6 questions with Keizer’s school board candidates

Danielle BethelL and Chuck Lee

Keizer will have a choice when it comes to who represents the city on the Salem-Keizer School Board this May.

Longtime Board member Chuck Lee is seeking re-election to the post he’s held since 2007. His contender this time around will be Danielle Bethell, executive director of the Keizer Chamber of Commerce.

Keizertimes sent both candidates the same questions and asked for their responses. We are presenting them here in a question-and-answer format so voters can get to know them and the issues they are contemplating in the run-up to the election.

Keizertimes (KT): What skills and expertise do you bring to the role of school board director?

Danielle Bethell (DB): As a current Keizer/Salem parent I have a proven record showing my commitment to bettering my community. As a graduate of McKay High School, and a current parent of a Keizer area junior, seventh grader and fifth grader I am invested in the daily needs and opportunities our students and educators face and deserve. As an active, tenured, community volunteer I feel the present and constant need for support. With more than 15 years of community, business and policy experience, I bring a level of comfort in knowing my community, the challenges we are facing and the desire to charge on for greater opportunity.

Chuck Lee (CL): I bring to the School Board 48 years of experience and expertise at the elementary, secondary and Career Technical Education levels. I bring 12 years of commitment to the Board that has touched every aspect of our District and students. I was a leader in the fundraising and passage of two successful bond measures. I was the leader in the creation of the Career and Technical Education Center (CTEC), a national model of a public/private partnership that has a 98 percent graduation rate and grows a workforce for our region. I have demonstrated my commitment to Keizer and public service as an elected public official for 19 years.

KT: What motivated you to seek election/re-election?

DB: I want to bring the voice of my fellow parents and our current educators to the forefront, highlight their challenges and work towards solutions. I want to shout their successes and praise a community committed to every child’s successes. I believe waiting for the problem to reach the top, through the filters of the system, often fail those calling out for help. Being on the ground level, as a parent, business owner and community voice. I have the necessary feet on the ground to hear firsthand what is needed; and work with the systems in place or work to build new systems to solve the problems our classrooms are facing today.

CL: I’m motivated to seek re-election because over the years I’ve become committed to the success of every student in Oregon’s second largest school district. I have a deep and sincere passion for the work of the Board and we have important unfinished work to do.

KT: What do you feel are the top three issues facing the school district as a whole?

DB: Only three! Aside from the fact that I love this district and all who are working their tails off to build the best minds around, we do face some challenges, and some far outweigh others. As a mom I am pained almost daily by the reports I hear or the interactions myself or my children face with others who are struggling within. Mental health instability is a serious issue we are facing at all levels of our educational system.

CL: Budget, budget, budget – Oregon’s process for budgeting and budgets so closely tied to the economy, makes school funding very unpredictable. With this extreme volatility, it makes long term planning for improvement difficult. Achievement Gap – While our graduation rates have been improving the rates continue to fluctuate among our most vulnerable and underrepresented students. Our efforts to address chronic absenteeism, add career and technical education programs, equity and access are examples of addressing the gap. Systems of Support – We must address the growing mental health and toxic stress issues of our students. We have heard at many board meetings from community members, teachers, and parents about the behavioral outbursts that disrupt the learning environment. We are implementing a series of strategies to train administrators, teachers and staff that will help all students. Implementing and communicating this framework will take time and focus.

KT: What can be done at the school board level to address those issues?

DB: We need to bring more love into our schools and our communities. We need to meet parents at the doors with welcoming arms, not interrogations and frustrations of their interruptions. We need to ask them back into our classrooms, and to be a part of the process. We need community in our schools and our schools out in our communities. The school board is excellent at making and navigating policies. It’s time we create some policies that promote outside-the-box thinking.

