The Salem-Keizer School Board elections were held in May. Progressive forces in Salem backed Raul Marquez and David Salinas. Unfortunately, they lost and the Board is now made up of right-wingers and a couple of people who drift with the wind. The Board unanimously elected Marty Heyen as chairperson. Heyen is associated with the far-right of the Republican Party. She seems most interested in using the Board to advance her own career. We now have a School Board chairperson who supports gun rights, leans towards anti-tax and anti-vaxx positions, doesn’t seem to have supported public education and public services in the past, and seems lost when it comes to student equity, budgets, and the needs of communities of color and working-class people. And the Board seems okay with her and her positions.
The right-wing did not win because they have majority support. They won because voter turnout was low, because Oregon Right To Life dumped money and attack ads, because Board members did not unite and speak out for Marquez and Salinas, and because the core working-class and people of color forces needed to win were not fully engaged. Immediately after the election youth associated with Latinos Unidos Siempre made a stunning presentation at a Board meeting about youth, immigrant and people of color rights that the Board did not respond to. That brave pushback has been followed by others—DSA members included—who have publicly and loudly denounced Board members’ efforts to dismantle anti-racist Board policies, block full funding for public education, and head off challenges to how we elect Board members in the Salem-Keizer School District.
Business-as-usual at the Board means that business interests and the pro-corporate tax avoiders of the scandal-plagued Salem-Keizer Education Foundation get their way and have their voices heard while the rest of us are patronized or ignored. A few good proclamations get passed and then get shelved. The Board voted to support Pride and to endorse protecting students from ICE raids and to support Hispanic Heritage Month. The proclamation supporting Hispanic Heritage Month gives us a look in to how the Board operates: the proclamation commends PCUN, the farmworkers union, but both Heyen and the last Board chair are unable to pronounce Latinx names and show interest in learning and rudely silenced a PCUN spokesperson when they ran one minute over the allotted speaking time. The Board has also shown an interest in union busting and continuing to support the conservative Oregon School Boards Association.
The Oregon Voting Rights Act passed the legislature, opening the method of Board elections to possible challenges. The Board may attempt redistricting in order to maintain its conservative majority. There will also be challenges over how the Board oversees and spends money intended to benefit our schools. We expect a strong fight over the efforts by some Board members to sink the Board’s equity lens policies which were intended to guide school policies and actions affecting specially oppressed and undeserved communities.
Can you lend a hand in our struggle to save public education and public services for all? There is a PCUN-led community coalition that needs your help, and Board meetings are now a forum for community involvement and protest. Contact Salem DSA for info.