Cliff hanger: Traeger, Stadeli elected to school board, Nealon holds 19-vote lead

June 2017 Posted in Community, School

By Steve Ritchie

Challengers in the May 16, 2017 Silver Falls School Board election successfully unseated at least one and possibly two incumbent board members.

While results are still unofficial and votes from some unsigned ballots will be added to the totals on May 31, Zone 4 challenger Jennifer Traeger has an insurmountable 513 vote lead over Wally Lierman. Lierman, who has served for the past 20 years on the Silver Falls School Board, is the current board chair.

In Zone 5 challenger Shelly Nealon holds a slim, 19 vote lead over Aaron Koch, who is the current vice-chair of the board. Nealon’s total is 2,004 versus Koch’s 1,985.

Ervin Stadeli, the board incumbent in Zone 2, led challenger Michelle Stone Finicle by nearly 400 votes, a lead that, like Traeger’s, appears to be safe.

Voters who forgot to sign their ballot, or whose signature did not match their registration, were able to resolve those issues through May 30 at the county elections office. Marion County Clerk Bill Burgess said on May 23 that “ten ballots have been cleared to be counted and there could be a few more by the deadline.”

Burgess also said his office would certify the election results on or before June 5, and the results would then be sent to the Silver Falls School District, which certifies that the winning candidates are eligible to serve.

However, if the Nealon-Koch race is decided by less than one-fifth of one percent of the votes cast in the election   the result will trigger an automatic recount. The losing candidate could also request a recount, if the margin is greater than the automatic recount standard. It is unclear whether either candidate would choose to do so, if they lost. Koch said, “I haven’t even thought about it,” and Nealon declined to comment.

The newly-formed Silverton Opportunity Political Action Committee was active in the school board election, raising nearly $6,000 and recruiting volunteers for the challengers.

The overall voter turnout rate for the Special District election in Marion County was approximately 24 percent. The Silver Falls School Board election had significantly higher participation at 33.6 percent. Turnouts for special elections involving school board, fire districts and library boards are typically much lower than for general elections.

Still, Lierman felt the turnout may have hurt him. He acknowledged that his two decades on the board could have been a factor in his defeat as well. “It probably worked against me to a point,” he said, “I completely understand that, but again the results of the school district are pretty outstanding right now, and I’m disappointed more people didn’t support me.”

But Lierman complimented Traeger on her campaign, saying, “I think that Jennifer ran a positive campaign. She kept it to the issues and there were no personal attacks and I appreciated that and I did the same.”

In a Facebook message, Traeger said she was honored to have won a seat on the board, and thanked Lierman for his years of service to the district schools. She also thanked her husband, children, mother and “all the many volunteers who worked tirelessly with Silverton Opportunity to get out our message about creating a responsive, thriving, and equitable school system in our district.”

Asked about her priorities on the board, Traeger said, “Right now, I see an opportunity to improve school climate. At the candidate forum, a recent SHS grad raised the subject of racism. Likewise, a current SHS student recently told me a story about her younger sibling, who has autism, being treated unkindly at school because of his differences. Students don’t learn if they don’t feel safe.

“I want to have an accurate picture of school climate.  I want to be able to address issues and determine if what we are doing is working and identify resources for areas that may need shoring up. The good news is that improvements in school climate contribute to increased graduation rates which is a priority goal for the district.”

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