In addition to the sadness we are seeing in our students faces, we are seeing them disengage in what should be the best years of their lives. Whether we blame that on technology or not, disengagement is a serious issue. It fosters a lack of ownership, self-worth and the feelings of acceptance. I am seeing students work less towards something they once enjoyed, and harder to find more excuses to fail than to succeed. We are losing our children’s interest in education, we are pushing them down a tunnel that only earns them adulthood, without feeling and living the joys of childhood. We have lost the importance of knowing what is developmentally appropriate for children.

We need to take a deep look at what is preventing student investment. We need to talk to those on the ground level, students and parents, they are the experts. We need to build on their passions, and investments and create environments everyone wants to be in. Creativity doesn’t have to cost money, it may just require thoughtful listening and adjustment. 

CL:The school board has one employee and that is the Superintendent, Christy Perry. Mrs. Perry has demonstrated the willingness and ability to address the major issues facing our District and students. It is important for the Board to monitor her performance on critical issues and support her where appropriate. The other main function of the Board is passing a budget that reflects the needs of our students and employees in an equitable manner. At the end of the day, the Board needs to take an active role in lobbying the legislature for complete funding of our schools. Current funding is not even close to providing the resources that our students need and deserve. My experience and contacts at the legislature make me the legitimate and best candidate for this position.

KT: Given all the improvements coming to the district in the near future, what do you hope to accomplish in the oversight role the board will have?

DB: We can look at the opportunities we have at our ready and find new ways to get access to students across the district to those opportunities. I would like to look at creating a new path of access for students to reach out and gain CTE skills, and not have to transfer from their home school. We have done an excellent job as a community supporting CTEC, now we need to find a way to broaden the access to what we already have in place. I know firsthand what it looks like in the job market today, I work with hundreds of local businesses who are begging for access to young, capable minds, who present well with a base set of skills.

CL: During the past two bond measures I was the lead Board member on the campaigns. I helped raise over $200,000 for both successful campaigns. I advocated for keeping Keizer kids at McNary rather than opening a new school. Instead, we will be increasing the capacity at McNary. I was pleased that we were able to negotiate a win-win with St. Edward [Catholic Church] for the needed additional land needed for expansion while giving St. Edward funds to meet some of their needs. I have been invited to attend the first meeting with contractors on March 15 at McNary to get updated on the project. In the next four years, I am committed to transparent and responsible oversight of the 2018 bond measure; providing the fiscal and policy leadership to give students hands-on integrated learning opportunities that blend academic, professional and technical skills.

KT:­What issues, if any, would you like to see the school board address with greater urgency in the next four years?

DB: I want to look long and hard at the impacts of mental illness in our schools, identify what is missing and charge after solutions.  I want to work within our communities to bring parents, neighbors and professionals to the forefront to solve the tragedies we are seeing far to often.

I would like the board to take a deep long look at the behavior issues we have within every building in our district. I want to review the policy and hand tying that has been done to prevent our spaces from being safe for all children to be successful/happy learners in. I would like to see a task force developed community-wide to take on both of these major issues, and if necessary, work with state level leaders to undo policies or develop policies that give the professionals in our buildings the tools they need to focus on educational success. 

I want to meet these kids where they are, let them be seen, show them they are loved and that we all want them to succeed. I want them to want to succeed and we need to collaborate and secure the tools, steps or whatever necessary to get them there.

CL:I can not emphasize enough the important and urgent need to stabilize public education in Oregon. In December, the governor released a recommended budget for the State School Fund at $8.9 billion. This is barely current service level! The Co-chairs of Joint Committee on Ways and Means released their proposed budget for 2019-21 last week which was a reduction of $100 million from the governor’s proposed budget. If this amount is approved, it would mean a reduction of $3.5 million or $7 million for the biennium. This is equivalent to approximately 33 fewer teachers across our district.  Without adequate and consistent school funding, we can not address class size, graduation rates, and best practice education.

In reality, the most important thing for the school board is to work with the superintendent and district leadership to identify the really important work, remove personal interests, and establish laser-like focus on our students.