More than 50 citizens filled the Chetco Community Public Library meeting room Wednesday night to hear candidates vying for board seats in four special districts share their visions on everything from sewer rates to state funding for Southwestern Oregon Community College.
There are nine candidates running for four seats on the SWOCC board, five of whom attended the League of Women Voters forum Wednesday in Brookings.
Marcia Jensen, running for Position 2, said she’s feels state financing for the institution, which has dropped in the 10 years she’s been involved from 50 percent to 22 percent, is the biggest problem facing SWOCC today.
“It’s an issue with community colleges across the nation,” Jensen said.
“We have to find a backfill. Raising tuition is not what I want to do,” Jensen said. “We need sustainable funding. We need to keep tuition affordable and have faculty and staff in line with their needs.”
Julie Kremers of Coos Bay is running for the Position 5 seat. She said she believes there are areas in the district that can be streamlined to save money.
“I have heard (some schools) are not up to staffing the community needs,” she said. “I don’t want to see that building sitting empty up on that hill. We need to bring back the vision of the founder: ‘making education affordable to all the working folks.’ I want to help bring his vision of an affordable education for the working people of Coos, Curry and Douglas counties.”
Ian Maitland, running for the Position 7 seat along with Danny Stoddard and Judy May-Lopez, agreed, saying more needs to be done to provide students with the opportunity for higher education.
David Bridgham, running for the Position 4 seat, emphasized the importance of rural colleges having a voice at the state level.
Vocational and technical education is not to be forgotten in an ever-changing economic world, the candidates agreed, some noting that the high school should reinstate such classes — woodshop, welding, home economics and auto repair among them — while offering college-credit opportunities for those students.
“I am all for students going into the world early,” Maitland said. “They get an idea what it’s like in the real world. I’d be for it if the education is of a high quality.”
Currently, the board is working to further expand into health, science and technology fields.
“We need to see what they want and help them get real-world experience,” Bridgham said. “We need to reach out to businesses and industry to offer relevant training.”
Kremers said courses should be available for students to take over the many jobs increasingly being vacated by retiring fishermen, plumbers, electricians and others.
“The opportunity for vocational and technical training is a critical tie from SWOCC to the community,” Jensen said. “If the college is aware you need a program, we should provide it. It’s part of our college mission.”
May-Lopez said she is excited about education and its relationship in the community.
“SWOCC leads and inspires lifelong learning — can you say it any better than that?” she said. “It’s what SWOCC is here for, and I want to help them do it.”
The candidates who were unable to attend included Renée Menkens, running for Position 4; Tim Bishop, running for Position 5; Holly Hall Stamper, running for Position 2 and Danny Stollard, running for Position 7.
Brookings school district
There are now seven citizens running for three seats on the Brookings-Harbor School District Board.
The three women in attendance and running for seats — Alice Farmer (Position 2), incumbent Carol Ann Slewing and Katherine Ann Johnson (Position 5) — each have children and have been involved in numerous volunteer organizations related to students.
Incumbent Brad Peters, running for Position 4, said he’s got a different reason for wanting to be on the board.
“I love what I do,” the incumbent said. “I thought it (the term) was only for a year when I first ran, but it’s four. And I enjoy it. I enjoy the students, the staff, and I’d like to do it again.”
“I needed a child fix,” Slewing said, noting that she’s had four children, nine foster kids and seven foreign exchange students running through her life over the years. Most are out of the school system now.
She’d like to see more extracurricular field trips offered, vocational education reinstated and another counselor added to staff.
Questions from the audience ranged from perceived conflicts of interest, teacher bullying and how the district could be affected if the May 21 levy measure fails.
“If the levy fails, it won’t have a direct impact (on schools), because it’s specific for law enforcement,” Johnson said. “However, the long-term has me concerned.”
She knows the police officer who left Grants Pass because of increased crime after a tax levy there failed last year.
“It didn’t take but six months and people were choosing certain parts of Josephine County — Cave Junction — knowing law enforcement wasn’t going to be as visible,” Johnson said. “We’ll attract those kind of people and, over time, that will send a message that the community is not safe to the significant number of students who live in the county.
