May 16 Election: School Board candidates discuss their vision for district

Eight candidates, one unopposed, are running for the three vacant seats on the Lebanon School Board in the May 16 election.

Four candidates, Linda McLucas, Tom Oliver, incumbent Kellie Weber and Donnie Witherspoon are vying for the Position 2 seat.

Mike Martin, the Position 3 incumbent, is running unopposed.

Incumbent Jerry Williams is facing challengers Nick Brooks and Jeannie Davis for the Position 5 seat.

Lebanon Local reporter Audrey Caro has interviewed all of the candidates for the contested seats. Following are the results of those interviews, with candidates listed by zone, in alphabetical order:

Zone 2

Linda McLucas

Linda McLucas
Linda McLucas is a semi-retired nurse who wants to use some of her newly freed up time to serve on the Lebanon Community School District Board.

“I’ve had several people just really encourage me to run,” McLucas said.

Some of that has come from people who have children in the school district, some just from friends, she said.

“It’s stepping out into a new place, but I believe I would do well in the position,” McLucas said. “I’m excited about the children. I want to see them do well, succeed, from the very beginning.”

McLucas has volunteered with Start Making a Reader Today at Hamilton Creek for three years.

SMART is a literacy program that partners adults with children for one-on-one weekly reading sessions.

“I love the interaction with the children and the learning and their excitement that somebody’s there with them,” McLucas said. “I’ve got a heart for children.”

Children should be the first priority for the school district, she said.

She has three adult children and nine grandchildren. None of her grandchildren are in LCSD.

McLucas is excited about the new home construction program at Lebanon High School, the end result of which will be the sale of the home.

“I thought, ‘Wow, what an exciting thing,’” she said. “They didn’t have that when I was in school. I love it, from building the homes to selling the homes. I feel that is a real preparation for what they would be doing.”

McLucas has been to two or three school board meetings. While she does not have experience on a school board, she has served on the board of Lebanon Foursquare Church for four years and some of those experiences may translate to the district, she said.

“I understand you never know what money is coming in and being able to pay everything you need to pay to keep the church running and the lights on,” McLucas said. “You meet all those needs and going into a building project; you look at what’s necessary. You can’t do it all at one time, so you take sections and you work on it.”

It’s about meeting the needs of the people who are there, she said.

A discussion with LCSD teachers gave her a better understanding of their needs.

“That’s what I believe it is about,” McLucas said. “Talking with the people directly on hand with what’s happening.”

She worked with four other people on the church board.

“You don’t always agree on everything, so you come together and you talk about it,” McLucas said.

She said she is aware there has been some disturbance on the LCSD board but does not know the details.

“I’ve been in some intense situations,” she said. “You know, I tried to look at where everybody was coming from and each person felt strongly about where they were. To me, being on the board was, you love the people, you don’t develop bad feelings towards each other.”

She noted she is still friends with the people she went through those situations with.

“As long as each person had a heart to do the best thing for the situation and not just having a personal agenda,” McLucas said. “To me that was very important.”

If she is not elected, McLucas said she will continue with SMART and pray for children, teachers and administrators.

“We just cover it in prayer,” McLucas said. “That’s just part of who I am. I believe He’s got the big picture. He knows what’s going to happen. I don’t.”

Tom Oliver

Tom Oliver
Tom Oliver has been thinking about running for a spot on the Lebanon Community School District Board for some time.

“To me it’s about helping to provide the kind of leadership the district needs to move forward,” Oliver said.

He was a department head in the city of Lebanon for 10 years.

“I have pretty good handle on public budgeting, contract negotiation, and labor laws, some of the things that impact a public entity trying to accomplish their mission,” Oliver said. “I understand the tax and funding structure in funding and the inherent challenges that creates for the district.”

Oliver thinks the district’s budget could use a closer examination.

“We need to be very careful with the funding that we have,” he said. “How do we measure, in a much more granular fashion, what kind of results do we get for the money we spend?”

Some portions of the district’s budget are non-discretionary.

