School board will add student advisor

The Salem-Keizer School Board met on Tuesday, Nov. 10 to discuss a litany of different topics (Screenshot).

The Salem Keizer Public Schools (SKPS) Board of Directors voted to add a student advisor to the school board, accepted a proclamation to recognize the month of November as Native American Heritage Month, and elected two community members to serve on the budget committee during a virtual board meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 10.

Multiple Native American students in the district were able to share some of their experiences within the district via video submission. Board member Jesse Lippold, who is of Native American descent, talked about the importance of this proclamation and the progress the district has made in recognizing tribal members.

“It’s been a tough path for our people. While it’s easy to get into the mentality that the world’s against you, I believe that our school district is making leaps and bounds in the right direction,” Lippold said.

The proclamation, which recognizes the role Indigenous people played in the country’s history while celebrating the nearly 1,700 students in SKPS who identify as Alaska Natives or Native American, was passed unanimously by the board.

In October, Lippold brought a proposal before the board that would allow a student advisor to the school board that would act as a liaison between the board and the student advisory committee.

“This is a systemic way to give students a voice within our school district and have them be a part of the conversations we are having,” Lippold said.

Board Chairperson Satya Chandragiri was vocal about his approval of the proposal. 

“I really think this is a great opportunity to build the pipeline for future leaders,” Chandragiri said.

While members were a tad skeptical, the board ultimately decided to pass the new policy of selecting a student advisor. Board member Marty Heyen was the only dissenting vote.

“I am a data person and I just don’t feel like I have enough information at this time,” Heyen said.

Eight members of the community vying for a spot on the budget committee got a chance to share their credentials and convince the board why they would be a good fit. The board wound up choosing Wilma Marchbanks and Lisa Harnisch to fill the two vacant roles.

Harnisch is a parent of two former SKPS students and expressed that she is a strong advocate for the district.

“As part of the budget committee, I will advocate that we actively listen to students, families, community partners and staff to align resources to meet the current needs of children to assure that they have the opportunity to achieve educational excellence,” Harnisch said.

Marchbanks is a parent of seven former SKPS students and shared that she plans to use her role as a way to distribute resources through an equity lens and boost the voice of minorities in the process.

“I will ensure that the distribution of funds is allocated through an equity lens as it relates to the budgeting committee. I hope to amplify the voices that have been historically unheard and silenced in this process,” Marchbanks said.

Since June, hostility during the public comment section of board meetings has been prevalent due to the board’s rejection of community pleas to remove Student Resource Officers (SROs) from schools. There have also been numerous complaints that the board has been dismissive of students of color.

Chandragiri gave a first reading of a proposal that would give himself, as the chairperson, additional authority to manage public comment.

Board member Sheronne Blasi was critical of Chandragiri proposal at the previous board meeting and continued to share her displeasure with the possible revision.

“This is a step in the wrong direction, versus a step that is inviting and encouraging public comment,” Blasi said. “The community feels that this is another opportunity for the board to potentially silence them, and I agree with them.”

Board member Kathy Goss, however, believes that the revision is necessary.

“I don’t think anybody on the board is saying people can’t speak. But anything they want to be said can be said without ripping up everyone on the board personally. I object to that. I don’t think it’s healthy,” Goss said.