This May election doesn’t have the pomp and circumstance of a presidential year, or even one where Congress, the Legislature, and city and county political races are at stake.
But between the courthouse bond measure, the 4J levy and school board elections, this is an important election. Education nationally has been under attack, and in Oregon it’s been chronically underfunded. Whom we vote for in school board elections matters, funding education matters — and so does access to justice.
We are lucky this year, as we have been in the past, to have more than one highly qualified candidate running for the same seat. In the past, and in this week’s issue, we have said to the candidates we liked but didn’t endorse that we hope they run again.
On that note, we are glad to see previous Lane County Commission candidates Tim Laue and Nora Kent are running for Blue River Water District and Lane Education Service District respectively. Laue is also a former Eugene city councilor.
Persistence counts in almost all fields, and politics is one of them. School boards — the Lane Community College board in particular — have been jumping off points for larger political careers. And for candidates who say they have no political aspirations beyond their board positions, these elections count because of the countless unpaid hours board members put in trying to improve their local schools.
No election is too small. Vote.
Lane Community College
Director Zone 2, Angela VanKrause Unopposed
Angela VanKrause is running unopposed, so she doesn’t have any competition besides undervotes or write-in campaigns. VanKrause has shown her dedication to LCC already by attending meetings so she’ll be up to speed when she starts her tenure as a board director, should she be sworn-in. Of course, the board meetings she’s attended have been filled with drama — tuition increases and board discussion of outsourcing.
Director Zone 5, Open Seat
Phil Carrasco’s name appears on the ballot, but his resignation from the Lane Community College Board of Directors was announced April 11. We suspect his withdrawal is because he was convicted in a jury trial of one count of third-degree sexual abuse involving a teen babysitter. Unless there’s a write-in campaign, it’s likely LCC will have to appoint someone to a full term. Carrasco, a longtime community advocate, offered the community college diversity. We hope someone with a diverse background and accomplishments from zone 5, which is mostly downtown and south Eugene, applies to the LCC board. It needs voices from the many different communities it serves.
Director Position 6 At-Large, Rosie Pryor Unopposed
Director Position 7 At-Large, Lisa Fragala Stefan Galen Strek
Lisa Fragala, a second grade teacher at Adams Elementary School who also serves on Eugene’s Planning Commission, has been on the LCC Board of Education since she was appointed in October 2018. Since then she’s been a part of the college’s difficult task of balancing its ever-growing budget deficit.
Fragala has had to deal with raising tuition and the board’s discussion of outsourcing the college’s food services program and bookstore. She opposed the latter, and we applaud that. As the LCC Board discussed whether to outsource the Titan Bookstore during its March 14 meeting, Fragala vocally opposed the college joining the trend in contracting with out-of-state corporations, like Barnes and Noble College, that don’t invest in the local economy or pay their fair share in taxes.
Her opponent, Stefan Strek, has a political history that includes running for Eugene mayor in 2016 and against Art Robinson for the Republican nomination to challenge Peter DeFazio’s congressional seat. Strek can also be seen offering public comment during Eugene City Council meetings.
Strek’s Twitter presence seems to mimic President Donald Trump, punctuating his Tweets with hashtags like #MAGA, #DrainTheSwamp and #2a. In person, Strek comes across a little less wild. He says he’s been a student at Lane Community College for eight years, and he’s about to graduate the UO with an arts degree. He says the board has dug itself into a financial hole in how it manages the college and, with his experience as a student, he believes he can offer some leadership in stabilizing the school to avoid future outsourcing of its services.
Strek’s seemingly genuine interest in saving the school that sparked his interest in the arts is overshadowed by the question of whether or not he’s being a troll. Fragala is already up to speed with the issues that the college faces and made a good vote against outsourcing the bookstore. We endorse Fragala to continue her tenure on LCC’s Board of Education.
Eugene School District 4J
Director Position 1, Alicia Hays Unopposed
Director Position 4, Gordon Lafer Unopposed
Gordon Lafer is running unopposed for this position, but as a political newcomer, we thought we’d introduce him. Lafer, a professor in the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center, was on leave in 2009-10 to serve as senior policy advisor for the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and Labor.
In addition to his academic publications, Lafer has written political commentary for The Nation, The Hill, Politico and more. Lafer is the parent of a seventh grader at Roosevelt Middle School and a defender of public education. We appreciated his advocacy for a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) in new school building, as it would guarantee that construction jobs stay local. He points out a CBA could lead to needed pre-apprenticeship training for 4J high school students interested in going into the building trades.
One spot we found Lafer to be weak on was vaccinations, saying he was personally for them, but he was vague on whether they should be mandatory. We hope that as a school board member he never has to deal with a measles outbreak. However, he was strong on the problems with charter schools and school vouchers — two things that chip away at public education. Lafer will be a strong voice for labor and schools as part of 4J.
Director Position 5, 4 Martina Shabram
Eugene Weekly wasn’t a fan of Jim Torrey in his past role as Eugene’s mayor — or when he, as a top shareholder of Trillium, approved the sale of the company that managed medical services for low-income residents in Lane County in 2016, raking in $2.5 million for the sale.
In his 12 years on the 4J board, however, he has bolstered local schools while, at the same time, acting as a voice for the business community.
Torrey says he’s no longer a member of the Republican Party and is unaffiliated, but we suspect his conservative ideology still informs his worldview. For 4J, a conservative representative on the board is necessary to reflect the fact that not everyone in Eugene is a liberal. A conservative worldview benefits the 4J board in making decisions, such as not asking voters for too many bonds or being fiscally prudent as voter fatigue on tax-funded projects increases over time.
