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.

School Board election Q-and-A with Cheeke, King

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…

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 the Q-and-A in an effort to provide more insight to voters. Each candidate had a 100-word limit for each question.

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?

Hering: “I ‘graduated’ from the Philomath Citizens Academy last fall. The Philomath School District session piqued my interest. I’m retired and I’m able to get more involved with the education of our students. Having been a 4-H leader for the last 35 years, I’m very active in advocating for our youth. I was approached by a few community members that encouraged me to run for School Board. Since there were two vacant seats coming up, I recognize there’s a need. I decided this is my time to run. I’ll do my best for our future leaders, whichever path they choose.”

Skinkis: “Volunteering in our community has always been a big part of who I am, whether it was in the schools, Girl Scouts or PTO. Once my kids were through school, I was still looking for a way to give back and participate in our community in a meaningful way. For me, being on the board is a way to feel like I am doing something to help shape our future generations and it fills me with hope and a sense of purpose.”

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?

Hering: “No school board is without controversy. It’s part of what each school board has to navigate. The first priority of the school board is to ensure that every student gets the best education we have to offer within the  budget we have to work with. When dealing with conflict, we need to listen, learn and come together with a resolution that is in the best interest of our students’ learning experience. Everyone will have an opinion, not everyone will agree. We will need to be transparent in conflict resolution.”

Skinkis: “At the core it is important to always remember what our focus should be, doing what is best for the kids. It is hard, though, as we are all human and all have differing opinions of what we consider best for kids. My approach is to remember to focus on the issue and not the people. We can have respectful interactions and still disagree. In addition, I lean heavily into the expertise of the staff in our district that have the educational background to help navigate these circumstances.”

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?

Hering: “If the board as a whole approves a motion that I voted against, it may be difficult for me to support the decision, but I will accept it. The board’s decision is always a majority vote. I would hope we are all aligned and have the same goals we’re working toward. It’s understood that not every vote will necessarily be unanimous, but I don’t believe it needs to be detrimental. A majority vote in a different direction than mine won’t change my mind, but it will inspire me to be more creative with a solution.”

Skinkis: “Yes, I can support the decision, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. It does mean that I would not let my personal feelings get in the way of the work we need to do. If the focus is on the kids and not our egos we will be able to do better work for the district, rather than getting mired down in conflict and unable to function. It serves no one for there to be a breakdown of collaboration between the board members.”

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

Hering: “At this moment in time, I don’t have specific suggestions for improvements within the district. I know we are doing a lot of things right and well. I also know there is always room for improvement, in anything. I will have much more insight if I become a board member. If I’m elected, I have a lot to learn, and I will learn before I jump in to propose changes.”

Skinkis: “This is a tough one for me. I believe that our schools are functioning well, we have great state testing scores and graduation rates. Could we be doing more? Sure, there is always room for improvement. But we have teachers and staff that are already giving their 110%. If money were no object though, I would specifically love to see us continue to build on our CTE programs, add more options for our students so that we can continue to graduate EVERY student and transition each of them into a job, training, or college.”

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?

Hering: “If the district finds itself in a budgetary crisis, the entire budget would need to be evaluated. I’m not in a position to speak about specific budget cuts because I don’t have enough information to make any suggestions. When and if that time comes, I’m ready to accept the challenge and review the entire budget. Then I would offer to make any recommendations I would have. From what I have learned, that information won’t be available to the public for review until May 4. In the meantime, I can’t speculate.”

Skinkis: “It appears that we will be facing some tough decisions during this next budget cycle, which would have been made far worse had our community not supported the schools with the local option levy. For me, areas that I would consider not cutting are some of the “icing” on the cake. If COVID taught us anything, it is that school isn’t just about the classes, but all of the extracurriculars, the performing arts programs and sports as examples, that keep kids engaged and wanting to be at school everyday. It is the social connections that keep kids engaged.”

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.