For the first time since 2009, there are Bend-La Pine School Board races without an incumbent. In fact, there are three races without one after Cheri Helt resigned in January to serve as a state legislator, and Ron Gallinat and Peggy Kinkade — who have each served for 12 years — stepped down.
This means voters will see four school board races on their ballots in May, with Board Chair Andy High up for reelection, as well. The seven-member school board will have at least three, and possibly four, new faces July 1.
One of the new board members is certain of her position. Family nurse practitioner Amy Tatom is running unopposed for Gallinat’s seat, which represents most of east Bend south of St. Charles Bend.
Eight candidates are vying for the other three seats. And although they mostly agree that Oregon schools need more state funding, the candidates represent a variety of backgrounds, and each one has unique ideas for how he or she would help run Bend-La Pine Schools.
Zone 1 (northwest Bend)
Mark Capell, who owns the computer service company CMIT solutions, has no teaching experience and doesn’t have kids. However, he has one item on his résumé that no other candidate has: he was a Bend City Council member from 2006 to 2014.
Capell, 59, said his experience on the City Council, particularly with infrastructure and public safety, would help him on the school board. He agrees with many other candidates that Bend-La Pine’s schools, along with schools across Oregon, are underfunded, but he said a potential solution is a levy that voters would have to approve.
“I think if we go to the people and say, ‘Here’s the issue and here’s what we could do with some additional money, would you give us additional money?’ It’s worth an ask,” he said.
Chet Liew, 43, works in the tech field as an information technology systems architect for TDS Telecom, the owners of BendBroadband. Liew, who has two elementary school-age children, said he likes that Bend-La Pine has embraced technology in the classroom by handing out iPads to every student starting in third grade.
However, he said he wants to see a more curated, uniform list of apps used by teachers, and have the district communicate better with parents about what students are doing with their devices.
“I think a lot of the trepidation that parents feel is there’s just a lack of dialogue about the programs that are being used, and what the kids can and cannot do on their devices when they get home,” Liew said.
Liew, who has never held a political office, is concerned about a lack of equity within Bend-La Pine’s schools and said the district should try to pursue partnerships with local companies like Les Schwab, St. Charles Medical Center or The Bulletin to provide courses in fields like health care or retail.
Caroline Skidmore, 47, said her 25 years helping children with speech and language needs as a speech-language pathologist make her a strong fit for the school board, as she frequently works with students and Bend-La Pine staff members. She also has experience volunteering at her two sons’ schools, running school book clubs and serving on a school advisory council.
Skidmore said she would actively push state legislators for increased funding to ease overcrowded classes and add school days to Oregon’s short school year.
She wants to emphasize celebrating diversity, keep schools safe by improving mental health services and encourage parents to lock up their guns, and support low-income students.
“I think there are some kids that are falling through the cracks,” she said. “We need to talk to low-income families, and find out what services they need to best support their children.”
Zone 3 (south and downtown Bend, Deschutes River Woods)
As the one incumbent running for reelection, Andy High, 40, touted the school board’s achievements during his six-year tenure, including improved graduation rates, allowing each junior to take the ACT test for free and adding career and technical education classes. The father of three said if reelected, he hopes to eventually put CTE classes in every high school.
On May 8, teachers statewide will participate in a walkout to push for fully funding education statewide. The Bend-La Pine teachers union opted to hold an after-school rally with school district administrators and board members instead. But if teachers decide to hold a walkout in the future, High said he couldn’t support it, even though he sympathizes with their mission.
“I fully support the teachers, I understand their frustration and I think they have every right to be frustrated,” he said. “But I can’t support someone walking out on kids in a class, and I can’t support canceling school.”
Shimiko Montgomery, 35, was a school counselor in the Northern Mariana Islands before moving to Bend and has served on the Homeless Leadership Coalition and Bend 2030 boards. She said her role as the Pastor for Justice and Mission at First Presbyterian Bend would make her a perfect fit on the school board, as she frequently interacts with under-served groups such as immigrants and people who are homeless.
“I feel like the failings of our society translate into our public school systems, and they show up in greater achievement gaps for students who come from those populations,” Montgomery said. “It’s crazy to me that factors that a student has no control over, like their skin color or how much their family makes, impacts their chances for success.”
If elected, Montgomery said she would “100%” support a potential teacher walkout, would consistently pressure Salem lawmakers about overcrowded classes, and would try to implement a counselor in each school. Bend-La Pine has one part-time counselor split between its 16 elementary schools, and no counselors at its two K-8 schools, according to spokeswoman Alandra Johnson.
Zone 6 (at-large)
Before moving to his home near Sunriver, Richard Asadoorian, 86, reaped decades of educational experience in California.
The Army veteran was an elementary teacher, middle and high school counselor and high school principal in the Fresno Unified School District for 35 years, and from 2010 to 2014, he oversaw 18 school districts in the Oakland suburbs on the Contra Costa County Board of Education.
“I’ve had my finger in the educational pie for so long, it’s just kind of second-nature for me,” he said.
If elected, Asadoorian said he would try to have the board listen to its constituents more closely and he would push the state to address the Public Employees Retirement System deficits by having educators pay into their own pension funds. This echoes Gov. Kate Brown’s proposal to reduce PERS liability for school districts, which calls for educators who are active Tier 1 and 2 members of PERS — those hired before Aug. 28, 2003, and working — to contribute 3% of their pay, after exempting the first $20,000 of salary.
Those hired after that date, called Tier 3 or OPSRP members, would contribute 1.5% of their pay after exempting the first $20,000 in salary.
Melissa Barnes Dholakia, 50, has worked in education for many years, starting as a high school teacher in Prosser, Washington, in 1992 and later helping create a K-12 charter school district, Lighthouse Community Public Schools, in Oakland in 2003.
While Barnes Dholakia served as the Lighthouse’s co-director and director of Elementary Programs, the charter school was named the 2013 California Charter School of the Year by the California Charter Schools Association.
Since moving to Bend in 2013, the mother of two has worked on her own, coaching and advising principals and superintendents, mostly in California.
If elected, Barnes Dholakia said she would use her experience working with low-income students — about 85%-88% of Lighthouse’s students live in poverty, she said — to end achievement gaps in Bend-La Pine.
“Our kids are facing more and more than (they) ever have before, but I don’t know if we’re changing or addressing that enough as a school system to keep up with that,” she said.
According to state data, 38% of Bend-La Pine’s students apply for free and reduced lunch.
La Pine resident Mike Way, 75, started La Pine High’s robotics team, which he still coaches. He also helped coach the Summit High School robotics team for two years.
Before moving to Central Oregon in 2013, Way taught in Clearwater, Florida, for 33 years, where he was part of the historic 1968 Florida teacher’s strike, which he used as proof that he would support a potential teacher walkout.
Way, who has never held elected office, said he would work to improve Bend-La Pine’s communication with the public while on the school board, and he would fight for a robotics after-school program at every school.
“You’ve got to let them (try) things they haven’t done before,” he said. “If you don’t, then you’re denying the ability to grow.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7854, firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: This article has been corrected. The original version misstated Caroline Skidmore’s time as a speech-language pathologist and Mike Way’s role on the Summit High School robotics team. The Bulletin regrets the errors.