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Eagle Point School Board race heats up

EAGLE POINT — Eagle Point School Board candidates agree on one thing — the biggest challenge facing the district is creating a cohesive board.

Discourse between two factions, described alternatively as pro-administrative and pro-labor, has gone on for years. This year, it has spilled out into the voter's pamphlet.

Board President Scott Grissom is running for re-election. Speaking to the Mail Tribune, Grissom said the biggest challenge facing the district has been several years of declining state funding. But the district has managed to hammer out a workable budget and things are looking up, he said.

In his pamphlet statement, Grissom urged voters not to re-elect incumbent Mark Bateman, while also nudging them away from Brian Saling.

Grissom, 53, called out Bateman and departing boardmember Jim Mannenback for engaging in "irresponsible decisions and behaviors." Both men have filed "frivolous complaints" against the district, Grissom alleged, adding "... none of which have been true and have cost the district thousands of dollars to defend."

"I highly recommend that you do not vote for Mark Bateman (pos.#3) and Brian Salin(sic) (pos.#5) whose spouses are both union members employed by the district," Grissom wrote.

Bateman, 54, defended his voting record, and attempts to keep the district's actions "transparent."

Bateman decried Grissom's remarks that he is "pro-union" as "grasping at straws."

Bateman vowed to "take on" the administration's "wasteful spending of our tax dollars. He built trust with employees during last year's strike by meeting with them every day, Bateman said.

"I never saw another board member trying to do that," Bateman said.

Adding that his wife is a union member with the district, Bateman said he voted for measures that were "best for the district," not for his spouse.

"I made her a seven-hour employee and took three work days from her schedule," Bateman said. "That's not pro-union."

Ron Campbell, 66, is running for the same seat as Grissom and Ralph Meeker. Campbell, a retired human resources director, also said the board's contentious battles have been difficult for the district. And it is time for a change, he wrote in the voter's pamphlet.

(Correction: Ralph Meeker's first name had been added to this story.)

"My experience can bring a fresh set of ideas and skills to the board," Campbell wrote.

Speaking to the Mail Tribune, Campbell stopped short of saying he was running specifically against Meeker. But said his motivation to win the race eased after Grissom filed his candidacy. Campbell said he would not be disappointed to see the incumbent re-elected.

Brian Saling, 44, is running against Dianne Milhocko and Curt Sather. Saling agreed that the board's inability to compromise has created hardship for the district, and specifically for Superintendent Cynda Rickert, who has been "flying in limbo," he said.

"Sometimes she's right. Sometimes she's wrong," Saling said.

In his pamphlet statement, Saling described the board as being paralyzed, and called for a change.

"Every meeting becomes a war of words; solving nothing, and accomplishing little," Saling wrote.

"In many ways the quality of the education and the focus of the educational programs have improved. At the same time staff/administration relations have deteriorated," Saling said.

The district has built a sustainable budget — but at the cost of important programs, Saling wrote.

"We need to reopen Elk Trail School and improve our transportation services. We need to fund more counselors and maintain activities in our schools," Saling wrote.

Meeker aligned himself with Bateman and Saling. Meeker questioned whether Grissom ran for re-election specifically to defeat him.

"I filed for this position two weeks ahead of the deadline," Meeker said. "(Grissom) chose to go against me."

Meeker, 61, also took aim at Dan Hodges for urging voters not to vote for Bateman.

"Two candidates are basically telling the community how to vote," Meeker said.

"District 9 is one of the largest districts in the state and has a very diversified student population," Meeker said, pledging to "support continued teacher development and work toward open and honest communications."

Dan Hodges, 38, said the board's union-versus-administrators war has gone on too long — and to the detriment of the students.

"We have great administrators and absolutely phenomenal teachers," Hodges said.

In the voter's pamphlet, Hodges said "the role of a school board member is to maintain objectivity and make decisions based on accurate data, instead of personal relationships with union leaders, staff, administrators or other board members."

Hodges challenged Bateman, stating, "his allegiance to the employee union interfere with his responsibilities as a School Board member."

"That Bateman's wife is an employee of the school district and a union member creates a conflict of interest that has had a negative impact on the school district over the last four years," Hodges said.

"In fact, Mr. Bateman was reprimanded for showing support for the employee union during last year's strike in which the union employees walked out on the very students that Mr. Bateman was supposed to be representing as a School Board member," Hodges wrote.

Dianne Mihocko, 64, said she is a staunch supporter of Rickert. "I have seen the positive changes in our district under Superintendent Rickert's leadership and would like to help her continue in the direction she is going," Milhocko wrote.

A retired junior high school teacher and member of the Eagle Point Planning Commission, Milhocko promised to "work collaboratively with the other board members in a unified commitment to improve learning for all students and to give our teachers the support they need to maximize their success."

"I agree with our district's budget priorities. During difficult economic times, all school districts face financial issues and look for solutions to solve these issues. For example, our district leaders chose to balance the district's budget rather than cutting school days. Our district is the only district in the region that still has a full school year," she wrote.