Longtime Seaside physician Hugh Stelson is one of two new members elected to the Seaside School District School Board.
Stelson joined Cannon Beach businessman and resident Brian Taylor, who also was elected to the board in the May 21 special district election. They will fill the positions vacated by Larry Peterson and David Robinson, who decided not to seek re-election.
Stelson, a native of Tennessee and a family practice physician at Providence Medical Group, has lived in Seaside for 31 years.
His two children were born in Seaside and went through the school system. His son taught for a short time at Gearhart Elementary School.
“I’ve been sort of talking to some school board members for a number of years about what goes on; particularly (board member) Steve Phillips is a friend of mine,” Stelson said. “And then when I heard (Peterson) wasn’t going to run anymore, I decided to go ahead and run.”
Stelson said a recent move to a part-time work schedule made the jump into elected office possible. He previously served one year on the Seaside Planning Commission – an appointed position.
Throughout his career, Stelson has also served on the boards of the Oregon Medical Association, Oregon Academy of Family Physicians and several other professional organizations.
Why he ran
He said he had two main reasons for wanting to run.
“Part of it comes from just wanting to be useful, and part of it is that education is just so darn important, and it’s just been trampled by the state and by the people,” Stelson said. “I believe in our schools and the people who are trying to make it work.”
“I don’t have an agenda or an axe to grind with this whole thing, I just want to be helpful.”
Stelson said he is an opponent of Measures 5, 47 and 50, passed during the 1990s, that limited property taxes in Oregon and shifted the burden of school funding.
In the coming years, Stelson said the district’s $128.8 million bond measure, if passed, will probably occupy most of his time. The bond measure, which would pay to build a new school campus on the hills east of Seaside, will go to voters in November. Once approved, the new kindergarten-through-12th-grade campus won’t open for another four years.
Science education is another priority for Stelson during his tenure on the board.
“I’m a strong believer in science education, and I think a lot of society dismisses science. So, if I had to pick one area of interest, it will be trying to make sure we have at least a solid a science curriculum as I can get,” Stelson said.
As for next year’s $17.7 million budget, which resulted in the closure of Cannon Beach Elementary School, the elimination of nearly 18 positions and decreased support for school sports programs, Stelson said he does not have much of an opinion on it.
“I haven’t had to sit there and listen to all of the things,” he said. “I’ve read what’s in the paper, what (district Superintendent) Doug Dougherty has talked about. I suspect they have to do what they have to do.”
“I don’t care too much about (the) Cannon Beach School (building), but I care a lot about the teachers,” he said.
“I was telling somebody I feel like I’ve sort of signed on to the Titanic to get on the school board when another set of cuts is coming in. Hopefully, the recession is improving and the state will boost its commitment to education. I guess I can’t be sure of that.”
Stelson received his bachelor’s degree from Antioch College in Ohio and his medical degree from the University of Southern California.
Outgoing board Chairman Mark Truax said he has known Stelson for many years.
“I’m looking forward to working with him,” Truax said. “(He’s) been active in a lot of community endeavors over the years.”
Board members retire
The positions both Stelson and Taylor are filling became vacant with the retirements of board members David Robinson, the pastor at Cannon Beach Community Church, and Larry Peterson, who owns Hughes-Ransom Mortuary in Astoria.
Taylor, who replaced Robinson, is the co-owner of Bruce’s Candy Kitchen in Cannon Beach. His two children, 7 and 9, attend school within the district. Taylor’s father-in-law is Mark Truax.
Stelson is replacing Peterson, who served on the board for 32 years. According to Peterson’s wife, Jeanne, he had the longest tenure of any school board member in Oregon and even earned a citation from Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber for his service.
She said her husband loved the camaraderie that came with serving on the board and helping advance the Seaside School District.
“He is very much into science education for children and having it done in a caring way,” Jeanne Peterson said.
Truax said he’s known Peterson since he was a child. Truax’s father-in-law served with Peterson on the board.
“He was a great mentor to all of us,” Truax said. “He’s going to be missed.”
Neither of the retirements were publicly announced by the board prior to the filing period for the election.
According to the Oregon Secretary of State’s office, the district is required to send a list of the positions that will be on the ballot to the Clatsop County elections office, but it is not required to announce open board positions or retirements.
Truax said it is the prerogative of individual board members to announce their re-election plans.
This story originally appeared in Seaside Signal.