“Other pieces we do have a little more latitude to decide how we’re going to spend those dollars,” he said. “Sometimes we spend them on things like (Advancement Via Individualized Determination) or we brought back middle school athletics, which is great. Those are both great programs.”

Conceptually, AVID is a great program, he said, focusing a teacher and a student on the student’s needs.

“Do we need a framework like AVID to do that? Perhaps we do,” Oliver said. “What do we actually get for the money we’re spending on that. We haven’t done it long enough to really know what kind of impact it has.”

Considerations include the percentage of students who benefit, how that is measured and what determines a good result.

It’s tough to answer that without time, he said.

Oliver’s community involvement includes time on the Boys & Girls Club board, including five years as president. He is a Rotary Club member and a Strawberrian.

His wife Kindra works for the city of Lebanon. Their daughter graduated from Lebanon High School last year and they have one younger child at Lebanon High School and one at Riverview.

Oliver has been attending LCSD board meetings since last summer.

“The board is having a hard time having constructive disagreements or conversations about the issues that are facing the district,” he said. “You can’t expect all the board members to agree on everything all the time, and in fact nor would you want them to, right? The whole point is to have that breadth of experience on the board that accurately represents the community.”

He mentioned the board meeting during which the superintendent’s contract was renewed by a vote of 3-to-2.

“When you’re working on a contract renewal and you have staff speaking in opposition of renewing their boss, you have to stop and say, ‘OK, we’re off base somewhere here,’” Oliver said. “Why is there concern and what are we doing to get to the bottom of that? Even if you think you know why, there is an obligation to take a look at that and figure out the root problem.”

Oliver said there has been talk of an independent third-party investigation.

He noted that when the city provided an opportunity for residents to express concerns, it paid off.

“If you look at where the city is today, they’re in a great spot.”

He said teacher retention is another area the district should focus some attention.

“The reality is, we may not be able to pay dollar for dollar as some other districts,” Oliver said.

Salary is not the only factor, he added.

“If we can’t be the most attractive when it comes to straight dollars, then we’d better be the most attractive when it comes to some other reason,” Oliver said. “Part of that is personnel at all levels feeling comfortable coming to work, that their voice is heard. That they trust their leadership.”

Kellie Weber

Kellie Weber
Kellie Weber is running to retain her Zone 2 seat on the Lebanon Community School District Board, to which she was appointed to in September of 2016.

She was selected out of seven candidates to fill a seat vacated by Liz Alperin, who moved out of state.

Weber talked with her husband before she threw her hat in the ring for the vacancy.

“He said, you can’t fix everything,” Weber said. “He said, ‘Pick two or three things that are really important to you.’”

Weber has focused on teacher retention and vocational education.

“I think that teacher retention is really important,” Weber said. “We’ve been in this school district for 14 years. We have seen some fabulous teachers leave the district. I want teachers to start and end their careers in Lebanon.”

She and her husband have seven sons. Two are still in the school district, the elder at Lebanon High School and the younger at Riverview.

Weber said teachers can go to neighboring cities and make $10,000 more annually.

“We’ve got to be more competitive, pay-wise,” Weber said. “I also think that some of it is the atmosphere. Maybe the teachers don’t feel respected enough. Maybe they aren’t supported enough from administrators.”

She said that some teachers and administrators have contacted her, anonymously or the proviso that she not use their names when discussing the issues they have brought to her.

The city of Lebanon addressed concerns about the work environment by hiring an independent investigator to survey employees. When asked if the school district could benefit from a similar approach, Weber said absolutely.

Weber said she has seen some progress in the vocational education offered.

“Not every kid is prepared or even destined for a four-year college,” Weber said. “I think we need to focus more on giving kids some skills.”

She is proud of the welding program and excited about the new home building aspect of the construction program, as well as the expansion of the culinary department.

“My boys watch cooking shows on television,” Weber said. “There’s a big interest in that right now and seeing that as a career instead of as a job.”

Weber thinks that in addition to teaching a skill, such programs can give young people a reason to go to school.

