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Plenty of school board seats up for grabs

Three spots on the line in Medford; Chair Kinsella has challenger

Medford School Board Chair Jeff Kinsella’s race against challenger Robin Lee highlights a slew of area school board contests to be decided in the May 18 special election.

Kinsella, who was first elected in 2017, is one of three Medford School Board members being challenged, a list that also includes Vice Chair Suzanne Messer.

Medford isn’t an outlier, as it’s shaping up to be a competitive election season overall for school boards across the Rogue Valley. Nine candidates are running for four seats in Phoenix-Talent, six candidates for three seats in Ashland and six candidates for three seats in Eagle Point.

In Central Point, three candidates are running unopposed, including two incumbents – second Vice Chair Bret Moore and Director Jolee Wallace.

Lee, the Vice Chair of the Jackson County Republican Party and a retired insurance adjuster, originally filed to run for position 2 against Messer and Benjamin Buchta but withdrew that bid March 17 and filed for position 1 the next day.

In her candidate statement in the Voters’ Pamphlet, Lee kept it positive and vowed to focus on addressing the “achievement gap.”

“I’ve decided to run because I think fresh perspective from beyond the classroom may increase the effectiveness of an already good school board,” Lee wrote. “As we restore the classrooms and instruction (uninterrupted, hopefully) we need to not only compensate for lost instruction time but close the achievement gap, because more than half of our third-graders are not reading at grade level. And this is ultimately the responsibility of the school board to insist on.”

A former educator, Kinsella’s long list of community involvement includes a two-year stint on the MSD Budget Committee and volunteer duties for Court Appointed Special Advocates and Stand with Children.

In the other Medford School Board races, Messer will face Benjamin Buchta for position 2, and incumbent Cynthia Wright will take on Adam McGrew for position 3.

Messer, a senior inventory project manager for Erickson Inc. who’s also on the MSD Budget Committee, wrote in her candidate statement that helping students bounce back from a year of Comprehensive Distance Learning is one of her priorities.

“As a board, we pushed, and keep pushing, for school reopening, returning of sports and extra-curricular activities for all students,” reads the statement. “Moving forward I will continue to advocate for extended year-round learning opportunities to close learning deficits created by distance learning. All Medford School District students graduate with the skills, knowledge, curiosity and drive to succeed in a job, trade school, college or university — That is my goal.”

Buchta, a U.S. Air Force instructor pilot, advocated in his pamphlet statement for a different approach to sex education and said some local parents feel “helpless.”

“When talking with parents these days,” Buchta’s statement reads, “it seems many of them would choose an education method other than public school if they had the means. This should not be the case as we all pay into the system. There is a failure above the teacher/student level leaving a lot of us on the receiving end and feeling helpless. If this resonates with you, I am willing to be your voice on this board. I will work with the board in a respectful way to achieve the goal of improving the education of future Americans.”

Wright, a child abuse prevention facilitator for the Children’s Advocacy Center, is on her second four-year stint as a school board member after also serving a term that ended in 2007. Wright’s Voters’ Pamphlet message focused on the challenge that Medford schools will face going forward.

“We have seen the doors begin to open but there is still much to be done,” it reads. “Recently I encouraged the board to set immediate priorities to identity the academic, social and emotional needs of every student and develop a plan to help meet those needs and provide urgent credit retrieval opportunities, to which the board all agreed.”

McGrew, a principal real estate broker for John L. Scott, is not included in the Voters’ Pamphlet.

In Ashland, three of the five seats are up for grabs, including the one held by chair Eva Skuratowicz. She will be running against Misha Hernandez.

Skuratowicz, director of the Southern Oregon University research center, has served on the board since 2009.

Hernandez is a labor representative for the Oregon Nurses Association.

Also in Ashland, Jill Franko and Natalie Jackson will face off for position 1, and Rebecca Dyson and Sara DeLong will campaign for position 4. Longtime board member Jim Westrick and Tomas Monter-Rangel both will step down when their terms expire June 30.

The special election Voters’ Pamphlet is available to download at jacksoncountyor.org.

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.