Contested seats: Silver Falls incumbents face challengers in board race

April 2017 Posted in Community, School

By Steve Ritchie

With a host of significant financial, facility and educational challenges looming for Silver Falls School District, the May school board election has become something of a referendum on the district’s leadership and direction. The election pits three incumbent school board members against four challengers in three zones.

School board elections in Silverton are organized around geographical zones. Each of the seven members on the school district board must live within the zone they represent; however, all voters in the district get the opportunity to vote for candidates in each zone. Three seats are up for election this year. The other four seats will be contested in 2019. All board members are elected to four-year terms.

Ballots were mailed to registered voters beginning April 26, and must be returned to the Marion County Clerk’s office by Tuesday, May 16. Here is a profile of candidates in each of the races:


Ervin StadeliErvin Stadeli

Ervin Stadeli has served on the Silver Falls School Board for the eight years. He says his motivation for serving is a desire to help kids.

“So many young kids do not have structure in their lives so we need to make the school environment the best we can for them so they turn out to have productive lives,” Stadeli said.

A superintendent for K&E Excavation, Stadeli believes the Silver Falls School District is a “coveted district.” His four children have gone through district schools. He is proud of the equality of educational opportunities in both the district’s town and country schools, adding that he wants to “get technology” to all the schools.

One of the issues Stadeli hopes to continue to address as a board member is the unfunded mandates from the state. Stadeli says that his experience as a farmer and businessman can help him address these mandates by thinking creatively. Asked for an example, Stadeli points to a new requirement to teach PE in K-8 schools.

“They’re instructing us that we have to have PE, and it can’t be a parent or a volunteer to teach it… we have to follow the guidelines and mandates.”

Stadeli says the toughest decision the board has made during his tenure was to close Eugene Field School. He supported closing the K-3 school, and said the decision was based on facts, not emotions.

Michele Stone-FinicleMicheleStoneFiniclePhoto (2)

A public school teacher for 12 years, Michele Stone-Finicle believes the school board is “a natural fit” for her skill set. She says her past experiences in education gave her the opportunity to teach a variety of age groups in diverse settings. She gained an understanding of the “creative ways in which schools must adapt and improve to meet the needs of the 21st century student.”

Stone-Finicle now is the development director for North Willamette Valley Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit organization which builds homes with and for low-income families. She sees many parallels between her work for Habitat and her possible board service.

“My job is to raise vital funds (for Habitat) in a cost-effective manner… through state-level advocacy, fundraising campaigns and events, educational outreach, and building partnerships in the community. As budget limitations continue to present a challenge (for the district), my skill set will be directly applicable to the school board’s role in managing the district’s finances.”

The mother of a first-grade student at Mark Twain, Stone-Finicle said her priorities as a board member would include “finding resources beyond the current budget to support vital programs, (improving) school safety and safe walking and biking routes to and from school, and encouraging active and open community engagement in our schools.”

She wants to enhance student success with career and vocational education, and support programs like AVID that reduce dropout rates.

Zone 4

Jennifer TraegerJennifer Traeger

“Education is my calling,” Jennifer Traeger says. “I think the board would benefit from adding the perspective of an educator with a broad range of experience.” Her experience includes 20 years as a teacher in the Woodburn School District, working with families and children in preschool, elementary and high school settings.

She and husband Matt have two children in the Silver Falls District, a kindergartner and a sixth-grader. Traeger has a “great sense of responsibility for serving our children. It’s a big job, so we have to allocate our limited resources in a manner which will give us the best return for our investment.”

Traeger has coordinated Talented & Gifted programs, as well as English Language Proficiency programs. She also helped found the Community Roots Charter School in the Silver Falls District, and was the co-owner of the now-closed Bluebird Montessori Preschool, a small, privately funded program in Silverton.

Traeger said her over-arching priority as a board member would be to help students succeed and graduate. Her work in Woodburn, a high-poverty district with a very diverse student population, has, she said, given her insight into the “power of strategic planning, data-driven decision-making, professional development and effective communication.

