger candidates — Michele Lee Stroh, Debbie Hays, Michael Canchola and Mandi Philpott — held a "COVID aware" outdoor meet-and-greet event at Oregon City's Chapin Park on April 17.
troh, who is seeking to unseat Spiers, said the four challengers are "like minded" in their feeling that the school district needs a different direction after Spiers supported delays in reopening schools and the Oregon Government Ethics Commission found recent violations of state laws.
"We did more damage by delaying school reopening," Stroh said. "The children we're supposed to be protecting for inclusion and equity are the most affected by delays."
While she was the tie-breaking vote in support of school-reopening delays, Spiers wrote in her Voters' Pamphlet statement that if reelected she will "work hard" to safely get kids back in classrooms full-time.
"We know that online learning is not the answer. Students and their families are struggling," Spiers wrote.
As for the ethics violations, Spiers has released a statement about how the board's illegal vote was an "unwitting error" that deserves sanctions to be determined by state officials. Spiers is again receiving the support of the Oregon City Education Association, whose president is supporting fellow candidate Jeana G. Gonzales for a separate race against Hays.
Getting kids back in schools seems to be especially important for Oregon City families, compared to average families statewide. But it's unclear whether the reopening issue will sway the upcoming election, especially since some of the parents who were frustrated with reopening delays have now moved out of the district and are no longer eligible to vote there.
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.
Former OC School Board member Scott Dahlman was among those who supported expedited Oregon City school reopenings and moved out of the district. In resigning Feb. 1, Dahlman said in-person learning opportunities were a side benefit of his family's move to Idaho.
Dahlman's vacant seat has been filled by Rob Clamp, whom the remaining six board members appointed to the position through a vote March 8. The general manager of Dave's Killer Bread, Clamp has filed for election to retain the seat, but he has three opponents in the race.
While she applied for appointment along with Clamp, Stroh was among four out of the eight total applicants not interviewed for the position. As a former volunteer in OC schools and child-care provider, Stroh felt she deserved more consideration and is now giving voters that chance by taking on Spiers.
"Every candidate deserves an interview, and you can't just pick your favorites," Stroh said.
In recommending Clamp for the appointment, Spiers led a committee with fellow school board members Evon Tekorius and Connie Curteman, along with Martine Coblentz, a parent of students in the district's Spanish-immersion program and Clackamas County's equity and inclusion officer.
"Robert communicated a passion for ensuring equitable treatment for all students in the district, for creating a variety of options to address different needs and an environment that will 'not give up' on any student," the committee wrote in recommending his appointment. "He articulated his belief that marginalized people face greater obstacles that need targeted attention to redress."
Clamp's opponents, along with many other school board candidates throughout Clackamas County, have made reopening delays a campaign issue. Clamp's opponent Mandi Philpott, an attorney whose practice has an office in Gladstone, was among those saying Oregon City needs action and change in the Voters' Pamphlet.
"The School Board has failed to timely provide families an option for a return to full-time in-person learning or implement a long-term remote learning option to give families a choice," Philpott wrote. "The School Board has failed to serve this community with transparency, engaging in a closed-door session to avoid the scrutiny of the very community it is to serve."
Not all of the school board election races in Oregon City have been as heated. Jason Kemmerich, who works for the North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District and received an endorsement from the OC teachers' union, noted that his opponent, OC Youth Football President Michael Canchola, also has experience in serving extracurricular activities. Kemmerich said he was planning to run on his "own merits," and Canchola's Voters' Pamphlet statement calls for a return to in-person learning, but stops short of criticizing his opponent or the district's past actions.
"At least from my camp it's going to boring, but I've been looking at some of the other races and said to myself, "Wow, you're angry,' but thankfully that's not the case for me or my opponent," Kemmerich said. "Oregon City has got two excellent candidates for this race, with a lot of positive potential for serving our kids."
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