May 2021 Salem-Keizer School Board candidates for zone 5: Karina Guzmán Ortiz, left, Jesse Lippold Peone and Mike Slagle

On May 18, local voters will select four new members of the Salem-Keizer School Board. Although candidates must live in the district they represent, voters get a say in all four races.

Salem Reporter sent all 11 candidates the same questionnaire in late March based on reader suggestions and major issues facing the board and district. We’re printing responses from candidates over the coming days, organized by zone.

This year, the races have drawn two slates of candidates backed by political action committees. They are Community for Salem-Keizer Schools, organized by liberal and progressive groups including farmworker union PCUN, Progressive Salem; and Marion + Polk First, a conservative group largely funded by Oregon Right to Life.

The races also have several contenders not backed by either group. We’re noting in our Q&As whether candidates are part of one of these slates for added context for voters. For an overview of these groups, their funding sources and interest in board races, see our prior coverage here.

Zone 5 represents southeast Salem and the Four Corners area, including Roberts High School. It’s currently represented by Jesse Lippold Peone, who’s seeking a second term on the board and has drawn two challengers: Karina Guzmán Ortiz and Michael Slagle.

Guzmán Ortiz, 28, works for Oregon’s Early Learning Division and was previously a substitute teacher and childcare worker in the district. She’s part of the Community for Salem-Keizer Schools slate.

Lippold Peone, 25, is a real estate broker and citizen of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. He was first elected to the school board in 2017 and is the only sitting board member seeking re-election in 2021.

Slagle, 60, is an Air Force veteran, coach at Silverton High School and sports official in Salem-Keizer. He is part of the Marion + Polk First slate.

Responses to each question from all candidates are printed below. Candidates are listed in alphabetical order by last name.

How long have you lived in the Salem-Keizer School District? 

Guzmán Ortiz: I have lived in Salem since 1996, that is 25 years.

Lippold Peone: I have lived in the Salem-Metro area almost my entire life. I bounced around the Willamette Valley a lot as a kid between different families, foster care, and homelessness.

Slagle: Over 50 years, I was born here. Was gone for the military for 4 years.

Do you have any children currently in the district, or children who have graduated from the district? If so, please list their current grade(s) or graduation year(s).

Guzmán Ortiz: Yes, two children. My son is in kindergarten, class of 2033. My daughter is in sixth grade, class of 2027.

Lippold Peone: I have a sister (who currently lives with me and I’m her legal guardian) who attends North Salem High School and will be graduating this year. I also have other cousins and family who attend Salem-Keizer Schools.

Slagle: Son graduated 2004, daughter graduated 2009. Grandchild currently attending in the district. Another grandchild on the way who will attend.

Please describe any previous experience with K-12 education or issues. This could include paid or volunteer work in schools or with youth, work in a related organization, or service on committees, boards, task forces, booster clubs, etc. Please include the year(s) for the work or service.

Guzmán Ortiz: I have spent years working in education. I have been a substitute teacher in our Salem-Keizer classrooms, and I have run youth programs, including the TURNO program at Capaces Leadership Institute. I’ve engaged in state-level committees to ensure that when making policy and budget decisions, our state leaders include all students. At other points in my career, I have served families with young children. Currently, I work for the Early Learning Division at the Oregon Department of Education, supporting statewide early learning programs for these very families.

-Oregon Department of Education, Early Childhood Partner Engagement Specialist, January 2021- Present

-Capaces Leadership Institute, TURNO Program Manager, August 2019-March 2021

-Salem-Keizer Public Schools, Substitute Guest Teacher, December 2017-January 2021

-Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, Bilingual Family Educator, September 2014 - December 2017

-Salem Keizer Teen Parent Program, Childcare Assistant, November 2012 - June 2014

-Governors Education Recovery Committee, Member, September 2020-Present

-Alternative Education Redesign Task Force- Salem Keizer Public Schools, Member, March 2020-August 2020

-Student Success Act- Rules Advisory Committee, Member, October 2019-July 2020

Lippold Peone: On the policy side I have served on the Salem-Keizer school board for the past 4 years, was Vice-Chair for one year, am on my third year serving on the Oregon School Boards Associations Legislative Policy Committee, and was just chosen by all of Marion County to serve on OSBA’s Board of Directors. I am currently the Pacific Regional Director on the American Indian and Alaska Native Counsel for the National School Board Association where I represent 11 states, the tribes within, and all of our Native

American students within them where I am the first citizen of Grand Ronde, the youngest ever, and the first from Oregon to hold this position. In order to continue serving in these roles, I need to be re-elected onto the Salem-Keizer school board this year.