“The Silver Falls School District has a 100 percent graduation rate goal. I work with students every day and see the challenges they face. In order to continue to increase the graduation rate, the system will need to address complex issues that can be barriers to graduation.”

James NewkirkJim Eastwick

James Newkirk doesn’t mince words when asked what is motivating him to run for election to a school board position in the Silver Falls District.

“I think some folks have been on the school board too long,” Newkirk said. “They need fresh ideas. And too much is going on behind closed doors – more transparency is needed.”

Newkirk also believes the board needs more expertise in the area of maintaining the district’s buildings. After serving in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years, Newkirk went to work for the district in a maintenance and custodial position. His 23 years in the school district offered him the opportunity to do custodial and summer maintenance work in “just about every building in the Silver Falls School District.”

Newkirk, who retired from the school district in 2015, says the buildings in the district “need some tender loving care.”

Newkirk also has experience working for Ogden Martin, which operates the garbage burning plant in Brooks, and in construction. During his Air Force career, he specialized in electrical power production and satellite control.

Running against an incumbent who has served on the school board for 20 years, Newkirk says it is time for a change.

“I think there ought to be term limits. 12 years should be enough.”

Wally LiermanWally Lierman

Wally Lierman is the current chair of the school board and has served on the board for 20 years. He said he is running for re-election because he has granddaughters who will be starting school soon, and he “wants the district to be even better for them than it was for my children.”

Lierman believes Silver Falls is a “good district” but has room for improvement. Among the major accomplishments during his time on the board, he cites the sound financial condition and relatively low administrative costs of the district. He also lists “very favorable classroom sizes, which are lower than the state average,” and school choice in the district.

With a background in the technology field, Lierman points to his experience “managing large budgets, making and implementing policy, managing people, managing complex projects and identifying and correcting problems.” Lierman now works primarily in agriculture, but still has “a connection to the high tech world.”

Among his list of current and future issues to be addressed, Lierman says the board needs to continue to solve budgetary issues, maintain the district’s aging buildings, and find a principal for the high school who is “a good leader and very relational.”

He believes it will be important to make decisions between “competing priorities of meeting government mandates, enrichment programs, and meeting our educational needs.”

Zone 5

Shelly NealonShelly Nealon

Shelly Nealon thinks the school district is missing an opportunity “by not having more input from our teachers and students to create learning environments that work for them.” If elected, she pledges to visit all the district schools and to be the “kind of board member where anyone can feel comfortable approaching me not only with their concerns about the district but about their successes as well.”

Nealon says she saw in the school board an opportunity where her expertise as an educator could make a difference for district students, parents and employees

The co-owner of a local small business, Nealon Medical Properties, Nealon also has been a classroom teacher and a home-school teacher, as well as an active community volunteer for a number of organizations and civic projects in Silverton.

Like several other candidates, Nealon is concerned about the school district’s potential budget shortfall of over $1 million if the budget proposal of the governor is adopted by the legislature. Her other concerns include overcrowding in classrooms and schools, and a new school voucher plan (HR 610) being pushed in Congress by three conservative Republicans.

“I also want to state that I will always be driven and inspired by the dedication of our principals, teachers and staff who turn out an excellent education every day for our children,” Nealon said.

KochAaron Koch

Aaron Koch has completed a partial term on the Silver Falls School Board, having served for two years. He was elected to an open position when board member Tim Roth moved out of the zone.

“It all comes back to our kids,” Koch said. “I have three kids in the district… it’s about putting our kids first. And that’s what should be the motivation for our decisions.”

State funding and budgetary issues top Koch’s priority list. He agrees with other candidates that the proposed state funding level for education is woefully inadequate.

Koch also supports developing a long-term facilities plan for the district that would address both short and long term needs of in-town and outlying schools, saying, “We have to get together as a board and really plan to meet these needs.”

A regional sales manager for Johnson & Johnson, Koch believes his personal communication style is a positive.

“I have a very open, honest, ethical listening approach… I listen respectfully to all the views being expressed by other board members and the public, understanding the value of our collective wisdom process.

“There are so many good things in this district,” Koch said. “We can always do better but we have a lot of good things going for us.”

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