PERRYDALE -- Seven candidates are seeking to fill three open Perrydale School Board seats, making it the most contested of the four Polk County school board races on the May 21 ballot.
Three candidates, Ken Perkins of Dallas, Tyler Clement of Amity and Trina Comerford of Rickreall, are vying for Position 2.
Whichever candidate voters pick, he or she will be new on the board.
"I don't like to just stand in the background," said Clement, 34, a self-employed general contractor. "I'm the kind of person who jumps in there and tries to make things right.
Clement said he is concerned about budget priorities, making sure staff members are properly held accountable if issues come up. As a former out-of-district student who graduated from Perrydale, he wants to make sure all students and their parents are treated fairly, no matter where they live.
Concerning funding, he believes the whole process should be examined and nothing should be off the table - including staff benefits.
Perkins, 48, the public works supervisor for the city of Independence, said he wants "to be a voice that we need to stay focused on the school's goals." He added that the bottom line is the board's work should be about the students.
He believes the board, school staff and community should bring new ideas for creating a healthy and stable budget. Perkins said with six years of experience on the district's budget committee, he has the expertise that will help make that happen.
Perkins said the board's first priorities should be the education and safety of the students and maintaining a well-functioning budget and facilities.
Comerford, 42, has been attending board meetings since 1997. She also served on the committee to help pass the bond to build Perrydale's new gym and middle school. Now she sees a new challenge ahead.
"I realized that it was going to take some strong personalities and people willing to work hard, because we are going to have to get creative with the education to maintain it," said Comerford, who works for the Dallas School District and as a college softball umpire.
She said the board's priorities should be on quality education, open communication and school security.
Board member Lisa Mitchell of Perrydale is seeking her second term. She is being challenged by Sheridan resident Stephanie Lux.
"My goal as a school board member is to be responsible for advocating for our children's educational needs, as well as being a representative of our community," said Lux, 35, an administrative specialist for the state of Oregon. "With that said, I would be responsible for holding our school accountable for implementing board policies and making sure that our children's educational needs are being met."
She said her work experience has given her skills in collaboration and interpreting policies, laws and regulations. If elected, her focus would be on student achievement, community engagement, staff excellence and budgeting.
Mitchell said she was driven to seek a second term because she believes the district will be facing challenges in the future that will require experience to work through.
"This is something I need to finish," she said. "I feel like I just started. The first four years you are just kind of starting and getting your feet into it. Now I feel I can really add a lot more into the next four years to the district and the community."
She said key among those challenges is striving toward stable funding while preserving programs, negotiating with staff on salaries and benefits, dealing with increased PERS costs, and encouraging open communication.
John Johnston of Amity has served on the board for two years and wants to return. His challenger, Kirk Hutchinson, a former Perrydale teacher, wants to continue his involvement in Perrydale by serving on the board.
Johnston said one of his key goals if elected is to establish more transparency and better communication. He said too often board members are asked to speak with administrators about questions outside board meetings.
"My hope is to have that all out in the open, so people who have concerns can have that out in the open," he said.
Johnston added the board should do a better job of fostering an atmosphere where parents, both those of in-district and out-of-district students, feel free to voice their concerns.
Johnston said -- while it will be painful -- he believes the board may have to ask staff for benefit concessions to control costs.
Hutchinson, 59, a former Perrydale teacher and part-time agricultural teacher in the Santiam Canyon School District, said the board's focus should always be on the students.
"I feel the goal of Perrydale is to get the best education to every student," he said. "That is a tremendous challenge, but the great thing about Perrydale is that it is an amazing school already. We need to continue to try to make things even better."
He believes that is best achieved by fostering cooperation and collaboration among parents, teachers, students, staff and the board.
Hutchinson is on a contract with Perrydale to work with FFA students part time as an adviser. If elected, he will resign that position.