Advocate School Board Endorsements: Nine Run, We Pick Four

Ostensibly, school board races are nonpartisan – the goal being making the city a better place for our children. That’s often been the case in Corvallis. Two years ago, all the school board candidates ran unopposed. But this is 2021, and conservatives and progressives are squaring off, and all four seats on the ballot this cycle are contested.   

Boards like these require constructive negotiation between their members, and whoever wins this cycle will serve alongside at least three incumbents who won’t be up for reelection for another two years. There will need to be cooperativeness on the board as the district emerges from the pandemic during a period of social and economic uncertainty. We mention this because we have some concerns. 

At The Advocate, we like a good, fair race as much as the next human. But two of these contestants, Bryce Clearly and Ginger Schudel Larcom have, we believe, campaigned so negatively, and even dishonestly, that they have disqualified themselves as serious contenders. Cleary’s actions have been so concerning, that we’ve issued an Editorial Board analysis of his campaign

On a more positive note, we believe the current Board works well together, having met unanticipated challenges admirably well. Other than the aforementioned, we still have seven excellent candidates, three of them incumbents. Our biggest problem is that we only get to choose four.  

Position one: We endorse Sami Al-AbdRabbuh   

Current Board Chair, Sami Al-AbdRabbuh, has earned respect from allies and opponents over the years – and is generally seen as an independent thinker. He’s progressive, but more policy-oriented than partisan. For instance, Al-AbdRabbuh stood against Measure 97, even as most progressives were for it. Al-AbdRabbuh has a reputation for deep thoughtfulness and civility, and we believe he is the precise leader the current moment calls for.  

Al-AbdRabbuh’s conservative opponent, Bryce Clearly, lies in stark contrast. At one point in his voters pamphlet statement he writes, “So what has our School Board been doing? Pushing political agendas and furthering their personal aspirations. This has got to stop.” We report for a living, and we’re letting you know, none of Cleary’s claims are true. Cleary likes to point out he’s a physician, but we’d also remind people that Gov. John Kitzhaber was also a physician, and he ultimately left the governorship amid an ethics investigation, later paying $20,000 in fines. Our point being: Physicians don’t necessarily translate into good public servants.   

Al-AbdRabbuh models what so many people, progressive and conservative, quietly pine for. Cleary is the opposite of all that.  

Position 4: We endorse Luhui Whitebear  

Luhui Whitebear was appointed to a vacancy on the board last year, and we believe she’s performed excellently. As an Indigenous mother of children in the district, Whitebear, a progressive, was the only candidate at our CitySpeak Debate to talk about a federally funded program for American Indian students, pointing out that it’s free money for the district to support these students. We were impressed with the pragmatism over funding, and the pragmatism that extended to other answers from Whitebear, as well. She also spoke most eloquently, and from lived experience, concerning our questions about racism and the Black Lives Matter movement.  

Rich Arnold, a conservative, seems moderate to us. As a district budget committee member, he supported moving resources to serve marginalized students. A major point he makes is the district should be tracking to see if those programs are working, we assume so adjustments can be made if needed. Some on our staff agree with Arnold, others accept Whitebear’s counter-argument that those resources need a few years to show their impact. At our CitySpeak debate, we asked about philosophical and religious exemptions to district vaccine requirements, Arnold would continue the religious exemption, but not the philosophical one – Whitebear would continue both.   

On balance, Whitebear has the weightier list of positives for this seat – she exemplifies the benefit of diversity on the board, and brings new thinking and viewpoints.  

Position 5: We endorse Shauna Tominey   

There are three candidates running for this seat – Shauna Tominey is progressive, Ginger Schudel Larcom is conservative, and Rachelle Spindler is unaligned, but close with Tominey on a number of issues. Tominey speaks to more issues, and in our CitySpeak debate, she consistently answered with greater depth than Spindler – demonstrating greater depth than we often see from candidates, generally.  

Though Tominey is our pick for this seat, Spindler’s lived experiences, professional background, and platform in this race have substantive value – so do some of her expressed frustrations with the district. The current administration and next board would do well to internalize some of the points Spindler is making.  

Schudel Larcom, as discussed above, is not a worthwhile consideration for this seat. Just take a few minutes with her social media, and you’ll see what we mean. At one point, she even chides Corvallis schools for not reopening like Alsea has – their student counts being 6,748 versus 321 respectively.  

This is the singular race not sought by an incumbent this year. We believe Tominey would be an excellent addition to the board. 

Position 6: We endorse Vince Adams  

Vince Adams, quite literally, has a degree in this stuff, having earned a Masters of Public Policy from Oregon State University. He’s become a School Board Development Specialist with the Oregon School Boards Association – first joining our local board in 2013. Adams is also its former chair – frequently navigating the district through turbulent times. Adams is that stable-handed, well-humored leader one wants around in times like these. This candidate is progressive.  

Seeking to unseat Adams is Tim Euhus, a conservative. On paper, Euhus looks typical for his political bent, but at our CitySpeak debate he revealed a more nuanced sensibility. To be clear, he’s still centered on the Three R’s, and he’s likely somewhat conservative socially, but he does not seem like an ideologue. He talks on themes of meeting individual students’ needs with individuated programs, and points positively to a number of programs in the district. He also points to the experiences of his own dyslexic son as cautionary, both realizing that he is fortunate to have resources to find him help, and concerned for families that don’t have those resources. We noted both these candidates were immensely respectful of one another during the debate – it was heartening to watch.   

That said, Adams demonstrated quicker and deeper command of the facts at our debate, which is what you’d expect from an incumbent. Where Adams exceeds expectations is his ability to somehow stay grounded in the realities while also remaining unflappably positive and constructive. He’s the right guy for the job right now.  

Final thoughts 

Of the three incumbents running, we’ve endorsed all of them because we think they’re pretty much nailing it. But, even if you don’t agree, you may want to seriously pause before considering a vote for Schudel Larcom or Cleary.