On the regular volunteer side, I currently tutor Native American Salem-Keizer students from our Indian Education programs. I led YoungLife at McKay Highschool from 2019-2021, and I have mentored several at-risk Salem-Keizer students. In the past 4 years of my service on the Salem-Keizer school board, I can confidently say that I have been the most involved board member IN our schools. I have spent much of my time volunteering with teachers and students in my last four years of service, and loved every minute of it. While I’m volunteering as Jesse the Human, I learn a lot more about the needs of teachers, students, and parents than I learn from reading the PowerPoint slides at a board meeting.

Slagle: Volunteer coach Boys and Girls Club. 1998-2001

Parrish Little League Coach 1998- 2005, 2009-2011

Parrish Little League Board member 2000-2005

Club Travel Softball Coach 2002-2018

District 7 Little League Board member 2001-2004

Volunteer Coach North Salem High 2004-2010

Volunteer Baseball Coach 2006-2008

Salem Football Official 2008-Current

Salem Basketball Official 2018-Current

North Salem Booster Club Member 2006-2010. President 1 year

On Staff Paid Coach Silverton High 2011- Current

Describe one volunteer circumstance where you held a leadership position and used that position to accomplish a specific goal. We are looking for information on not only previous leadership but effective leadership to share with readers.

Guzmán Ortiz: In 2020, I had the honor of serving as a volunteer advisor for the government body setting rules for allocating the funds from the Student Success Act. We required districts to run a community listening process before making funding decisions. I would bring the experience I got there, working with leaders from across our state, to make sure important education dollars were spent effectively, transparently and responsibly to our local school board.

Lippold Peone: I have MANY proven success stories from my time on the Salem-Keizer school board. One example is when I created the first ever Student Advisor position for the Salem-Keizer school board. I advocated for this position for years, with many on the board being resistant to change, or thinking that we needed to focus on other issues that are “more important.” This last year, I got tired of waiting on board consensus and wrote the policy myself. I then presented to the board, overcame the objections, used the insight to make my policy stronger, brought it back to the board and got it approved. We now have student voice systemically in the board room.Students now have a voice at the table where the decisions are being made and are being taken seriously. Our current Student Advisor Leanette Mabinton has been doing a phenomenal job!

This is just one example of me being able to work across the isle, even with a dysfunctional board, to get policy passed that puts KIDS FIRST. I have the experience and a proven track record of being good at my job as a Salem-Keizer school board director for zone 5. I will use my experience of proven success to continue this work of addressing systemic barriers, I will try my best to turn our board into a highly functional school board, and will continue to fight off special interests and put kids first.

Slagle: One meaningful experience came as president of the Booster Club. We used a concerted community effort to get field turf installed on the sports field at North Salem High. We utilized volunteers to get in touch with Alumni, National Guard and donations from businesses and anonymous donors. We got it done.

What one issue motivated you to run and how would you address that as a board member?

Guzmán Ortiz: I have seen our Salem-Keizer schools from every perspective: As a student myself, as a parent, and as a former substitute teacher in our classrooms. We have amazing teachers and staff in our schools, but unfortunately not every student is receiving the attention and support they need to succeed. Seeing my younger-self reflected in the many students who do not feel engaged or a sense of belonging in our schools has motivated me to run. I want to listen to and support our great staff, and empower parents and students to engage with our schools so that every student can graduate and accomplish their goals.

