Even with a low 17 percent voter turnout, results from Tuesday's regular district election may have a huge impact on the future employment of Medford School District Superintendent Phil Long.
Before the election, the seven school board members were closely divided, with four approving Long's performance and three critical of his leadership, management and ability to take direction from the board.
Renewing his contract, which ends June 2014 barring a change, or hiring a new superintendent has been left up to the new board. Three incumbents were up for re-election.
Position 1 incumbent Paulie Brading has been critical of student performance under Long's eight-year tenure and his refusal to cut $300,000 from the support services operating budget.
As of press time, she was losing to Larry Nicholson, an insurance agent and cattle ranch owner who served on the board for eight years starting in 2003, including as chairman.
Nicholson had 3,119 votes, or 45.52 percent of the ballots counted. Brading had 2,572 votes, representing 37.54 percent. Challenger Nikki Milam, a parent and office secretary, had 1,143 votes, or 16.68 percent.
"Folks want to see a board that's productive and positive and also speaks about the great things the district is doing now and not focusing on negative issues all the time," Nicholson said late Tuesday night.
He said he wants to improve graduation rates — "everything else follows suit with that."
When asked about Long's future, he said he has "not thought about it."
Earlier this month, when answering questions from the Mail Tribune editorial board, he said, "I am not opposed to leadership change but we need to handle it in a much different fashion."
He criticized some current board members for their public "airing of laundry" about Long and for stepping into day-to-day superintendent operations.
He also said that Long isn't as effective a communicator as needed to get more parents, the community and business people involved.
Position 2 incumbent Jeff Thomas, the general manager of Connecting Point who supported Long in recent discussions, won against Lisa McGowan, a mother and advocate for special needs children who said she has long had a desire to get involved in education.
Thomas, who is currently the board chairman, had 4,339 votes, representing 65.17 percent. Challenger McGowan had 2,299 votes, representing 34.53 percent.
Position 3 incumbent Tricia Prendergast, who has been on the board since 2001 and who ranked Long as proficient or higher in nearly every category in February evaluations, was ahead of close challenger Matt Gebhardt, an endodontist with four children.
At press time, Prendergast had 2,124 votes, or 30.08 percent, to Gebhardt's 2,034, or 28.81 percent, in the four-candidate race.
Challengers Curt Ankerberg, a certified public accountant, had 1,607 votes, or 22.76 percent, and Cheryl Dykes, who worked for the school district for 25 years, had 1,284 votes, or 18.18 percent.
Incumbents faced candidates and voters dissatisfied with low graduation rates, minimal instructional school days, high administrative costs and large class sizes.
Medford is the largest school district in Jackson County with 13,000 students and an annual budget of about $100 million.
School Board members serve a four-year term. The main responsibilities for the unpaid position are to hire the superintendent and set policy for the district with 19 schools and two charter schools.
Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or firstname.lastname@example.org.