“Not every kid is going to play football and not every kid is going to be on the debate team,” Weber said. “But if there is some interest, even in a subject, there is a reason to come to school.”

She also sees a lot of value in music education.

“There’s not a lot of call for wide receivers when you’re 25 and you don’t go professional, but if you can play an instrument, if you understand music, that’s a lifetime thing,” Weber said. “I think music is so vital.”

She said she didn’t know if a half-time teacher split between Lacomb and Hamilton Creek was an adequate solution to the lack of music education at those schools, because that would mean only a quarter-time teacher for each school.

“Knowing a little about music helps you appreciate it more and that’s one of the really beautiful things in the world,” Weber added. “I’d like to see kids have more opportunities with that. Music can touch all kids.”

Donnie Witherspoon
Donnie Witherspoon has three main areas he would like to address if elected to the Lebanon Community School District Board.

Donnie Witherspoon

The first is the distribution of funds.

“I worked for government prior to being self-employed,” said Witherspoon, who owns a commercial contract cleaning service. “I believe there could be potential waste or people not being as efficient as they could be and I’d really like to see every penny accounted for.”

He said he was disappointed when he learned Hamilton Creek and Lacomb schools do not have choir or band programs.

Band and choir programs for those schools is the second item on his list.

“There is money somewhere and there needs to be a part-time band and choir teacher to go to Hamilton Creek and Lacomb,” he said. “I don’t care what the excuse is on the money. I think there is potential waste.”

Witherspoon said he has looked at the budget.

“It looks tight as can be,” he said. “There’s no question about it, but like I said, somewhere, somehow, some things just can’t be cut in my opinion. Money doesn’t grow on trees, I know that.”

He said the band and choir teachers at Lebanon High School worked hard to build their programs up. Not offering those classes to seventh- and eighth-grade students is damaging the high school programs because of the lack of experience.

He thinks a half-time teacher split between the two schools would help fill that gap.

“The specifics of that are not worked out,” Witherspoon said. “Right now, the fact is this, that part of the seventh- and eighth- graders don’t have band, they don’t have choir. They say they can’t get someone to come over half time. They say there’s no money. I’m aware of these reasons but that doesn’t fix the problem.”

While Witherspoon wants to examine potential waste, he said he does support government employees.

“I know there are union issues, but it goes also to efficiency and working hard,” Witherspoon said. “That’s where being self-employed has really opened my eyes to that.”

He added that, from what he knows, the teachers in LCSD are excellent.

“It would take a lot of work to really find out where every penny is going but it can be done and it should be done,” Witherspoon said.

Attention to reading, writing and math, is the third item on Witherspoon’s list.

“No matter how educated a person is, we don’t need to re-invent the wheel. Reading, writing and arithmetic, or in my case, I change it to reading, writing, math, math and math,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re going to trade school or a university, you need to focus on those, especially in the elementary grades.”

Witherspoon sees similarities between the challenges of his cleaning business and those that the school district faces.

“Really, what sets me apart from the other people is – let’s use a large company (as an example), they’re going to give me this amount of budget and they’re going to tell me to do this amount of work in not enough time,” Witherspoon said. “I consider that just like the school district. We have this much to do but they’re only giving us this much money. It’s the same concept.”

Witherspoon and his wife have nine children, who are being  homeschooled until they reach high school age, he said.

“I have kids that are going to go through the program and I know a lot of kids in the community so I figure if I’m making the best decision for my kids, I’d be making the best decision for most people’s kids,” he said.

Zone 5

Nick Brooks
Nick Brooks thinks his experience with the educators in his life will help him in the role of Lebanon Community School District Board member.

Nick Brooks

His grandmother was a school lunch cook in Idaho and always found to time to volunteer in their community.

“She said, ‘Nicky, you need to have a servant’s heart. You better give back,’” Brooks said.

When he compares himself to her, he’s not at her level, Brooks said, but he is engaged in several community organizations.

Brooks is a member of the Lebanon Warrior Booster Club, past president and current board member of the Lebanon Baseball Association. He has coached football, baseball and basketball, and volunteers with the Boys & Girls Club. He’s also an Optimist Club member.

