Candidates running for positions on the Bend-La Pine School Board and Bend Park & Recreation board of directors shared their views at a forum Thursday evening, hosted by the Central Oregon Association of Realtors in Bend.

Eight candidates are on the May 21 special election ballot vying for three seats on the school board. Two candidates are running for an open seat on the park board. All the candidates attended the forum, plus Amy Tatom, a family nurse practitioner who is running unopposed for the Zone 5 seat on the school board.

The forum began with questions for the two park board candidates, Travis Davis and Ariel Mendez.

Davis, an insurance broker at PayneWest Insurance in Bend who serves on the Bend Economic Development Advisory Board, said his top priority as a park board member would be to encourage the district to work closely with other local entities such as the city of Bend. He said the park district puts a burden on city services, including infrastructure and law enforcement, and should find ways to balance the costs.

“I think there is a lot of opportunity for the parks to be a stakeholder at the table to help solve these community problems,” Davis said.

Mendez, a political science instructor at OSU-Cascades and board president of Bend Bikes, a group that advocates for more and better bike infrastructure in the city, said he would like to see more of an investment in the trail system that connects people to the park district’s facilities.

As to the park district’s role in the community, Mendez said, it is a separate taxing district that is not in a position to help with the various needs of the city, such as fixing potholes. Instead, the district should continue to focus on promoting access and affordability to its offerings.

“Fixing what are fundamentally city problems should not come at the expense of making the park district worse,” Mendez said.

The school board candidates then took turns answering questions at the forum. Up first was Chet Liew, Caroline Skidmore and Mark Capell, the three candidates for the Zone 1 seat, representing northwest Bend.

Liew, an information technology systems architect for TDS Telecom, the owners of BendBroadband, said the biggest issue is to offer all students equal access to programs no matter where they attend school in the district.

“I want every kid, from the west side to the east side down to La Pine and to the new North Star school, to have access to the same programs,” Liew said. “For me that is the biggest thing, making sure kids have the same opportunity across the district.”

Skidmore, who has worked with children for 25 years as a speech-language pathologist and volunteers in her two children’s schools, said she believes her professional and personal experience with education has set her up for success on the board.

Skidmore outlined three priorities she has: properly investing school funding, making sure schools are safe and encouraging an atmosphere of kindness and inclusion.

“I want to bring the insight that I have by being in our schools and working with our students,” she said.

Capell, a former Bend city councilor who owns the computer service company CMIT Solutions, said he believes government entities, including the school board, should supply three things: public safety, infrastructure and education.

Infrastructure is at the top of his mind since the school district is using a quarter of a billion dollar bond to build new buildings. Capell said he could help with that process.

“My experience on the City Council doing infrastructure projects I think could be beneficial to making sure we are getting the bidding done right,” he said.

Following the Zone 1 candidates, the two running for Zone 3, representing south and downtown Bend, took questions at the forum.

Andy High, the only incumbent running for reelection on the school board, said he wants to continue to serve on the Zone 3 seat to continue working to improve graduation rates and offer more career and technical education classes.

High said he believes it is critical to encourage students, who are interested in trade careers, to be offered those classes.

“We as a society, in my view, have downplayed those roles and the importance of those roles,” he said.

Shimiko Montgomery, pastor at First Presbyterian Bend and a former school counselor, is challenging High for the Zone 3 seat. At the forum, Montgomery described herself as a tireless advocate and experienced councilor who will work to address mental health issues in the schools. In addition, Montgomery said, she brings extensive experience working with underserved groups in the community such as immigrants and the homeless and she understands barriers students from those groups face.

“As a pastor, I work a lot with vulnerable and marginalized communities,” she said. “I see what this looks like every day. I firmly believe no student’s potential to succeed should be impacted by factors they cannot control.”

The final group of candidates to speak at the forum were three vying for the Zone 6 seat on the school board, which is an at-large position that represents the entire region.

Mike Way, a former teacher in Florida who started La Pine High School’s robotics team, said a major focus for him is supporting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education, or STEM.

“I believe in STEM,” Way said. “Those things are important to the community and to the kids. It gives them a reason to come to school. A reason to want to succeed.”

Richard Asadoorian, an Army veteran who was a teacher, counselor and principal in Fresno, California, said school safety is an especially important issue for him.

“There is a crisis in our schools,” he said. “We need more mental health specialists. We need more nurses. We need more counselors.”

Melissa Barnes Dholakia, a former educator who works as an adviser for local principals and superintendents, said she is running on a platform that includes a focus on a sense of equality and belonging for students and an environment that prepares them for their future.

“I want inclusive schools where kids go in and see themselves reflected in the curriculum,” she said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, kspurr@bendbulletin.com

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