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4J Board Candidates Face Off April 30

What’s better than a Republican, a Democrat and a Libertarian running against each other for a spot on the Eugene 4J school board? Watching them debate. 

On April 30, the South Hills and Southeast Eugene neighborhood associations will host their 4J School Board Candidate Debate between incumbent Jim Torrey, Kevin Cronin and David Nickles for Position 5 on the school board. Eugene Weekly staff writer Rick Levin will moderate.

Kevin Cronin, regional field director for the Democratic Party of Oregon, says he was inspired to join the race when he heard about Oregon’s low graduation rates. Cronin says that, at 25 years old, he has lived through the decline of education funding that started in 1990, when Measure 5 passed and changed Oregon’s system for funding schools.

 Cronin calls the debate a “healthy exercise in democracy,” adding that he chose to run against incumbent Torrey because no one has ever opposed him. “Torrey is basically Goliath and I’m David,” Cronin says, “and I think it’s important we have this talk as a community.”

Besides funding, Cronin says he’d like to talk about transparency at the debate. “The school board is suing the Register-Guard [over a public records request]. Why are they doing that? We need to address these things.”

Torrey, a Republican, former mayor of Eugene and 4J school board member since 2007, says he has not participated in a school board candidate debate before.

“I’m actually happy about the fact that there are debates and competitive races for the school board,” Torrey says. “It’s important that the community hears what’s going on in schools, and we as board members have a responsibility to answer questions about decisions we’ve made.”

Torrey says there’s no question that school funding is an extremely important issue, adding that the debate is an opportunity to “make sure the public understands we need more funding for education, but we need to do it on a statewide basis, not just 4J or the city of Eugene.”

With new 4J superintendent Gustavo Balderas starting July 1, Torrey says, now is a particularly important time to be involved. “Frankly, I’d like to continue being on the board to help make a difference,” Torrey says.  

David Nickles, an LCC student and member of the Whiteaker Community Council, says he threw his hat in the race because his son will soon enter the 4J school system, and Nickles’ own time as a 4J student was “not a pleasant experience.” 

When he saw that Cronin was running against Torrey, “I thought he might be a worthy challenger for Torrey, and a good way to get some different ideas into the election would be to enter a race that I basically have no chance of winning.”

Nickles says he is mostly participating in the election to “shake things up a little bit and make the other guys work for it.”

He says he’d like to see more school choice for students, and would like 4J to recognize that not all children can conform to the same mold. He says that partisan politics are turning schools into battlegrounds.

While other 4J board positions are contested, Board Position 5 is the only one in which all candidates agreed to debate on April 30, according to the debate guidelines of the League of Women Voters. Event organizer Heather Sielicki says candidates from other races are invited to attend the event and speak with audience members before and after the debate.

Position 5 candidates will field questions pre-selected by the Neighborhood Leaders Council from a list contributed by various stakeholder groups and community members. Mayor Kitty Piercy will introduce the debate, followed by opening statements. Organizers have allotted an hour for debate and half an hour for audience questions.

For more on debate rules, see the following blog post.

The 4J School Board Candidate Debate is 6:30 to 9 pm Thursday, April 30, at Hilyard Community Center, 2580 Hilyard St. Submit potential debate questions to amy@eugeneweekly.com.