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Salem-Keizer School Board Candidate Forum
Platitudes, pandering & a shocking take on SROs
Salem-Keizer School Board hopefuls gathered in Keizer on April 6 for a candidate forum where voters got a chance to hear from each of the 6 candidates running for 3 open director seats.
Salem-Keizer School District - Zone #2
Salem-Keizer School District - Zone #4
Salem-Keizer School District - Zone #6
Larry G. Scruggs
Despite microphones screeching with feedback and clumsy panel time management, the forum provided a quick look at what these candidates are made of.
The format allowed for opening and closing statements, and just two audience-submitted questions. Honestly, most of the opening and closing statement time spent on each candidate is voter pamphlet-level insight. And of the two audience questions, one of them was a complete waste of time.
With so little substance to go on, I’m going to create my own rubric for deciding who came out on top after this forum. Kind of like the Dundees from The Office, but not hosted at a Chili’s.
Biggest Hypocrite Award
Casity Troutt earns this award with flying colors (granted, she was a front-runner coming into the event). During her opening statement, Troutt urged “We have to remember that all kids aren’t the same.” That sentiment, she claimed, was one of the reasons she sought to be a school board director.
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But, as a key early member of christo-fascist SK We Stand Together “parents” group, Troutt has organized multiple demonstrations and events targeting transgender students and has been the driving force behind efforts to ban books that make her feel uncomfortable. Her realization that “all kids aren’t the same” seems to only extend in directions that already support her far-right extremist views.
Chandragiri was a runner up on this one. He pontificated on the deep importance of open meetings without once explaining why he tried to censor public comment when he lead the Salem Keizer School Board in 2020.
Best F**cking Answer of the Night Award
Larry Scruggs landed the best answer of the night, evidenced by the gasp it earned from some of the right-wing folks in the room.
One of the audience-submitted questions was whether each candidate felt armed police should be in public schools. Scruggs had already identified himself as a former law enforcement officer, but in answering this question he also revealed his son is a school resource officer (SRO) in Tigard.
He did a great job of lining these facts up - and then…the punchline. He doesn’t feel SROs are needed in public schools. In his experience as an educator and cop, he said he feels there are other ways to more effectively work towards safer schools.
Yes, there was an audible gasp. Yes, it was a delicious moment. A room full of staunch conservatives in Keizer, OR, thought this former cop was going to embrace their latest culture war grievance…and he set them up perfectly.
It was awesome. Larry put the G. in Larry G. Scruggs.
Smoothest Operator Award
It’s tough running for office. And it can be nerve-wracking speaking to a packed room. Doubly so if that packed room is, like, 85% not your crowd.
But Kelley Strawn put in the smoothest performance of the night. With his opening and closing statements reinforcing his main message, Strawn hammered home on pragmatic solutions. While the far-right slate of candidates raced to assure the audience they wouldn’t stray far from their usual grievances, Strawn reminded us that whole solutions need to be found that address entire challenges - a search that often involves navigating around nuanced issues hitting multiple parties in varying ways.
Strawn also reminded the audience of his unique perspective as a parent of kids in Salem-Keizer schools - he understands how to prepare students for college or career because he’s been working with Salem-Keizer grads in his role at Willamette University for decades.
Best Experience & Credentials Award
Cynthia Richardson honestly doesn’t have to say or do more than run through her credentials and experience to make her case for School Board Director.
An educator from a loooong line of educators in her family. A life of experience working with students. Working with teachers. Working with administration. Leading multiple schools in Salem-Keizer as principal.
There is literally no match for her experience and public schools wisdom relative to the rest of the candidates.
Grossest Exaggeration Award
From the School Board Director that told a group of mostly white, suburban moms that their racial and homophobic grievances were similar to indigenous families being ripped apart by government schools…comes the sequel - removing SROs from Salem-Keizer schools was “unilaterally” the “greatest mistake” ever made…”just like in Denver.”
Satya Chandragiri, the only incumbent in this year’s School Board race, has a history of saying insane shit. It appears to be his way of pandering to his far-right base of extremist support.
In this case, Chandragiri went for overly emotional appeal instead of…y’know, actual facts and data. The only good thing that comes out of Chandragiri’s knack for making outrageous, unsupported claims is that it makes clear his current seat on the School Board is a waste of space and should be filled by someone who makes decisions based on available information - not whatever sensational disinformation is being fed to his base as ideological chum.
Weakest Closing Statement Award
This one is a tie. Casity Troutt and Krissy Hudson. Troutt claimed her experience running a business and “making drastic changes” makes her skillset a good fit. Not sure making “drastic changes” a lot in your business life is really the indicator of stable leadership you’d want with a school board director.
Hudson started her closing statement by saying “same” to the person who spoke before her.
Dumbest Question Award
Terrible moderation for this event. Poorly managed. Candidates were given three prepared questions, but time wasn’t available to ask them. Not great.
And of the two actual “audience” questions they did ask the candidates, one was a complete and utter waste of time. “Do you think school board meetings should be open to the public?”
This is a dumb person’s idea of a good question. It’s like a gotcha question but when you get to the “gotcha” part it’s just a lot of winking & nodding.
The answer, of course, is yes. And that’s what every candidate said. Yes.
It was such a weird, clumsy way to try and placate both the right-wing audience, and the conservative candidates on the panel. And it didn’t work the way they intended. At all.
It would be great to hear more from each candidate. Preferably in a setting (and with hosting) that isn’t so clearly slanted to the right-wing candidates.
And preferably one where the microphones aren’t screeching to each other.