None of the three Salem-Keizer Public Schools governing board members targeted in a recall effort will be removed since petitioners failed to collect enough signatures before the deadline.
Casity Troutt, vice president of the parent advocacy group Salem-Keizer We Stand Together, filed paperwork on Aug. 25 to recall board chairwoman Ashley Carson Cottingham, former chairman Osvaldo Avila and co-vice chairwoman Karina Guzmán Ortiz.
Brian Van Bergen in the Marion County Clerk’s Office said none of the three proposed recalls was able to collect enough signatures before the deadline.
“Since they did not collect enough signatures,” Van Bergen said, “they did not attempt to turn them into our office.”
The recall petition effort
The petitioners cited votes by Avila, Carson Cottingham and Guzman Ortiz prohibiting concealed guns on school grounds and support for the prior removal of school resource officers from the district as reasons for removal, according to the prospective petitions published by the Marion County Clerk’s Office.
The effort came after about two years of increasing community tensions around the school board.
“Parents and concerned citizens across the Salem-Keizer School District will no longer sit idly by while they witness public education continue putting the futures of their children on the back burner as they indoctrinate young minds and negate to provide them with a rigorous academic experience,” read a statement shared on social media by Salem Keizer Education First, a political action committee that supported the recall effort.
The three recall efforts were independent, so signatures had be to collected supporting the recall of each individual board member from registered voters who live within the school district boundaries.
Each required 16,283 signatures.
Petitioners were seen gathered outside Salem-Keizer administrative offices on numerous occasions when school board meetings were in progress. They had signs for people to pull over and sign the petitions.
Trout said petitions also were sent to more than 8,000 registered voters with instructions on how to circulate them and information on issues within Salem-Keizer.
She estimated on Monday that the petitioners gathered around 14,000 signatures per petition. There isn’t a final or official count, she said, because many came in the last few days and people were still turning petitions in.
Most signers signed all three, Troutt added, while some only signed one or two.
Parent advocates continue their push
Another recall effort isn’t off the table, Troutt said, though there aren’t any definite plans.
She said the advocacy group is looking at potential school board candidates for the May election and asking parents and community members to encourage anyone interested in running.
“We plan on continuing the push to educate the community on what is happening in our schools,” she said. “Our community is beginning to engage, and it has been amazing.”
Troutt said she hopes the community and board members see that parents are still involved.
“We care about the success of our children and the children in our community. We want all children to be given the skills and opportunities to excel in life,” Troutt said, listing the presence of materials they claim to be inappropriate, such as the LGBTQ graphic novel “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” and the removal of school resources officers as continuing concerns.
“There are so many things I hope they take away from this recall,” she said, “but it is nothing different than what we have been stating for two years now, so I doubt they will listen.”
School board members focus on students, staff
Carson Cottingham, Avila and Guzmán Ortiz were elected to the school board in the 2021 election, joining the seven-member board that serves one of the largest school districts in Oregon.
“As a full-time working mother and volunteer chair of our school board, I’m focused on Salem-Keizer schools having a successful school year for all kids,” Carson Cottingham said when the recall effort first started. “Distractions are not going to help get students prepared.”
Cottingham added that voters have a chance for change on the school board during elections in May.
The seat for northeast Salem’s Zone 2, currently held by Marty Heyen, and south Salem’s Zone 4, held now by Satya Chandragiri, also will be up for election in May.
Avila said in an emailed statement on Monday that he is glad the recall effort is over.
“We’ll continue to work for our school district that is equitable and inclusive where all our students can be successful in their academic journey with passionate educators fostering their education,” he said. “We will also continue to work on supporting our teachers and classified staff.”
More information on the school board can be found at salkeiz.k12.or.us/schoolboard.