Lippold Peone: I ran for the Salem-Keizer school board in 2017 to fight for our most vulnerable kids, and I’m running in 2021 to serve my second and final term for the same reason. I know what it’s like to be in foster care, homeless, and to wake up every day with no hope for your future. I know what it’s like to be Native American, to have my family torn apart, and always be told I’m not “Native enough” because I don’t carry a tomahawk around with me. I know what it’s like to overcome these things and be successful, and I made a promise to myself as a teenager while sleeping in an freezing elevator that I would try my best to be successful, then come back and save every kid who has fallen through the cracks and been left behind. I intend to make good on that promise.

In the last four years I have grown exponentially. I have passed policies that put kids first, and been very successful in moving the ball forward for kids. I understand the political world a lot better now, and years ago I stripped myself of political party and past biases so that I can truly focus on improving our education system in a nonpartisan way. I am extending this commitment by being the only candidate in my race that is not accepting any endorsements by partisan interest groups, including any group that is “nonpartisan” but acts in a very partisan way. (Which is most of them.) I am running to fight for our students, to give ALL students a good shot at life, to put KIDS FIRST.

Slagle: I was thinking about how our students lost valuable time in the classroom. How that thoughts of suicide, or delinquent behavior was affecting the mental health of our community’s youth. How that being in school may be the only thing they have to participate in, their only place to feel safe. Why are so many students not graduating? Those combine into one issue about me wanting kids to have a belonging, a purpose. I want them to return to school, to have opportunities to grow and get a good base for their future as adults through a practical curriculum that teaches basics, not an ideology. To break the chain of poverty through education.

The past year of online school has been challenging for many students and families, both academically and from a mental health perspective. Is there any particular result of the pandemic in schools that you would focus on as a board member?

Guzmán Ortiz: This past year has been hard on my children and on me, especially while I continue to work while they are at home. I have also seen how the lack of social time with friends and peers has impacted my two children. I know from my own family and work in the community that we have seniors, and many others, who continue to be vulnerable to this awful pandemic. Safety and health will always be my top priorities as we carefully reopen schools. When fully reopening schools, we need to do it as responsibly as possible. There are many consequences of the pandemic that will require our focus, but as a parent and a Social Worker I will always be aware of and responsive to the social, emotional, and mental health needs of children and youth especially after a year of isolation.

Lippold Peone: Mental Health. Our students are struggling, and I know because I work with a lot of our students, and have a personal relationship from my volunteer work at McKay Highschool. They have been isolated and alone for the past year. Our students experiencing foster care or homelessness are trapped at home with their abusers, or struggling even more without the stability of a safe place to eat and learn. As we begin to reopen schools, we need to focus on taking care of our students and ensuring that they are ok. We need to make sure that as we are re-imagining school discipline (which is being talked about partially because I’ve been fighting for it so hard) that we are talking about how counselors can play a bigger role. We need to come up with creative ways to help students avoid the justice system, and keep them on the path to success.

Slagle: Yes, to reach out and be open for communication about the struggles of students not being able to interact with their peers. Come up with solutions to combat the root cause of isolation and depression by listening to their concerns and why they feel disconnected. The district should not have taken so long to return kids to school—and we are not even there yet! If we were listening better we would have happened faster.

The board has a specific policy to consider underserved, diverse, and marginalized individuals and groups when deciding school policies (often called the “equity lens”). How do you see that policy fitting into decisions you would make as a board member?

Guzmán Ortiz: This isn’t a ‘lens’ for me, it is my entire life. I’m a bilingual Latinx woman and my two children are students of color in our schools. Many of the families I have served over the years are from historically marginalized communities. They have been impacted by poverty, houselessness, and racism. I would bring my personal life experiences and the countless stories of the families and youth I have worked with to serving on the board. I strongly believe all policies should always take into account all children, especially the most vulnerable.