With his political history, Torrey also has experience in making unpopular decisions. So, if the day ever comes that 4J has to make a huge budget cut, Torrey is the guy who can make the call without the handwringing.
Opponent Martina Shabram is an enthusiastic person whom we could also support being on the 4J School Board. She coordinates Planned Parenthood’s REV Youth Leadership program and spends a lot of time in classrooms informing students about their personal rights. Shabram was honest with EW during her interview, saying if the only political work she ever does is educating fifth graders about rights to their bodies, she would be satisfied because it’s important. And we agree.
But we hope to see Shabram run again for political office because kids want her to serve. Youth — even if they can’t vote yet — deserve a say in what their education looks like.
We endorsed Torrey in 2015, and we’re recommending again that he’s the right person to sit in that 4J seat.
Director Position 7, Mary Walston
Deanna Chappell Belcher
Mary Walston, who’s retired, says between her duties as a board member and 4J volunteer, she dedicates just about the same time as if it were a full time job. She helps out as a teacher’s assistant, which helps her stay updated on what it’s like inside 4J’s classrooms. She also serves as the 4J representative on the Lane Council of Governments board. Walston’s dedication to the board shows she’s invested in working for local education.
Walston tells EW she has high hopes for North Eugene High School, which includes implementing a nursing-oriented career technical education program that could collaborate with some of the hospitals in town or even LCC’s successful nursing program. Because of Walston’s willpower — and freedom in schedule — to get firsthand knowledge of the 4J classroom, and her dedication to improving local education, we’re endorsing her for reelection.
Deanna Belcher does deserve some notice. A graduate student at the UO in the education program, she worked to develop the service-learning program at the university, an academic program that puts college students to work volunteering in the community. You won’t see a sign pushing for her candidacy because she says it’ll just end up in the landfill after the campaign. She’s driving her campaign based on minimizing waste — and she deserves kudos for that as well.
Belcher is a newcomer to local politics, and we hope she continues her education advocacy. If she doesn’t get elected to the 4J board, we hope to see her in future elections because we need passionate leaders like her.
20-299 Lane County: Funding a safer, more accessible and adequately sized county courthouse. Yes
We agree that the county has a ton of services that it should be funding to deal with the ongoing homeless program in the county. Sure, the county has some programs, but a few million here and there pale in comparison to its ask of $154 million to build a new courthouse.
Supporters of the courthouse will point to the fact that the state is offering $94 million because it’s also responsible for a functioning courthouse, as well as $4 million in federal funding. But no matter where it’s coming from, remember it’s nonetheless taxpayer money.
The current courthouse, built in 1959, is plagued with a ton of issues, bond supporters say. One maintenance issue that supporters like to point to is a sewage leak that cost the county about $6,250. With a new building, the county says it wouldn’t have to go through hoops to fix its outdated elevator, for example.
One of the most compelling messages for supporting the courthouse comes from a Lane County commissioner who isn’t afraid to tout its importance to a local economy. It’s the community benefits agreement (CBA) that got Commissioner Joe Berney’s support for supporting the courthouse in the first place. Berney says the CBA, guarantees as much money as possible raised from the bond stays in the county. It would be the first time the county has ever used one, setting a possible precedent for more ethical approaches to building public capital projects.
The county calculates that if the bond is approved, it could generate about $53.2 million in wages for more than 1,330 workers. It would generate about $9.8 million in wages for new vendors and construction material suppliers. In total, it would inject about $19.3 million in the local economy.
Yes, we support voters footing the bill for a new courthouse. However, the county and city both need to do a lot more to solve problems than ensuring law and order works without a hitch in Lane County.
20-301 Eugene School District 4J:
Five-year renewal of current local option tax for general operations Yes
Our local schools, like schools around Oregon, are underfunded. That’s why they come to you for levies and bonds.
Sure, Eugene School District 4J recently asked voters to pay for its $319.2 million bond. But a levy is different.
The bond is used for brick-and-mortar projects — like a much-needed new North Eugene High School. The 4J levy would continue a five-year local option to fund school district staff — a continuation of a tax that voters are already paying.
Without the levy, its supporters say, the school district would be in a disastrous situation. The district would have to cut its budget by 9 percent. That means cutting jobs, because the school district’s costs are primarily staff. So students, who’ve had it rough since the implementation of Measure 5, would have larger class sizes, which would be a disservice to local students — despite U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ crazy, unsupported claim that big class sizes benefit students.
Maybe you’re thinking that you want to cut down on your property taxes because you feel overtaxed, and you’ve heard that Legislature plans to OK a $2 billion biennium called the Student Success Act, boost to Oregon K-12.
4J school board member Jim Torrey says schools might not see that money for a while because it might have a long journey. The money could be appealed to voters and, because it’s a tax on business, a nasty campaign not unlike what we saw with Measure 97.
But when 4J’s share of the Student Success Act finally comes, in addition to this levy, the school district wil be able to dream again, 4J board member Anne Marie Levis told EW.
Two other measures are on voters’ ballots — a five-year levy for Crow-Applegate-Lorane School District and a bond measure for Fern Ridge School District to renovate, replace its track complex and develop property. EW doesn’t endorse in races we have not been able to follow closely, so we recommend you read your voters’ pamphlet — and know that we can’t repeat enough that education in Oregon is underfunded. Vote with your wallet.