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Candidates address school issues

What do you know about candidates for the McKenzie School board?

Voting imageFINN ROCK: People had an opportunity last Thursday to match faces with names that appear on the May 21st ballot, during a candidates forum for three contested seats on the McKenzie School Board.

There are seven candidates vying for the contested positions.



One was Melissa Norlund, running for position seven, who noted she both lives and works in the area. “I have an active three year old and would like to preserve this school for him to attend,” she said. Norlund wasn’t able to stay for the session, saying she had a prior commitment “down the hall helping seniors prepare for Mother’s Tea in nine days.”

In the running for seat one, Elizabeth Carr, related her career as a computer programmer has caused her to become concerned with the course of education in America. “As baby boomers like me are retiring there are no replacements,” she said adding that the consulting firms she works with now are made up almost entirely of programmers from India and China. “I want to be part of the solution,” Carr said. “I want to be more open minded. I have no problem changing my mind.”

Seeking a return to position six is Kathy Keable, who referred to a more “monumental history than anybody around.” That reference connects to a long association with the district – ranging from 13 years as a fourth, fifth and sixth grade teacher to 16 years as a member of the board. “I love this place,” Keable said, adding that although hampered by a lack of funding the district’s strengths included, “small classes, great staff, good kids, great athletes and sportsmanship." Saying she’d pulled a back muscle earlier, she had to leave early.

Another candidate for position one is Chris Mayes. A transplant from Southern California 3  years ago, he has four children, with two attending McKenzie Elementary. A licensed teacher in both Oregon and California, Mayes said he’s also worked as an instructional aide with special education students. Calling the school “the hub of the community,” he said he would actively pursue public participation while “considering the opinions, values, and concerns of constituents.” He also favored encouraging a stronger community presence at board meetings that would feature “open, rigorous discussions.”

His wife, Jennie Hawthorn Mayes, is seeking election to seat number seven. She cited developing support for the district among residents as a long-term priority. An effective board, she felt, would be part of a common thread linking businesses, organizations, and individuals in fostering achievements. Hawthorn Mayes said she saw an opportunity for positive growth and supported developing a district strategic plan to “ensure children have access to a quality education.” If elected, she pledged to bring to the position “strong leadership, my time, my dedication and skills.”

The candidates all responded to three prepared questions.

The first question dealt with recommendations from the Oregon School Boards Association regarding school safety plans.

Carr said a good deal of that material was already of the safety drills at McKenzie. In addition, she said she plans to introduce a policy at the board’s next meeting that would call for communicating with parents before and after such drills. The OSBA material contains a specific vocabulary used in drills but Carr thought there should be room for more flexibility.

“The OSBA guidelines are essential, “ according to Mayes. Having the district notify families, he said, should lead to parents having a conversation with their children on the “Purpose and reasons behind it” so that they wouldn’t be traumatized if taken by surprise.

Hawthorn Mayes favored the development of a written policy outlining the district public safety plan that would address the actions “of students, teachers and other staff.” In addition, she recommended training sessions be conducted first without students present to avoid traumatizing them. Hawthorn Mayes also felt the use of a particular sound could act as an audio alert that a drill was being conducted.


Another question referred to bills being considered by the state legislature that call for reforms to Oregon’s public employee retirement system.

“Many of these provisions are actually ones that the California PERS system has already implemented to respond to their budget crisis,” commented Carr, saying that was a far cry from “the Wisconsin solution.” She called the current Senate Bill 822, “only part of what needs to be done for unfunded liabilities which could potentially cost five times as much in lost investments.”

Warning discussions on modifying the retirement system could be a “slippery slope,” Mayes said to keep in mind districts have obligations to meet the needs of students but also “obligations to the agreements you made with people who dedicate their lives to providing public services.” He supported eliminating a tax benefit for out-of-state retirees who don’t pay Oregon taxes as well as removing “spiking,” or adding vacation/sick leave hours to determine retirement amounts.

Hawthorn Mayes agreed with the slippery slope connotation as well as concerns with holding to the provisions of agreements already made. She said a discussion of how the PERS system got to the point it is today would be a good topic for a public meeting. “I’m interested in having a dialogue with people in the community to hear what they think about how it could be reformed.”


The last question asked whether enrollment or other factors could lead to consolidation with another district.

Carr didn’t think so, saying enrollment has barely been decreasing for the past two years. Not consolidating with a bigger district would probably be the mindset of parents, not students, she felt adding that at this time it was unlikely to be considered by the board.

Mayes said students already face the problem of an exceptionally long school day, many leaving at 7 a.m. and returning home at 4:30 p.m. “If they would be busing into town, imagine the length of that day,” he said. He also felt there was an issue of students getting lost in the bureaucracy of a large urban school district where it “would be hard to achieve the individualism that exists here.”

“I would work very hard to prevent consolidation,” Hawthorn Mayes responded. “If we had an enrollment crisis I’d look at a charter school option. “ Again, she suggested more community dialogue before looking at other options.

Also appearing on the May 21st school board election is another couple - Brian Cline for position one and Kellie Cline for seat number six. In addition, two unopposed incumbents - Kent Roberts & Darla Rinehart are on the ballot as well.


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