May 2023 Election: Initial returns show changes coming to school, library boards across Oregon

About a quarter of voters statewide participated in the special election, yet some results will dramatically change the dynamics of these governing bodies

By: - May 17, 2023 12:36 pm
Marion County election workers

Election workers in Marion County and elsewhere tallied votes from Tuesday’s election. (Ron Cooper/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

UPDATED: Thursday, May 18, 2023 at 9:23 a.m. to reflect the latest returns.

The ballots of a quarter of Oregon voters who participated in the special election will lead to substantial changes for school and library boards across the state. 

These results will have substantial impacts on Oregonian’s daily lives.

School board members govern the state’s 197 public school districts. They are responsible for deciding each district’s priorities and goals; setting educational policies; hiring, firing and reviewing the district’s superintendent, and approving the district’s annual budget. 

They oversee decisions that affect taxpayers, tens of thousands of educators and more than 550,000 students in the state’s K-12 system.

Low turnout

Odd-year elections and local races are notorious for low voter turnout. This year was no different, at about 23% statewide. Marion County had about 21% of voters participate, according to results posted late Tuesday night. It was slightly higher in Polk County, just shy of 22%, and higher still in Multnomah County at about 23%.

School board positions are unpaid, and they’re supposed to be nonpartisan. But special interest groups have been upping their involvement and funding for these races, while candidates’ platforms focus more on issues often outside their role on the school board.

In many cases, it seems voters opted for more diverse candidates and avoided those running on more conservative values. But that wasn’t isn’t the case everywhere.

Three seats were up for election on the Salem-Keizer Public Schools governing board – northeast Salem’s Zone 2, south Salem’s Zone 4 and Keizer’s Zone 6. The seats are elected at-large across the district. Six people ran in Salem-Keizer this year – three on a more progressive slate and three on a more conservative slate.

Initial returns Tuesday night were generally too close to call, but they favored former educator Cynthia Richardson over parent advocate Casity Troutt for Zone 2. Newcomer Kelley Strawn was leading Tuesday over current board director Satya Chandragiri for Zone 4, but by Thursday Chandragiri had edged ahead. Another conservative Krissy Hudson was leading over Larry Scruggs.

“I am honored to have the support of so many people in our community,” Richardson posted on Facebook Tuesday evening. Strawn also posted his thanks to those who supported him. Richardson continued, “I am humbled by the educators, parents, and so many others in Salem-Keizer who supported my campaign. Every voter deserves to have their voice heard, and I will wait for all votes to be counted before saying anything further.”

In other parts of the state, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported that the slate of three candidates who called for more parental control over education lost their races for the Canby School Board, and Eddie Wang’s win for a Portland School Board seat means the state’s largest district will soon have a majority of people of color

It also appears there’s an ideological shift coming to Newberg’s school board as it loses its conservative majority.

But not all areas in Oregon are leaning away from conservative leaders. The Bend Bulletin reported the three conservative candidates who sparked an unexpected political spectacle in their race for the Crook County School Board were leading the incumbents, according to early returns Tuesday. 

Challengers Cheyenne Edgerly, Jessica Brumble and Jennifer Knight campaigned on a platform of fighting against an alleged sexualization of materials and attitudes in schools, according to The Bulletin. The three women were referred to in campaign material as the “Mama Bears.” This messaging was similar to the conservative slate in Salem-Keizer.

Other elections this year will affect key public services as well.

In central Oregon, the May election included a pivotal race for the Deschutes Public Library System board. 

According to news reports, the current board has been subject to uncharacteristic controversy in the past year, largely due to disagreement on the voter-approved $195 million library bond, which proposed a new Redmond library and a central library location in Bend when voters passed it in 2020.

Five candidates ran for the three open seats. Two candidates wanted to scrap the centralized library idea, according to the Bulletin, and the other three wanted to continue with the bond plan. Initial returns Tuesday showed Raymond Miao, one of the candidates wanting to change course, comfortably winning his seat.

Other library board elections in Oregon were faced with candidates who favored more restrictions on display and acquisition standards.

View election results from across the state at results.oregonvotes.gov.

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Natalie Pate
Natalie Pate

Natalie Pate is a journalist and author based in Salem, Oregon. She covered education for the Statesman Journal for more than seven years and was the co-founder and lead of the Salem Storytellers Project. She was an Investigative Reporters and Editors Fellow in 2021 and remains an IRE mentor and member of the Education Writers Association. She was named a 2022 EWA Reporting Fellow and published an in-depth series that summer on prison literacy programs. She is a graduate of Willamette University, where she majored in politics and French. Find her on Twitter @NataliePateGwin.

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