Todd Gestrin, Nichole Piland face off for School Board Zone 5 seat

Most candidates in Lebanon’s May 18 election will be unchallenged, following the end of the filing period to run in the various district races that are open.

The only competitive race will be for the Lebanon School District Board of Directors Zone 5 seat currently occupied by Todd Gestrin, who will face challenger Nichole Piland. Questionnaires were submitted to both, and Gestrin’s responses are listed below.

Incumbent Tom Oliver is unchallenged for the Zone 2 seat and incumbent Michael Martin is unchallenged for the Zone 3 seat.

Candidates for four open Lebanon Fire District seats are all running unchallenged: incumbent Allen Forster for Position 1, newcomer Wyatt King for Position 2, incumbent Dale White for Position 3, and incumbent Michael Schrader for Position 4.

Incumbents Laurie Dennis and Peggy Snyder are unchallenged for their seats on the Lebanon Aquatic District Board of Directors.

Here is background information on the candidates and their responses to questions we’ve posed regarding the election.

Todd Gestrin

Gestrin is a native of Lebanon whose grandparents settled in the area after working in the shipyards during World War II. His mother was a teacher in Hamilton Creek and Crowfoot school districts. He graduated from Lebanon High School in 1983 and took business courses Linn-Benton Community College while working days and attending class at night. He has had ongoing professional development in banking during a 37-year career in that industry, including management and leadership positions at several local banks.

Gestrin was forced to interrupt a four-year term on the School Board when his work moved to Springfield, but was appointed two years ago, after his own retirement, to fill his former seat after the board member occupying it moved out of state.

He has been a board member and treasurer for the Linn-Benton Employer Council and the Oregon Employer Council, served on the board and chaired the Sweet Home Business and Education Partnership, chaired the Lebanon and Sweet Home chambers of commerce, and has been active in United Way. He also has taught finance at Sweet Home High School, where he helped start the Business Education Partnership and put in a fully functioning bank branch with a student teller.

He helped found the Oregon Jamboree and was named a Junior First Citizen by the Sweet Home Chamber of Commerce.

He and his wife Edie, who have known each other since they were 10, when they met on the playground at Crowfoot School, have been married 35 years. They have two daughters and wo grandchildren.

Nichole Piland

Piland, 44, has resided in Lebanon for 15 years. She is a high school graduate and has had some college education, she’s a military veteran (U.S. Navy, Army National Guard) and worked for 10 years in billing, as a financial counselor and Informatics coordinator for Samaritan Health Services before taking her present position in the Linn County Tax and Assessment Office two years ago.

She has worked an organization called Mountaineer Outreach, donating school supplies and doing medical clinics in remote villages in the Philippines, and helping to repair an old community center/church that was damaged after the typhoon.

Piland’s two children are both graduates of Lebanon High School, her daughter in 2014 and her son in 2020.

Why do you want to be a Lebanon School Board member?

Todd Gestrin: I want someone who is educated that can follow the money. We have good leadership today but, where do you get full diversity if you want someone watching the cash?  I have extensive background from a few years ago which leads me to knew questions and budget planning.

Nichole Piland: After serving on the board of Mountaineer Outreach which is winding down I had volunteered at the Linn County Fairgrounds during the wildfire and have been volunteering out there to assist with the vaccine clinic. Doing these things recently has reminded how much I miss and enjoy giving back and what better way than to give back to my community and become a team member of our school board.

What sets you apart as a candidate for voters in Lebanon?

Nichole Piland: Growing up as a child in the military I got to experience different requirements and programs in every school that I went to and would love to be able to share some of those and work with the community and stagg to be able to bring some of those into our district. and staff to be able to hnng some of those into our district. Having had children go through the district has also given me a background on our district that I believe is helpful.

Todd Gestrin: Prior four-year term and again a board member for the past 18-20 months. I have a wealth of knowledge on anything financial and responsibility to ask uncomfortable questions. Ongoing experience being a  board director, as well as answering to a Board of Directors. My experience is truly two-sided.

What would you consider your primary responsibility/ies to voters as a school board member if you are elected?

Todd Gestrin: Communication and transparency must happen for true success. Where is everyone? We need an involved community that is heard and respected. We need to invite more people in to witness what is happening. I, too, would be looking over the financials. This piece is a given, based upon my years in banking.

Nichole Piland: I would consider my primary responsibilities as a School Board member to be:

Assist in setting the vision and goals for the district; adopting policies that give direction and goals; adopting a budget; bargaining process for employees

Representative and advocate for to community is Zone 5 while prioritizing what is in the best interest of the students as well as the school district.

Please describe your view of the role of public school in today’s world and what you think are the particular challenges that need to be addressed in Lebanon School District.

Nichole Piland: I believe the role of public schools is to enable children to become educated and well- rounded citizens in our community. I believe the current challenge is getting kids back on track after working remotely for the last year. I know there have been challenges for students, parents and staff but believe our main focus needs to be on the students and finding out what they need in order to succeed and move forward.

Todd Gestrin: Public schools, if ran with full transparency (we are close) offers valuable educational opportunities one looks for as they move into our community. We must demonstrate solid agenda/goals in a lot of what we do. If our online program wasn’t great from the start, then we need set time tables when things will be fixed.

People must be heard. They feel rejected most times when they deliver a message and receives not one comment. People are not aware of the laws. We cannot answer or make remarks at the time the message is delivered. If it is about an item on the agenda for that night, it will most likely be brought up and the message referenced. If the remark is not about an agenda law, it needs to be advertised for those people who would like to hear this message/topic live. It comes down to educate those in the public. The board meetings are strictly for the board. They represent everyone’s concerns or ideas.

According to OSBA laws, all school board meetings are designed for only the school board and not the public. We don’t even have to allow for public comments. With that being said, that is NOT what we want. For the board, we must have the public’s comments so we can learn what the pulse is. We need to be fully transparent and must hear from our community and share back to do so. It is confusing why any district wouldn’t want their communities voice to be heard.

Nichole Piland
Todd Gestrin

A lot of school board work revolves around funding. In general, how do you view the district’s performance in this area? If you would like to change anything, how would you do so?

Todd Gestrin: The board needs a key element. We do not have a monthly grid on where we stand. With the budget reports, it provides what funds are for our certain sections, along with the fact our income and expense can be tracked and easily assessed to verify the encumbered funds are within their monthly expense or leftover funds.

Nichole Piland: The district actively pursues grant funding and I think the district does a good job of stretching dollars. They use instructional assistants to assist teachers in classrooms, internal maintenance staff to self-perform work that would be expensive to coordinate and partner with the city on grounds maintenance and IT projects.

What other improvements would you like to see to the public schools in Lebanon?

Nichole Piland: Early education is important and I’m aware that our district is working on a proposed expansion of preschool classes at elementary schools and would love to be involved in that.

I would also like to see better communication with the community about how schools are funded, how we can meet needs as a result of growth in the community, and what it will take to fund more summer programs as we try to increase test scores, graduation rate, and better prepare our kids for post­secondary success.

Todd Gestrin: We need a full assessment of all held assets. We need to know from each employee anything they know which needs tending to. I hate surprises and extremely dislike the statement, “It is better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” If communication was good, these things wouldn’t exist.

In addition to any of the issues already touched on, what do you consider the biggest challenge(s) facing Lebanon schools? As briefly as possible, how would you address it/those?

Todd Gestrin: I think everyone needs to be on the same page. We need to educate the public and ask for their help. Let’s advertise that, “We want you!” An increased awareness is needed within our community.