Over the last 14 months, school boards across the country have received more attention and become more accessible, with meetings and decision-making moved online because of COVID-19.
This spring’s school board elections brought increased focus and candidates in contested elections, with some challenging incumbents after disagreeing with school reopening decisions.
Statewide turnout remained low, at 24.57% as of 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Unofficial results show efforts to shake up the supervising bodies at some Oregon school districts fell short, while other boards are going to look quite different.
Portland’s most diverse school board in years
There will be a couple of new faces on the Portland school board next year, along with one voters are bringing back.
Herman Greene will be the Zone 4 director, covering North Portland, and Gary Hollands will represent Zone 5, Northeast Portland. They will replace Rita Moore and Scott Bailey, who did not run for reelection.
Hollands, who previously served on the board of the Multnomah Education Service District, owns Hollands Investment Group and works with the Albina Sports Program.
Greene is senior pastor at Abundant Life PDX. He celebrated in a virtual Zoom meeting with family, friends, and supporters cheering him on.
“We did this — I didn’t do this by myself, I couldn’t have done this without team Greene,” Greene said. “And everybody that was on team Greene doesn’t have the last name Greene.”
With the men, who are Black, coming to the board, the group overseeing Oregon’s largest district will be more diverse than it’s been in years.
Nike executive and longtime schools advocate Julia Brim-Edwards won reelection in Zone 6, which covers Southeast Portland. It will be Brim-Edwards’ third term on the school board; she served four years from 2001 to 2005.
In her statement after winning reelection, Brim-Edwards thanked Portland voters for electing all three of the winning candidates, and said she will bring her leadership as the “most senior Board member” to guide both equity work and pandemic recovery in the district.
“I want to thank Portland voters and the community for their vote of confidence in returning me to the School Board, and for also electing Gary Hollands and Herman Greene, two leaders who will bring needed perspective, experience, and deep community relationships to our work,” Brim-Edwards said.
“We have huge challenges ahead, including safely re-opening schools this fall and continuing our relentless pursuit of more equitable outcomes for all our students. I am excited for the chance to collaborate on this important work with Herman and Gary, my current Board colleagues, Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero, and the broader school community.”
Greene, Hollands and Brim-Edwards won by large margins in contested elections.
The rest of the school board seats will be up for election in 2023.
How did incumbents do? Across Portland metro-area school districts, it’s mixed
In the Beaverton School District, incumbent Susan Greenberg is defeating challenger Jeanette Schade, 66% to 34%.
But Beaverton schools Zone 5 incumbent LeeAnn Larsen is losing to challenger Ugonna Enyinnaya.
The other two Beaverton School District races have Karen Perez-Da Silva winning Zone 2 and Sunita Garg winning Zone 4. This means that, like in Portland, the school board supervising another large district in the metro area will be more diverse.
All four Multnomah Education Service District seats saw incumbents elected: Helen Ying (Position 2, at large), Mary Botkin (Position 3, Zone 2), Jessica Arzate (Position 4, Zone 4), and Susie Jones (Position 1, Zone 5).
Donna Barber, the only incumbent in a contested race in the David Douglas School District, easily won reelection to the Position 1 board seat. In the other contested David Douglas race, Hoa Nguyen defeated two challengers.
Hillsboro School District races remain tight, with three incumbents faring differently, as of Wednesday morning’s vote counts:
- The closest race had incumbent Mark Watson trailing opponent Ben Wolfe for the Position 2 seat by just 29 votes.
- Representing Position 1, incumbent and school board chair Erika Lopez was beating her opponent by fewer than 150 votes.
- In position 6, incumbent board member Jaci Spross was losing to challenger Monique Ward by 665 votes.
Hillsboro schools’ Position 3 is an open seat, where the race between Nancy Thomas and Mary Phelps was quite close, with Thomas leading by only 67 votes as of Wednesday morning.
Elsewhere, a number of incumbents are losing to newcomers.
In the race for Portland Community College Zone 4, Serin Bussell is defeating incumbent Jim Harper.
In the Centennial School District, 29-year incumbent Rod Boettcher is losing to challenger Erica Fuller. Late Tuesday, Fuller had 56% of votes in that race, to Boettcher’s 43%
In Sherwood, school board chair and Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen is currently losing to challenger Duncan Nyang’oro. Nyang’oro both raised and spent more money running a campaign against Allen centered around his and Gov. Brown’s decisions around school reopening.
In the Gresham-Barlow district, two incumbents held onto their seats in contested races — Blake Petersen in Zone 4 and Mayra Gomez who holds an at-large seat. Incumbent Robyn Stowers lost to challenger Holly Riegelmann in the race to represent Zone 1.
In the other contested Gresham-Barlow race, things are a little more complex. Some incumbents who dropped out of the race too late to remove their names from the ballot received votes anyway.
They include Carla Piluso, who has served as a state representative, chief of police and school board member in Gresham. Piluso is winning reelection to an at-large position for the Gresham-Barlow school board, against three opponents, even though she dropped out of the race, according to the Portland Tribune. Julie Frediani, a retired Gresham-Barlow teacher and current substitute, has the second highest number of votes and said Wednesday via Facebook that she will file with the school board to be appointed if Piluso declines another term.
In the Newberg School District, incumbent Bob Woodruff has received 17.7% of the vote despite dropping out of the race last month. Renee Powell, an artist and design consultant, has the most votes in that race for Zone 5, with 46% of the votes. Tai Harden, who runs a diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting firm has 36% of votes.
Schools outside the Portland metro area
In the Salem-Keizer School District, another incumbent, Jesse Lippold Peone, will likely not return to the board. In the latest results, his challenger, Karina Guzman Ortiz, is leading that race for Zone 5.
Other Salem-Keizer frontrunners include Osvaldo Avila in Zone 1, Ashley Carson Cottingham in Zone 3, and Maria Hinojos Pressey in Zone 7.
Early returns show a slate of four conservative candidates losing races for seats on the Bend-La Pine School Board, despite vastly outspending their opponents.
- In Zone 1, current school board president Carrie McPherson Douglass held a decisive lead over challenger Maria Lopez-Dauenhauer, who spent more than $100,000 on her bid.
- In Zone 2, Marcus LeGrand held an early lead of 30 percentage points over Wendy Imel.
- In Zone 4, Shirley Olson had a similar margin of victory over Greg Henton.
- In Zone 7, Janet Sarai Llerandi handily led Jon Haffner by 22%.
The unsuccessful conservative slate of candidates were unified by their opposition to acknowledging racism in school curriculum. Several got national media coverage by appearing on Fox News, but avoided local candidate forums.
The Bend-La Pine School District is in Deschutes County, which had the highest turnout of Oregon’s larger counties, at 31.45% as of 2:30 a.m. Wednesday morning.