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Sam Gillispie, Kyle Walker to step downfrom North Clackamas School Board

After 20 years on the North Clackamas School Board, a union advocate has decided not to run again. Board Member Sam Gillispie, grievance director United Food & Commercial Workers Local 555, has served the North Clackamas district as an elected official since 1995. All three of his daughters have graduated from Milwaukie High School, and Gillispie will turn 66 in April.

“Twenty years is a long time, and I’m going to retire from my regular job soon too,” Gillispie said. During his last four terms he’s run unopposed, “so I’d like to think that the people in the North Clackamas School District thought I was doing a good job.”

Fellow board member Kyle Walker, who was appointed to the School Board in 2009 and ran unopposed in 2011, also decided not to run for re-election. Part of the former CEO of Oregon Travel Experience’s decision was that her last child graduated two years ago.

“While serving on the board has been a most meaningful and worthwhile experience, I felt it was time to step aside and bring in new ideas and fresh perspectives,” Walker said. (See below for who’s filed to replace Walker and Gillispie.)

Gillispie ran unsuccessfully for the legislature in 1994 and 2000 on a platform of school funding. He and other board members have almost every year since had to make heart-breaking choices in cutting services, laying off staff, eliminating student-learning days, closing schools and increasing class sizes to meet multi-million dollar budget shortfalls.

“It’s not really much better than when I first ran,” he said. “All of the staff across the districts do very well, but they’re asked to do more with less.”

The toughest thing to get through as a board was closing Clackamas and Campbell elementary schools, the latter where two of his daughters attended K-6. Seismic concerns were the main reason the board decided on later closing Concord Elementary, Gillispie said. In order to create a community center there, those concerns would have to be adequately addressed, he said.

Walker agreed that one of the most difficult things for School Board members to deal with is an ongoing crisis in the state’s funding for public education. Without the extraordinary efforts of all staff, from principals to custodians, she said the board could not have re-aligned district investments and practices to cope with reduction of state funding, while meeting regulatory mandates and student achievement goals.

“We were all in this together and always were mindful of providing a safe learning environment and valued experience for our students and their families,” Walker said.

Prior to Walker’s time on the board, Gillispie stopped plans to contract out custodial and cooking services, saying that he wanted such employees (many of whom live in the district) to remain invested in the district.

“I’ve always been a proud supporter of the employees, and that wasn’t always popular with the board, but we’ve gotten better about that,” he said.

Later on, he was instrumental in doing away with NCSD’s three-tiered system that gave the best health plan to administrators and the worse plan to custodians and food workers.

“I said, ‘We can’t have three different health care plans,’ and we picked the licensed-staff plan, the middle plan, and I’m proud of that,” he said.

Gillispie said he’s most proud of “being a voice to make sure that NCSD wasn’t going to be a district of haves and have-nots.”

Under the watch of Gillispie, NCSD did away with allowing students to attend any high school they want, which causes perceived inequities to widen into larger real inequities. He said this feeder plan avoided creating the problems that Portland Public Schools is experiencing with its open-application system.

Gillispie advocated that Milwaukie and Putnam high schools have access to Clackamas High School’s turf field, and then Milwaukie and Putnam got their own fields. The same basic story is occurring with the high school batting facilities.

Gillispie has at least one more initiative before stepping off the board. Many young children live within a mile of schools, but don’t have sidewalks, so Gillispie asked Superintendent Matt Utterback to come up with a plan to bus those students next year.

Who's running for NCSD Board seats?

Lee Merrick, who lost his re-election campaign to Trisha Claxton by less than half of 1 percent of the votes cast in the 2011 election, is running unopposed for the seat currently held by Sam Gillispie. While they were both on the board, Gillispie disagreed with Merrick more than anyone else on the board, so there’s a certain amount of irony in the foregone conclusion of the switch.

Knowing him to be a person of integrity with a passion for education who always “does his homework,” Walker urges voters to support Merrick (a professional financial manager for nearly 20 years) coming back to the board.

“Lee is a remarkable steward of fiscal accountability and would make wise investment decisions in support of student achievement,” Walker said. “His interest for education starts with active involvement with his four children and ensuring other families are afforded equal opportunity for learning.”

Steven Schroedl, who lost a bid for NCSD election in 2013, is running unopposed for Kyle Walker’s seat. Gillispie says that he hopes that Schroedl, whom he calls a pro-charter-school candidate, understands that NCSD is primarily administering public schools.

“They’re competition with public schools, and I’ve never been a fan, and it was ironic that we were forced by law to renew the carter-school applications right as we were closing public schools,” Gillispie said. “If we had all of those children in our school district, then we wouldn’t have to have closed one or both of those schools.”

Walker has a much different take on Schroedl, calling him “a local community success story who quietly gives back to the district.” As a resident east of Interstate 205 and father of four, that Schroedl would represent interests across the district, Walker said. His high-tech professional skills and volunteer service on the district budget committee make Schroedl an “ideal addition” to the NCSD Board.

“He understands the challenges of students with special needs and is an advocate for career technical education” she said. “As a global technology expert, Steven will bring much needed expertise that will open doors and strengthen learning and achievement in the classroom.”

Meanwhile, Claxton is facing competition in her re-election bid from Timothy McMenamin, a perennial candidate for Milwaukie’s seat in the Oregon House of Representatives. McMenamin received only 29 percent of the votes in the 2014 election, his latest attempt. Both Gillispie and Walker have endorsed Claxton, whom they say is essential to the board as its only teacher.

Board Member Rein Vaga is running unopposed.