Ryan Cheeke talks to the Philomath School Board last August while interviewing for a seat that had been vacated. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Two longtime Philomath residents with connections to the schools primarily through their children and commitment to the community will be sworn in as the newest School Board members in July.

Sandi Hering

Sandi Hering beat out incumbent Karen Skinkis for one of those seats by a 56-44 margin. Results updated Friday showed Hering leading 1,349 votes to 1,067. Ryan Cheeke had a winning margin of 54-46 over Steven King at 1,324 to 1,113.

Hering, who has lived in Philomath since she and her husband married almost 46 years ago, said there is a lot to learn as she prepares to take the seat but believes the district is in a good place.

“I think Philomath is doing a good job, a really good job, and I think we have a lot to offer the kids,” she said. “We’re not having issues that other school districts are either … We’ve got a great community and just think we’re in a good place — it could be a better place but we’re in a good place.”

Hering’s kids went through the Philomath school system from kindergarten through high school.

“I volunteered in the classroom and was really involved and I loved Philomath schools,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine raising them anywhere else.”

Cheeke, who has kids ages 8 and 10 in the school system, approaches his new responsibility with a no-nonsense way of thinking. He didn’t even necessarily desire to be on the School Board, calling his involvement more of an obligation. But he said he can offer the perspective of someone who started and built his own business, possesses budgeting skills and has an outspoken personality.

“I just figured people should be involved in the communities they live in,” Cheeke said. “I’m not very familiar and involved in the Philomath School District. My kids are in there .. I think Clemens Primary and the elementary are fantastic — my kids are well above their grade levels and I think they’re doing great. I truly have not been to the middle or high school so I can’t really comment on that.”

Ryan Cheeke

Cheeke and Hering saw somewhat limited interaction with the community leading up to Election Day. The primary opportunity for the public to meet with them and other candidates occurred at an April 22 meet-and-greet at Marcotte Distilling.

The Philomath News published interviews utilizing a question-and-answer format with all four candidates. Three of the four, including Cheeke and Hering, chose not to participate in a nearby daily newspaper’s Q-and-A. Both of the winning candidates had yard signs made up and those could be seen around town.

“I enjoy talking to people and I wish there would have been more of that,” Hering said. “But, I mean, I was comfortable with everything that led up to it as well.”

Cheeke, a local farmer and rancher for over 23 years, said that if he had put together a campaign speech, he would’ve talked about Philomath’s past and the people that contributed to its development.

“Our community was founded on timber and agriculture and we should remember where our community came from,” he said. “There’s so much history that people are trying to take out of the schools because they disagree with how it was. It’s not our history to change. Everybody should know what the history of Philomath is … agriculture and timber funded the town and it still funds the schools. Kids should know that.”

The candidates had different experiences on the night of the election. The first results were published just after 8 p.m. that showed they were both in good positions to win their seats.

“There was no get-together but boy was my phone burning up,” Hering laughed. “There was a lot of messaging and texting going on.”

Cheeke, an early riser with kids and a job that demands an early start, said, “I went to bed … turned my phone off and went to bed.”

Caution tape warns people to stay out of Downing Research Forest. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

2. Downing forest questions

Downing Research Forest, the 10-acre spot located between Chapel Drive and the middle school, has served as an educational tool primarily for Philomath High’s forestry program through the years. This past December, the forest took a big hit when a destructive windstorm blew through, knocked down several trees and weakened several others.

“It didn’t sustain much damage on the edges of it but the center of it was just decimated,” School Board Chair Rick Wells said Thursday during the group’s meeting. “What we would like to do as a district with that property right now is unknown. But I feel we should do something with it and a discussion needs to start somewhere as to what we can do with it and what we need to do with it.”

Wells suggested getting together with a peer group that forestry instructor Simon Babcock has in place “to find out the best way to deal with all of the blow-down and how we can clean that up, how we can improve on what’s left there.”

A logger offered to come in and clean it up, Wells mentioned, but he didn’t have any details.

“I want to have this group of people sit down and see what the best way is to move forward but we need to get it done in a timely manner,” Wells said. “If we do nothing, it’s one of those things where we inherit the risk of more trees falling at a later date and if somebody gets injured, then you know the liability is on us because we knew there was a risk there and didn’t do anything about it. So we need to get it cleaned up and improve that stand.”

Wells also brought up the Castle Family Forest, which was gifted in 2016 to the Philomath Community Foundation with the stipulation that it be used for educational purposes for the local schools. The 20-acre forest is located along Kings Valley Highway in the Wren area.

In addition, he mentioned the idea that perhaps something could be done on the wetlands property that will be landlocked following the proposed street extension project to connect South 16th to the Cedar Street-South 17th intersection behind the elementary school.

So, all three of those areas appear to be discussion topics in the near future.

The Benton County Public Podcast has produced two episodes so far. (Image via YouTube screenshot)

3. New type of communication

Benton County’s public information office and other county departments, including the Board of Commissioners, started a podcast series as a “platform for county officials and community members to engage in meaningful conversations about the issues that matter most to the residents of Benton County.”

KORC Radio’s Dan Crall serves as the host and producer.

So far, two episodes have been recorded. The first goes through the history of the Coffin Butte landfill and the county’s solid waste management efforts. The second one features the Jackson-Frazier Wetland and work happening to maintain and preserve it. 

Find links to the first two podcasts in the series on a dedicated location on YouTube.

As of Saturday morning, the YouTube channel had 319 subscribers. A feed to the podcasts are also available at RSS.com.

The next episode will feature Benton County’s homeless response and the Corvallis Daytime Drop-In Center.

(Brad Fuqua is publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He can be reached at News@PhilomathNews.com).

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.

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