He is the maintenance manager at Weyerhaeuser Santiam Mill.

He and wife Koreen have two sons who attend Lebanon High School. Koreen is the office secretary at LHS.

Brooks said he started attending school board meetings when he thought about running for the board position.

A number of people have approached him over that last few months about running, he said.

His perception of the way the current school board functions is that some people aren’t listening, he said.

“If I don’t at least have the ability to seek out other opinions, I won’t grow and that won’t help our board and that won’t help our schools,” Brooks said.

He is encouraged by the prospect of a 360 survey.

In his position at Weyerhaeuser, he had a personal 360, which, unlike a traditional review by the boss,  may incorporate multiple perspectives by using feedback from a variety of sources, including peers, subordinates, customers, self and supervisor.

“It was a hard thing for me to look at,” he said.

The feedback he received in some areas was different than he anticipated but he worked on the issues that were brought to his attention.

An area of his work that he feels is parallel to the responsibilities of a school board member is working on budgets.

While the core areas take priority, Brooks strongly supports extracurricular activities, including sports, band, and Chess Club.

He thinks the country has dropped the ball on technical and vocational training.

At his mill there is a need for electricians and millwrights.

“We’re always searching for tradespeople,” he said.

The trend is apparent in the trade publications he reads as well.

“We promoted higher education to where, if you don’t go to college, you’re a failure,” Brooks said. “I was going to be a history teacher and ended up going into a trade.”

His father was a logger. His mother was a school teacher, then a principal.

“My aunt was a school teacher,” Brooks said. “She was the president of the union, so that was interesting. I work with a union here and it’s all about being collaborative.”

He wants Lebanon to be a great place to work, and that includes the schools, he said.

“Our kids have had great teachers,” Brooks said. “We’ve been really happy and blessed to be in the community.”

As a board member, Brooks said he would have a passion about listening to people and using that to help make decisions. Ultimately, the decision has to be about what’s best for the kids, he said.

“Can one person make a difference?” Brooks asked. “Yeah, I think so.”

Jeannie Davis

Jeannie Davis
Jeannie Davis sees a position on the Lebanon Community School District Board as an opportunity to expand her involvement with Lebanon’s education.

“When the school board position opened, I thought that would be a good connection with me working at the medical school and the community base that I have, to really get involved in the education with our kids in the community,” said Davis, who is associate director of clinical education at the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest.

Before that she worked as a budget analyst for the Oregon Judicial Department and was a budget coordinator at Oregon State University.

She said working at the medical school gives her a background for K-12 education.

“So bringing what we’re looking for in higher ed down to primary, I think, would be an awesome connection,” she said.

While Davis is a proponent of higher education, she also sees the value in career and technical education.

When asked about career and technical education, she said she thinks it’s great and would like to see more.

She also sees value in some programs that are outside of the core subjects.

“I think P.E. is important,” Davis said. “I think music is important. I think art is important. I think kids really need to be creative and they need to have an avenue for that. Not everything is a test.”

Davis has three children. Two went through the LCSD and graduated from Lebanon High School. One of her sons graduated from East Linn Christian Academy.

“I think we need to have options for education,” she said.

LCSD’s options include an alternative school and a charter school.

“Kids learn differently and having that option is very beneficial for our kids,” she said.

Davis’ interaction with the school district is mainly through volunteering through COMP-NW.

She helps put on Mini-Medical School, in which kindergartners attend a day at medical college. She also helps with Gift of Literacy Day, an event which brings local first-graders to the medical school for a day of reading and sends them home with new books.

Davis had only attended one school board meeting, as of the date of her April interview with Lebanon Local. She waited outside an executive session that was held on March 21, in case a public meeting was held afterward. The executive session had been called under Oregon statues relating to labor negotiations, “to consider the dismissal or disciplining of, or to hear complaints or charges brought against, a public officer, employee, staff member or agent” and “to review and evaluate the performance of the chief executive officer or any other public officer.”

