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Experience prevails in local school board races

Oregon OR Election Voting State Map Word 3d Illustration
One race in EP still too close to call

With 16 of 17 local school board races decided, at least one conclusion can be drawn based on how voters cast their ballots: experience matters.

That’s the most obvious interpretation of a May special election that saw local incumbents run the table in races that have been decided, going 11-for-11, and it’ll be a clean sweep if Emily McIntire hangs on to her slim 37-vote margin over Hank Rademacher for Eagle Point School Board Position 5.

Even in Ashland, where chair Eva Skuratowicz faced an opponent, Misha Hernandez, who ran as part of a three-woman slate that prioritized equity, diversity and inclusion, the end result was a resounding victory and a fourth four-year term for Skuratowicz.

“I do think that my experience in that sense was important,” said Skuratowicz, who received 70.4% of the votes cast with likely only a few outstanding ballots left to be counted. “We are facing a really big challenge. We’ve got kids that have, yes, come back to school, but really they were out of classrooms for a year. So we’re going to be facing the repercussions of that for a while, and I think that voters wanted experience, they wanted people who were really engaged and understood what was going on because we have some really big issues facing us.”

The numbers — results will be certified no later than June 7, but only one race is too close to call — seem to support Skuratowicz’s theory.

Three incumbents on the Medford School Board each faced a single opponent and each learned late Tuesday night that they had been rewarded with another term.

Chair Jeff Kinsella, whose reelection campaign included four yard signs, earned 56% of the votes against Robin Lee in what turned out to be Medford’s tightest race. Vice Chair Suzanne Messer defeated Benjamin Buchta by gaining 7,336 of 10,865 votes cast (67.5%), and Cynthia Wright secured 8,182 of 10,457 votes (78.2%) against challenger Adam McGrew.

The Phoenix-Talent School Board’s three incumbents — Sara Crawford, Nancy McKinnis and Michael Campbell — also were assured of victories after the first round of results were posted Tuesday night. Crawford received 62% of the 3,835 votes cast to defeat Lisa Walker Jennings in the race for Position 1, Zone 2. McKinnis ran unopposed for Position 3, Zone 1 and earned 98.3% of the votes, and Campbell secured 60.3% of the votes to fend off Garry Gatti for Position 6, Zone 2.

Two incumbents, Bret Moore and Jolee Wallace, ran unopposed and snagged two of the three seats that were up for grabs in that district, with CJ Shipley taking the other in another one-horse race.

Eagle Point School Board incumbents Randy Wolf and Joshua Graves had runaway victories — Wolf earned 64.6% of the votes; Graves 74.3% — but McIntire is in a tight race with challenger Rademacher that Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker says was still too close to call.

As of Thursday afternoon, McIntire led the tightest race in the Rogue Valley 1,787-1,750, but Walker said there were still 265 ballots in Jackson County that are in a “challenge status,” and it was unclear how many of those come from Eagle Point. The challenge status ballots are those which have yet to be counted due to issues like unmatched signatures or no signatures, Walker said.

In Medford, Kinsella said his first reaction after seeing early election results was relief because he felt it was imperative that the board stay together.

“We wanted to keep the board intact because five of us have four years or less experience and it takes a while to get to know what you’re doing and to be able to work successfully together,” he said.

Messer agreed, and added some context. Medford Superintendent Bret Champion, who was hired by the district almost exactly two years ago, hasn’t been able to fully commit himself to any goal not COVID-19-related since March of 2020, she said. Messer, Kinsella and Wright believe continuity on the board will help grease the wheels for what’s to come.

Also, she said, the seven members of Medford’s school board work well together and are just starting to hit their stride. In other words, if it ain’t broke …

“We all agreed, yes, we want to give (Champion) four more years, try and keep the board consistent, keep his direction going forward, and we believe we’re the ones who can do a lot of that,” Messer said. “Our histories and backgrounds where we come from are very good for our district. We bring a wide variety of experiences to this board. … We have a lot of difference of opinion and that’s good, because you talk out all issues from all sides to still put what’s best for children front and center.”

Candidates’ election campaigns differed slightly in strategy and scope. Kinsella said he dug out four yard signs left over from his 2017 campaign. He placed two near his house and the other two elsewhere, and didn’t sweat his lack of promotional materials. Instead, he pinned his hopes on door-to-door canvasing and word of mouth.

“There were political lists of people that voted in the off-year elections and I just knocked on doors,” he said. “I spent many days passing out flyers I had printed up and just talked to people, introduced myself, answered questions. I felt that was important. … I didn’t spend much money, I’ll tell you. I was on a teeny budget.”

Both Kinsella and Messer noted the significance of an endorsement by the Medford Education Association, which represents more than 600 local educators.

In Ashland, Skuratowicz (Position 3), Jill Franko (Position 1) and Rebecca Dyson (Position 4) all won big, wiping out the slate of Hernandez, Natalie Jackson and Sarah Beata DeLong. Franko earned 68.8% of the votes in her 4,059-1,828 win over Jackson, and Dyson earned 67% of the votes in a 3,969-1,944 win over DeLong.

Skuratowicz put up signs, sent out mailers to frequent voters in school board elections and went door-to-door. She said she could only guess at the impact of each of those, but believes the candidate forums — she participated in several, both live and written — made a big difference.

“I think what was so cool is that we had six people who were really engaged and interested in being on the school board,” she said, “and there was a lot of opportunity for our community to see the different candidates and assess them based on all these forums. I think it was a great opportunity for our community.”

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