The Philomath School Board will see at least one new face and possibly two beginning in July when its five members take their seats at the table.

Incumbent Karen Skinkis, a medical office manager, is running to retain Position 5 with a challenge from Sandi Hering, a retired veterinary technician. 

Meanwhile, Ryan Cheeke, a longtime farmer and rancher, and Steven King, retired after a career in technology and education, are vying for Position 2. The seat is currently held by Christopher McMorran, who was appointed to the position to finish the term by Anton Grube.

School Board election Q-and-A with Hering, Skinkis

In the second of two articles featuring a question-and-answer format with Philomath School Board candidates, incumbent Karen Skinkis and challenger Sandi Hering share their perspectives on various topics. Skinkis, a medical office manager, and Hering, a retired veterinary technician, are vying for Position 5 on the board. The Benton County Elections office planned to begin…

Both positions include four-year terms.

The Benton County Elections office planned to begin mailing out ballots this week for the May 16 special election.

The Philomath News invited all four candidates to participate in a question-and-answer in an effort to provide more insight to voters. Each candidate had a 100-word limit for each question.

In this article, Cheeke and King answer five questions.

Q1: Sitting on a public board can involve long hours and you receive no payment. What is your primary motivation for running for a school board position? Why do you want to do this?

Cheeke: “My motivation for running for School Board is that I genuinely care about our youth and feel the need to prepare them with the tools they need to be successful in this world, starting with their education. I want to be on the School Board to help in decision making, to ensure that our communities’ children receive the best level of education, along with the most vocational opportunities possible. I believe that if we as a community want to see a positive change it is imperative to start with our children.”

King: “I have spent 40  years working in education at all levels: teaching in elementary, middle, high schools and college; working with lots of school districts, a dozen state departments of education, and the U.S. Department of Education. I’ve been involved on dozens of school district accreditation teams doing deep dives into school district operations. The one insight that comes from all this is the crucial role played by effective school boards. I’m retired now. I still have the desire, energy and time to serve where my knowledge and experience can be the most useful.”

Q2: Dealing with controversies comes with the territory and Philomath is not immune from such circumstances. Something that came up in the past year involved parents who wanted a book removed from a library. What’s your perspective on this type of situation?

Cheeke: “As a School Board, we need to be open to hearing concerns from parents on any situation they feel could be negatively affecting their children’s education.”

King: “As a School Board, we need to listen to, acknowledge, and respect the comments of our students’ parents. We also must respect and acknowledge the expertise and the recommendations from our community and our library staff as to the age and content appropriateness of the library collection. Materials in the library are instructional support materials; a broad variety of options should be available. Parents should have appropriate access to review materials, a process to request we review and a mechanism to restrict what materials their child can borrow. They shouldn’t be able to restrict what other students can borrow.”

Q3: If the board as a whole approves a motion that you voted against, do you feel that you could support the decision? Why or why not?

Cheeke: “The purpose of any board is to have multiple points of view and to bring different skill sets to the table. I don’t expect to always agree with other members of the board; however, I will work to build consensus because I believe that is in the best interest of our students.”

King: “It is crucial that once a decision is made that all members of the board stand behind and support that decision. The decision is done. A cohesive board is more effective than one where division and divisiveness are the norms. Often, if real extremes exist, a vote can be postponed until more of a consensus can be reached. But once voted and passed, both sides need to respect and support the will of the majority.”

Q4: Do you have specific suggestions for improvement in the Philomath School District?

Cheeke: “I think that Philomath has a great school district. I wholeheartedly agree with their mission statement of, ‘Graduate EVERY student and transition each into a job, training, or college’ and feel that they are doing that very well. I hope to bring fresh perspective and ideas to the board to help increase the success of the students in our district.”

King: “I’m not running with any particular agenda or issue in mind. I am running with the mindset of ‘first, do no harm.’ State and other reports indicate the district is doing well relative to similar districts. There is room for improvement, however. The pandemic took a toll on student learning. Math and reading scores, while better than average, are still bad. We need to find ways to find some additional instructional time to help students catch up. But we need to do this without further burning out staff.”

Q5: If the school district finds itself in a budgetary crisis, in what areas would you look to make cuts? Are there any areas you would not consider cutting?

Cheeke: “I sincerely hope that our district does not find itself in a budgetary crisis. One of our jobs as a board is to plan ahead so that we don’t have to make budgetary cuts. As a local business owner of 23 years, I have a good understanding of fiscal responsibility and operating within a budget. I enjoy challenges and finding creative budgetary solutions; I hope this knowledge would help reduce the need to make unnecessary cuts to programs that would benefit our students.”

King: “Tight budgets are always tough. This is especially true when the district has been fiscally responsible to the tax-paying public and routinely runs a lean operation. Noninstructional expenses should be the first targets. Deferring maintenance is a common short-term target. Deferring or stretching out new curriculum adoptions in certain areas may help some (this doesn’t apply to science, technology or other rapidly changing subjects). Other expenses should be evaluated by how directly they tie to the district goal of ‘Graduate Every Student and transition each of them into a job, training, or college.’”

Brad Fuqua

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.