Osvaldo Avila resigns from school board

Osvaldo Avila has resigned from the Salem-Keizer School Board, saying he wants to prioritize time with his family after two and a half years in the position.

Avila announced his decision in a letter to board Chair Karina Guzmán Ortiz Wednesday. He issued a public statement through the school district Thursday.

“I am grateful for the opportunity and privilege I have had over these past few years to serve tens of thousands of students in our community while getting to know the educators and staff that have a daily impact on them as well,” the statement said.

He declined to comment further when contacted by Salem Reporter Thursday.

Avila represented west Salem, zone 1. He was elected to a four-year term in 2021 in a four-way race for the seat. Avila, who works for the state Higher Education Coordinating Commission, was part of a liberal slate of candidates generally backed by unions and progressive groups. 

Avila, along with Guzmán Ortiz and Maria Hinojos Pressey, were the first Latinos elected to the board serving a district that is about 45% Latino students. All three are bilingual.

“Over the past few years, serving our community in this capacity has been historic and one of my most personal achievements; giving back to the students of Salem-Keizer along with all of its educators through my leadership, has been rewarding. I wish you, the fellow board directors and Superintendent Andrea Castañeda, all the best and confidently believe you will continue to achieve common goals and continue to improve the lives of the students in this wonderful school district,” he said in his resignation letter.

He served as board chair his first year. That year, schools resumed in-person classes for the first time since the Covid pandemic. 

Avila presided over several meetings where opposing groups of protesters confronted each other both in the parking lot outside and in the boardroom as state policies requiring masks in school became a flashpoint.

He survived a 2022 recall attempt backed by a conservative political action committee that accused him and other board members of being dismissive of parents with differing political views and failing to moderate public comment appropriately. The effort failed to gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Last year, former Superintendent Christy Perry decided to ban Avila from football games through the 2023 season after an investigator hired by the district determined Avila put his hand on a football referee during a dispute about the crew’s calls following his son’s football game against Sheldon High School.

Avila was part of the board that hired Castañeda, who is currently serving her first year.

“I am grateful for Director Avila’s steady leadership throughout my transition into Salem-Keizer Public Schools. He is unfailingly courageous and student and family-centered in his leadership of our district. We will miss his presence and contributions on the board but are proud to count him amongst Salem-Keizer Public School’s many supporters,” Castañeda said in a statement Thursday.

Under state law, the rest of the school board will appoint a new director to serve the remainder of Avila’s term, which runs until June 30, 2025. That director would need to live in zone 1, be a registered voter and not be employed by the school district. 

District spokesman Aaron Harada said he would have more details on the application process next week.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.