Lippold Peone: I already use the equity lens in my policy work, and try to use it in everything that I do as a board member. I have actually been publicly praised by my board and our Superintendent for my focus on equity and ensuring that our underserved, diverse, and historically marginalized students have a voice and are heard. I did this when I was the only school board member to defend our LGBTQ+ students in the board room. I do this when i’m pushing for policies like expanding duel language across the district, or reimagining school discipline, or ensuring our schools that need a little more help are getting the tools they need to succeed. I will continue to listen, learn, and fight for these students.

Slagle: This is an important topic. In my experience as a coach, I have seen these disparities within different economic, ethnic, and cultural groups. What I’ve done as a coach to help make everyone feel a sense of belonging is to check on them. Everyone on a team has needs—I’m used to seeing if everyone eating and sleeping well, that they have proper equipment, that they are doing well in school, and that they are being treated well. It is part of the relationship you build within your team or community. To take care of everyone equally, to always give the same amount of attention to all kids even though they are vastly different and what they need from you may be different from everyone else. It is so important everyone feels they belong and are an important part of the team no matter what their background is. I will take this approach to the school board.

What do you see as the school board’s responsibility versus the superintendent’s? What changes, if any, would you make in the governing documents outlining that relationship?

Guzmán Ortiz: I see the role of the superintendent as running our district operations, but the voters have a right to know the board members they elect are holding themselves and our district accountable for the success or failure of every school. The school board oversees our superintendent, enacts policies and approves our districts budget. These schools are where my kids attend, and all my friends and family- they are the schools I attended. Failure is not acceptable, and as a school board member I will look into how every school is performing and demand accountability when we let any student down.

Lippold Peone: The school board does three things:

1. Hire/Fire/Monitor the Superintendent. This means holding her accountable and also standing beside her so that we can all move the ball forward for kids.

2. Budget. We adopt the budget. We can also change the budget, learn about it, and all that through the annual budget process.

3. Policy. We manage macro-level policies that effect the entire school district’s systems. (Example: we approve Safe and welcoming schools Resolution. We do NOT monitor and change the dress code.)

As a part of monitoring the Superintendent and our responsibilities with policy, it’s vital that the school board and the Superintendent’s visions are aligned. In the past they have been, which is why we have been able to increase graduation rates, student achievement, etc. In the past two years, and specifically this past year, we have seen a shift in the board’s vision for our schools in contrast to the Superintendent’s vision. A highly functioning school board with leadership who understands their job, would sit down with the Superintendent before the beginning of the school year and set Board Goals. These goals then become the “North Star” for the district to head towards, and the Superintendent captains the ship that gets us there. The problem that we have with our current board leadership is that they never set board goals as promised last year, so we haven’t given the Superintendent a “North Star” to head towards. Instead our board decided to let her pick her own North Star, then get mad at her every time it’s not what they want. Our Board needs to LEAD. I will work to ensure that whoever leads the board this next year actually sets board goals, so that we can hold the school board and the Superintendent accountable to them.

Slagle: My role is that I work for the community, that the voters who elected me are my most important ally and partner. The community trusts the schools with their kids, so they must be our top constituency. The community also pays their taxes and I want to make sure those tax dollars are being used wisely to best benefit the students.

I want a more transparent relationship with the superintendent, to have open conversations that tackle real issues in our school district. I want hard data to look at to see if the policies we are currently using are effective in producing more educated students with a higher graduation rate.

I also want to bring back School Resource Officers, because I believe they were in appropriately removed from all of our schools. SROs are an important part of school safety and have a positive relationship with students, faculty, and administration.

Many Salem Reporter readers have told us they’re deeply concerned about the growing partisanization of the school board and the involvement of special interest groups in recruiting and funding campaigns. What should readers know about who your supporters are, including PACs? What skill would you bring to the board to help bridge divides among board members?

Guzmán Ortiz: My deep roots in the Salem-Keizer area, and experience in our classrooms from many different perspectives, allow me to connect with people who might have very different opinions than me. This is a nonpartisan position. It is about our kids, not politics. I have happily shared with voters who are supporting my campaign. I am thankful to be supported by local parent activists with PCUN and Stand For Children, our local Salem-Keizer teachers and classified workers, and many other folks. I am proud to have their support and to have received donations from my personal circle to help afford the costs of a campaign.

