Voter turnout in school board elections can be low. Only about a quarter of registered voters cast ballots in the May 2017 election for seats on the board of the Bend-La Pine Schools.
The pandemic may have driven more parents than ever to be interested in this May’s school board elections. School closures and watching children learn at home can do that.
If you were to write the script for an ideal school board election, the 2021 race in Bend might not be it. Yes, there is a debate about issues. But it hasn’t been done in open, nonpartisan forums where people could tune in at their leisure and watch the candidates square off. Four of the candidates declined to even be interviewed by The Bulletin’s editorial board. And there has been a lot of effort put into candidates complaining about each other, instead of explaining policies they support.
There was also something new — or at least new enough that nobody remembers it happening in the last 20 years or so. One challenger, Maria Lopez-Dauenhauer filed a complaint with the school district about her opponent, school board chair Carrie McPherson Douglass. Lopez-Dauenhauer alleged several things, including that McPherson Douglass posted on Facebook Lopez-Dauenhauer’s home address and an aerial map of it. It was apparently part of an argument that Lopez-Dauenhauer is “uber wealthy” and McPherson Douglass needs support.
Is there something legally wrong with that posting that information? We aren’t legal experts and can’t answer that question. The information is publicly available. McPherson Douglass shared it. Should she have? The post was taken down.
The real question is: Is that the sort of thing that should decide the race? No. It’s a sideshow.
Still, the school board scheduled an executive session on Tuesday to discuss it, according to a district email. One good thing seems to have come of it. The complaint exposed a hole in the district’s policies. The district told us it does not have a policy for handling complaints against a school board member and it is working to correct that. The Oregon School Boards Association has a recommended policy, which can include referring an investigation to a third party. “After receiving the results of the investigation, the Board shall decide in open session what action, if any, is warranted,” the OSBA sample policy says.
It pays to do your homework in school board elections. School board members make big decisions about the future of the district — budgets, new schools, hiring the superintendent and even the calendar. Read the voter’s pamphlet. Check out the reporting in The Bulletin about the race. Look at the websites of the candidates. The Bulletin’s editorial board endorsed McPherson Douglass, Marcus LeGrand, Shirley Olson and Janet Sarai Llerandi. Whatever you decide, please vote.