Asked about the 3-2 split that occurred on the recent approval of the superintendent’s contract and other votes, Davis said that, if elected, she would not see herself as a tie-breaker.

“What I think about that is really knowing your side of the issue and (voting) the way you feel benefits the school district as a whole and the kids as a whole,” Davis said.

If she is not elected, she would still be involved with the school district through the activities she is already in, she said.

“I’d probably participate more in the school board meetings,” Davis said. “Next time I could run and be better informed.”

Jerry Williams

Jerry Williams
Jerry Williams is running for re-election to the Lebanon Community School District Board because he thinks the district is heading in the right direction.

“I see positive action going on right now within the district,” Williams said. “We’re heading in the right direction and I want that to keep going, for the kids.”

Williams cites improved graduation rates and attendance, and an increase in career and technology education as some of the positives in the district.

“AP classes have improved in the time I’ve been on the board,” he said.

Williams is for positive change and that is one of the reasons he wants to stay involved with the board, he said.

He said AVID is doing well and he wants to see it go district-wide.

“AVID is a basic support for many things in life,” Williams said. “It teaches (students) to do note taking. It teaches them to be organized. It prepares them for rigorous courses. There is so much involved in that program, it teaches them life skills.”

He does support CTE programs, but “ the AVID program is supporting kids in a wider way to help towards graduation and college.”

Only some students are part of AVID, but as teachers are trained, it spreads school-wide, he said.

“It teaches them how to deal with rigor in classes, because that’s where we’re heading,” Williams said. “That’s what they need to prepare for college.”

He said a lot of students are starting kindergarten without knowing colors or letters.

The pre-kindergarten at Pioneer is helping with some of those students, he said.

“If the kids aren’t reading by third grade, it affects every other subject,” Williams said. “It affects their math skills, everything.”

He sees this as an area that needs improvement in the district.

Williams at one time was a volunteer reader with Start Making a Reader Today, a literacy program that pairs an adult with a child for one-on-one weekly reading time.

“I became known as ‘Grandpa,’ and the man in the class,” Williams said. “I enjoyed doing that too, but right now I’m not (volunteering in that way).”

Williams has three adult children and nine grandchildren.

His daughter Amanda Plummer is principal at Green Acres Elementary School.

As a board member, Williams has recently dealt with issues regarding district administration.

He said it takes time, but he reads through the sometimes 200-page board packets he and the other board members receive a week before each monthly meeting.

“There was some controversy that came up with (Supt. Rob Hess’) contract,” Williams said. “We had a whole week before to look at it, read it, study it. I knew it was based on a prior contract and there were just a few minor changes in it.”

He said they may not talk about it a lot at the board meeting, but “if you’ve done due diligence and you really looked at stuff ahead of time before you get there, and prepared for it, you’re reading through it and looking through stuff. It had the last contract and showed the changes.”

The contract was approved 3-2, with Williams voting in favor of the contract.

A personal issue arose when retired LCSD teacher Jennifer Walter filed an ethics complaint against Williams with Oregon Government Ethics Commission. In the complaint, Walter claims Williams voted twice to approve consent agendas, which included hiring Plummer, without disclosing a conflict of interest.

Williams said there was some wrong information there.

“I did not live with my daughter.”

He is working with an attorney that is covered through the district’s insurance company, Williams said.

“This is $200 an hour for the attorney,” he said. “I don’t know how it is all going to turn out yet, but from my knowledge, from what I was told, because I did due diligence in checking this out, I was told I could vote by several sources.”

Williams declined to name the sources who advised him.

“I checked with Oregon School Board Association prior to voting each time and was told I could vote,” Williams wrote in a follow-up email following an interview with the Lebanon Local. “Because I was voting for a class of people under policy BBFB which follows the language in ORS 2443020(13)(b), which allows voting for a relative when the vote impacts a “class” of people equally. (b) Any action in the person’s official capacity which would affect tho the same degree a class consisting of … the person’s relative or business with which the person or the person’s relative or associated, is a member or is engaged.”

He said the investigation is in the preliminary stage and there won’t likely be results before the May election.