Lippold Peone: I am not endorsed by any partisan special interest groups or PACs, because I want to run a truly nonpartisan campaign that puts KIDS FIRST. I don’t believe that these partisan special interest groups belong anywhere near the board room. If your goal is to put kids first, then please join me because I need all the help I can get.

We don’t need a White Knight with some unique “skill” to bridge divides among board members. What we need is really simple: a school board that puts kids first, above politics, self, and ego. We need board goals to work with the Superintendent on, and provide a clear vision and mission for us to unite behind. It’s ALL of us working together for kids. That’s the skill.

Slagle: I’ve gotten a lot of support from individuals throughout the community already. I’ve been endorsed by a local group, Marion+Polk First PAC. I have not been pushed to think one way or to push an agenda. They endorsed me because my top priority is getting kids back to full-time, in-person education. I will take support from anyone who wants what is best for our students. It is the basis for me running, that I care deeply about our community and its children.

Do you agree with Superintendent Christy Perry’s recent decision not to renew contracts for school resource officers? Why or why not?

Guzmán Ortiz: I have been spending the last few months campaigning and talking to voters, so I have heard from voters with deeply held beliefs on both sides of this issue. While some disagree about specific things like SROs, we all share the same value: our kids’ safety. I believe the district’s decision is the right one for our children as educators with expertise should be the ones guiding behavior and supporting children, that will be more effective in the long run, and that is the job of schools. No matter how one feels about the end result, I think we can all agree that the process left many parents and students feeling like it was a struggle to have their voices heard. When controversial issues like this come up before the board in the future, I will make sure we have open public meetings and gatherings large and small all over our community, and my door will always be open. Not everyone will agree all the time, but I believe we can find solutions that bring us together if we bring the wisdom of parents from across Salem-Keizer together.

Lippold Peone: I believe that we need to see the facts and the data behind the Salem-Keizer SRO program, hear the experiences of students, and let the facts and data drive the decision. We have not heard what the long-term alternative is yet. So it is unwise for candidates to take a hard stance on an issue like this without the facts and data to do so.

The board tried to take control of the conversation in May 2020, then passed it back to the Superintendent when it blew up in their face. If we had done what I have suggested in the beginning, then we wouldn’t be just starting this conversation today. I’ve said we need to bring our community to the table, listen and learn from all sides, then let the facts and data drive the decision.... With that said, I stand by our Superintendent and I believe that this process we are going through right now will get us an outcome that puts kids first. I advise anyone who cares about this topic to get involved, so feel free to reach out.

Slagle: I do not agree with this. I believe that the School Board and the community should have a say in this policy making decision. There was no data to support this decision. The district should have conducted a districtwide survey before taking action.

New board members will join incumbents to consider changing the district’s election system to draw voters from specific zones instead of across the district. What is your view of this approach?

Guzmán Ortiz: Currently, elections are district-wide although candidates come from different zones. I am supportive of moving our district toward zone specific elections.

Lippold Peone: I the one who wrote the policy, brought it forward, and got the agreement to have a community conversation about it passed. I wanted a stronger commitment, but this is what we have. This time around we will be having a much bigger conversation, with a lot more at stake, and it’s important that we have people at the table who know how the system works, and aren’t bought out by special interest groups. This next year we won’t just be talking about my policy proposal, we will be re-imagining our entire school board election system. We will need to re-draw the zones, decide if we wish to be at-large or by-zone, decide what voting structure we want (winner take all, raked-choice-voting, etc), and WHEN we want to have the election (May, or aligned with general elections in November?), as well as many other questions. Because of my vast experience and knowledge of our systems, I know how it works and I am prepared to help lay the foundation for this. It needs to be a community led conversation.

Slagle: I am not in complete opposition to this but I am opposed to what my opponent did right before the school election in trying to change the voting rules using his platform to play “politics” rather than focus on the needs of our kids.

I would like to see community input before making this change. We work for not only our zone but the whole community. They should have a say in this policy change.

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

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