Board race turns ugly, partisanship rules the day
This story has been updated from its orignal version.
In years past, school board elections were more predictable. Parents of children in the district who felt they had something to contribute threw their hats in the ring, a few bake sale and spaghetti fundraisers were held, lots of folks knocked on doors and bang — we had a new board member.
Those days are gone, it seems, and school board elections — like seemingly every other aspect of our lives — have become divisive and political.
The citizens of West Linn and Wilsonville are not being well-served by the name-calling, finger-pointing and baseless allegations that have clouded this race. We'd rather look at the candidates as whole people, not figureheads in a political power struggle.
And in doing so, we can say without equivocation: There is no bad apple in the bunch. The district would be lucky to have any one of the four candidates represent them.
In fact, all candidates support similar agendas, such as increasing career/technical education for students and mental health resources, as well as moving toward a third high school facility that will relieve some of the overcrowding in our existing secondary schools.
Additionally, all bring fresh ideas to the board. Christy Thompson wants to see board members assigned to represent individual schools in the district, as a liaison of sorts. We support this idea and think it may help each school — and the students, staff and parents associated with it — know that they have someone in their corner. We've seen a similar setup work well for other districts.
Gail Greenman wants to go one step further and set up site councils for each school, which would provide a single organized voice to the district and board, as well as allow more discussion and collaboration on a building level.
Incumbent Chelsea King Martin is passionate about creating parity by investing more in the older Title One schools (those with higher percentages of low-income students) in the district. And Jordan Ferris — a busy nurse, teacher and mother — would like to make it easier for the community to share opinions with the district by allowing citizens to email comments about agenda items, as many state agencies do, rather than requiring that they attend a meeting and testify.
Since all the candidates bring such strong commitment and qualifications to the race, we had to pare them down by our concerns.
Greenman is a policy wonk who relishes minimizing jargon and who, no doubt, could ensure that the district is communicating its direction to the public in a clear, concise way.
But in talking with our editorial board, we didn't get a strong sense that she has deep relationships within the district. On the positive side, that means she doesn't appear to have a preconceived agenda, but is that enough reason to unseat a seasoned and qualified incumbent?
We don't think so. King Martin has a record with the school board as a mediator who bridges the gaps and tries to banish the bureaucracies. She's established a good rapport with the district superintendent, Kathy Ludwig, and doesn't shy away from conceding missteps by the board and the district.
We urge voters to ensure the stability and institutional memory of the school board by voting for King Martin for Position 2.
The Position 4 race has turned into a controversial one. Early on, Thompson expressed concerns about parental involvement in the district's adoption of a new state-mandated sexual health curriclum.
That statement set her up for some as a conservative candidate even before she received a $15,000 donation to her campaign from Janet Bisenius, a Sherwood-area business owner with well-publicized support of controversial conservative causes.
That Thompson raised more funds than her opponent by 250% is only one of our concerns (she told us
the donation was unsolicited and Bisenius was a "friend of the family.")
While her master's degree and previous teaching experience would benefit the district, we feel her short three-year stint as a science teacher decades ago and recent work as a substitute teacher hardly qualifies her for the "retired teacher" label she is using liberally in her campaigning.
Yet Thompson, a longtime and dedicated volunteer in the district, expresses a passionate dedication to the students that is very convincing.
Her opponent, Ferris, went through a candidate grooming program sponsored by local unions, the Oregon Labor Candidate School, and has made no secret of her more liberal leanings.
Her Democratic supporters have wasted no time in trying to unfairly paint Thompson as a gun-toting, democracy-stomping right-wing demon —- behavior Ferris cannot be held responsible for, but does leave a bad taste.
Unlike Thompson, as near as we can tell, Ferris has been minimally involved in the district before deciding to run for the board seat.
Yet Ferris, we feel, carries the potential of bringing a fresh perspective to a board heavy with attorneys and business owners. She is personable and engaging.
Since both Ferris and Thompson would bring significant strengths to the school board, we are taking the unprecedented path of not endorsing a single candidate for this race. We suggest that if you care deeply about political party, or causes the candidates support or condemn, use that to help you decide. But if you're relying on hearsay about the candidates, you'll do both a disservice.
Do your homework and verify sources. We found no evidence supporting the negative accusations against any of the candidates.
CLARIFICATION: In the original version of this editorial board mischaracterized Christy Thompson's position on the district's new health curriculum. The information we misinterpreted was from a campaign video where she stated, "With controversial curriculum coming out of Salem, you, the parents need to make those decisions, not bureaucrats and politicians." There is nothing in her quote to imply support or favoritism for one position or another. The editorial board apologizes.