Community votes for change on school board4 min read
by John Quetzalcoatl Murray
The 4J school board appears headed for sweeping change.
Three incumbent members did not seek reelection May 16, and the lone incumbent was trailing by over 5,000 votes in results released election day.
School district voters gave Position 4 candidate Rick Hamilton a commanding 59%-40% lead over incumbent Gordon Lafer with over 30,000 votes counted.
Running to succeed Alicia Hays in Position 1, Tom Di Liberto leads with 62% of the vote over Dr. Michael Bratland. To succeed Keerti Hasija Kauffman in Position 5, Jenny Jonak had 77% of the votes to lead Grant Johnson, and to succeed Michelle Hsu in Position 7, Morgan Munro had 75% of the votes to lead Timothy Sean Sutherland.
Rick Hamilton campaigned on a message of treating other board members with respect, and serving as a role model to students.
“What this comes to is remembering as a board member that I’m a role model and not only for the community, but also for the student participants on the board,” he said during a candidate forum sponsored by the Community Alliance of Lane County and several partners.
“Therefore, let’s say we went way out in left field here and I hated a board member and they were present. I’m still going to treat that board member with respect because I know that I have impressionable minds watching me and listening to me and hearing me,” Rick said. “Until I take it upon myself individually to be a role model for everyone else, inclusive of the board members and the community, then I fail not only my board, but I also fail my community because I add fuel to the fire of dysfunction. And so we’ve got to start out by being role models, practice what you preach, and that’s my answer.”
The sweeping change offers an opportunity for the school board to change course after a turbulent year.
2023 saw internal discussions about alleged racist behavior by board members, reports of bias incidents in the schools, and questions about private encrypted communications among four board members.
With the board extending its discussion of an agenda item about use of private encrypted messages, student members of the state champion volleyball team walked out of the Feb. 1 board meeting, and angry parents blamed Board Member Laural O’Rourke.
Whole Community News offered a play-by-play of that meeting, and called out the board chair and vice-chair for not accepting responsibility for the outcome.
The board chair was asked by email: “After the students left, you appeared to blame another board member for what happened, rather than accepting responsibility for your role in (1) setting the sequence of agenda items, (2) using an informal head-nod procedure rather than verbal aye and nay votes, (3) allowing Board Member Lafer to reopen an item that had already been approved for the agenda, and (4) not suggesting that the board pause its discussion to recognize the students when it was clear to those in the room that they were growing restless. In short, do you accept responsibility for your actions as board chair that contributed to the current ill will and blaming in the community that is directed at Board Member O’Rourke?”
In response, Board Chair Maya Rabasa acknowledged that 4J subsequently changed its agenda but stopped short of considering whether that might have avoided the bitter dispute.
“The order of agenda items is fairly long standing,” she wrote. “…As recently as the meeting on January 18th (the meeting prior to the one in question), we welcomed and honored students (that meeting honored accomplished student musicians) at that point in the agenda. All of that said, despite the longstanding practice, the superintendent (Andy Dey) and I have already made it clear we will bring forward the proposal of shifting guests to just after the land acknowledgement for the foreseeable future.
“While it is tempting to imagine what might have played out differently,” Chair Rabasa wrote, “it is more important that we learn from the meeting in question, that we receive the message we – as a body of seven – were sent by the students walking out, and make shifts in our practices – for example, the shift of when we will honor guests as noted above.”
Tuesday’s vote counts will be updated through June 12. Oregon’s vote-by-mail system recognizes ballots postmarked on election day, and allows time for those mailed ballots to arrive.
Updated results will be released (all at 5 p.m.) this Wednesday and Thursday, again next week on Tuesday and Friday, and then on June 7 with the final official results on June 12.