The Greater Albany Public Schools board of directors voted to appoint Pat Eastman to the board after deadlocking between two candidates last Thursday — but the vote didn't come without pushback from the audience.
Eastman will fill a position on the five-member board that was left vacant when Micah Smith resigned in June.
The board initially narrowed the field down to four candidates from the eight applications it received. An Aug. 15 interview process allowed for four questions, one from each board member, and resulted in an initial tie vote between Eastman and Justin Roach. The other two candidates, Javier Cervantes and Samantha Sheely, did not receive any votes from the four sitting board members.
After four tie voting rounds, the board sought advice from the Oregon School Board Association, which suggested ranking all four candidates and compiling scores in a manner similar to the way a grade point average is calculated. When that process also yielded a tie vote, OSBA suggested the board adjourn.
On Monday, the board took another run at it, and Eastman was appointed on a 3-to-1 vote with board member Kim Butzner casting her vote for Roach. Board chair Jennifer Ward switched her vote to Eastman after voting for Roach during the Aug. 15 meeting.
Ward said she changed her mind after having time to reflect on how much experience Eastman brought to the board.
“I didn’t give enough weight to how the board and the district could benefit from that experience and that’s what changed my mind,” she said.
Eastman, who immediately took his seat Monday night, previously served on the district’s bond committee.
Eastman said he wanted to thank all the applicants, noting that he thought all of them would have made good board members.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of time in the district."
Following Eastman’s appointment, Superintendent Melissa Goff read a statement both in English and Spanish stating it was a critical time to note that the district is committed to the success of every student and that students of color, immigrant students and low-income students were welcome.
“Our diversity strengthens our district,” she said, noting that students should see and hear themselves reflected in the district’s staff and community partners. “If you are a student, any student, you and your family are welcome, heard and valued by me, your school and our district. We are fortunate to have you.”
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Several members of the audience said they appreciated Goff’s statement and then addressed the board concerning previous comments from two of its members.
The board initially had reviewed applications blindly, with the candidates’ names redacted. During that process, Cervantes earned the third-highest score from the board. At a work session Aug. 5, board members learned the identities of the applicants and initially denied Cervantes one of the four interview spots. Aguinaga said he attended an immigration rally Cervantes spoke at earlier this year and didn’t like Cervantes’ take on “federal police.” Butzner said she was unable to identify Cervantes’ position at Linn-Benton Community College, where he serves as the director of the Institutional Equity and Student Engagement Department. “For all I know, it could be working in the admissions office,” she said. “I couldn’t tell from this that there was a highly skilled, educational aspect other than being an advocate.”
Butzner eventually suggested that Cervantes be included in the interviews because he had the third-highest score.
During that interview, Cervantes answered questions pertaining to equity, his desire to be on the board and goals he would pursue as a board member. Given time at the end of his interview to speak to the board freely, Cervantes addressed the comments made at the Aug. 5 work session.
“My life has been about quantum leaps,” he said. “My parents came here with nothing so they could give me and my sister everything … to call into question my professional qualifications; even if I did work in the admissions office, I love them — that’s disparaging to them and I have their back. I don’t work in the admissions office. I reported to the president of our institution. If I’m on a job search and they google by name and they look at the newspaper, what do you think they’re going to find? Your deliberations.”
Cervantes said he was hurt by the selection process but that he would not stop advocating for the community.
“What I am sharing with you is truly who I am — a passionate individual who cares about students and their communities,” he said. “You can bring me onto the board or not, I’m perfectly fine. Understand, I’m not going anywhere. I live here, we love this community.”
At Monday’s meeting, as two speakers addressed the earlier comments from Aguinaga and Butzner, Aguinaga attempted to call a point of order several times, but Goff allowed speakers to continue with their statements.
One of the speakers, Basil Cummins, said that white applicants were not asked questions about their education in the same fashion Cervantes’ education was questioned by Butzner.
“This type of comment should not have been said,” he said.
Jody Yoder, a representative of the Corvallis-Albany branch of the NAACP, also spoke Monday, offering the organization’s support in any efforts the district made to quell racial tensions.
“We encourage you to take very seriously the rise of racism in our community and schools,” she said.