“That’ll turn up in the schools. It will trickle down to them,” she added. “Everything’s not about how (things are) impacted financially; there are other things.”
Farmer said she worries about the safety of the students in an environment with less law enforcement, and feels the board needs to provide a way to fill any shortage.
“If there are problems at home, more crime, it will affect the district,” she said.
Slewing and Peters said school district financial numbers fluctuate anyway, and they will address any financial issues based on budgetary procedures.
Another question posed to Slewing concerned the district’s graduation rate of about 66 percent and why the board decided to eliminate a class period at the high school.
Slewing said graduation figures are difficult to pin down, and the class period was later reinstated.
“That was a really bad mistake,” she said. “They need an extra period to study, to get mentoring, to get help. The high school has rigid requirements; it’s hard to graduate.”
Peters said classes formerly used for some vocational classes are still filled — with students studying robotics, which requires woodworking, welding, computer-aided drafting among other skills useful in the trades.
Candidates who couldn’t make the forum included incumbent Allene Fewell (Position 2), Sue Chambers (Position 4), Bruce Raleigh (Position 5).
Port of Brookings Harbor
Five candidates are in the running for three, four-year terms at the Port of Brookings Harbor. Mike Manning, who was appointed last year to the Position 1 seat, is uncontested.
But incumbent Sue Gold and Roger Thompson are running for the Position 4 seat; Tim Patterson and Al Cornell are vying for Ted Freeman’s Position 5 seat.
All said they believe Port Manager Ted Fitzgerald has overcome many obstacles to get the port out of debt and the marina and docks restored after the 2011 tsunami.
“I originally got on the board eight years ago because of inequity issues and fiscal problems — we’re talking big-time fiscal problems,” Gold said. “We were $7.3 million in debt, had a line of credit of $300,000 in an interest-only loan. There was no light at the end of the tunnel.”
Now debt is down to $5.6 million and three loans are paid.
Gold touts her experience as a math teacher — garnering her the nickname “Nickel-Nose” — for her skills in fiscal responsibility and accountability.
“You want representation from someone who has nothing to gain,” she said. “That is me.”
Thompson, with his background at the Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce, believes the port needs to invest more in promotion.
“The crown jewel of Brookings is the port,” he said. “Tourism would help the port along a lot.”
Patterson said another way to make the port more profitable could be to convert the “gray ghost” building into a convention center.
“We should use that to the highest, best-use building we can ever achieve,” he said. “It would bring in the most revenue for the least impact on residents. It could be the single-most important way to get money into Brookings from the outside world in the winter.
“It’ll cost money, maybe $1 million, $1.5 million, but the port is in much better financial shape and I think it can be accomplished.”
Patterson also supports the idea of annexing the port property into Brookings — an issue that momentarily got candidates talking about Harbor merging with Brookings.
“If you asked the people in Harbor if they’d annex, they’d say, ‘No way in H,’” Cornell said. “Harbor should annex Brookings. Brookings is only here because the harbor is here and is the economic backbone of this area.”
Patterson disagreed, noting that part of the port’s job is to host community events — and the community is Brookings. Additionally, he said, if the May 21 levy fails, the port will need additional law enforcement protection that could better be provided by the city.
Gold said she’s opposed to any annexation as well, and wants to continue working with Fitzgerald to finish repairs and make improvements to the port.
“He’s done a wonderful job as manager,” she said. “I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. I could not, the first six or seven years.”
Cornell agreed, saying Fitzgerald’s “done a wonderful job at minimal expense. He’s put the port back together. He’s a lawyer — he speaks the language of the state and county. I couldn’t see a better person on the job.”
Two residents are vying for positions on the Harbor Sanitation District Board Position 1 seat.
VaConna Walters, the incumbent, has a background in health, and wants to be involved with the status of the area’s sewer collection system.
“I’m here because I love people; I love my community,” Walters said.
Challenger Tom McCormick said he became interested in the district after hearing about an embezzlement last fall.
“And I want to know why the rates went up,” he said of Brookings’ sewer rates increases that are passed on to Harbor residents for the service. “I want to help do whatever needs to be done. I’m here to help everyone else out.”