Student-run Salem-Keizer School Board Candidate Forum
Right-wing candidates stumble over core concepts & probing questions
Four of six Salem-Keizer School Board candidates showed up for the second candidate community forum, hosted by Salem-based youth group Latinos Unidos Siempre (LUS) at Willamette University.
LUS is a “POC youth-led-grassroots-social justice organization” active for nearly 30 years in the Salem-Keizer area. The forum they hosted was very different from the Republican-dominated forum held in Keizer less than two weeks ago.
Salem-Keizer Proletariat is entirely reader-supported. And, if we’re being honest, we are covering the shit out of this Salem-Keizer School Board election. Agree? Consider becoming a free or paid subscriber…or paid.
Candidates at the LUS forum fielded nearly a dozen insightful questions from the community across a spectrum of issues & challenges. Contrast that with the Keizer panel where school board candidates were asked just two questions - one an embarrassing waste of time.
Again, as a reminder, here’s the slate of Salem-Keizer School Board candidates that we’re voting on in May 2023:
Salem-Keizer School District - Zone #2
Salem-Keizer School District - Zone #4
Salem-Keizer School District - Zone #6**
Larry G. Scruggs
**Neither Scruggs nor Hudson showed up for this forum, which is really unfortunate because every candidate, in theory, is running to support our students in schools. So to not attend the one forum held by those critical constituents is…not great.
Because this forum was so well run, there’s actually a ton of stuff we learned about each candidate. But, as is sometimes the case, the most revealing aspects of this forum came from what some of the candidates didn’t say or acknowledge.
Republican running mates Troutt & Chandragiri both struggled to articulate clear answers to fairly simple questions throughout the hour and 30 minutes forum.
On the school-to-prison pipeline…
For example, with her responses Troutt signaled that she lacks an fundamental understanding of what the school-to-prison pipeline actually is, much less how to address it.
“Our prisons are full of people who can’t read or do math,” she opened. “When we turn out illiterate and underachieving adults, we are absolutely contributing to the unsuccessfulness of our community.”
With two minutes to answer, Troutt quit with 30 seconds left after suggesting kids simply need more opportunities to avoid prison. And that was after padding her answer with a personal story that didn’t really address the question either.
Chandragiri appeared to be reading from the same script - suggesting that the solution for the school to prison pipeline is simply a higher quality education. And, despite lamenting the district’s use of antiquated data for decision-making in other areas, Chandragiri framed his school-to-prison pipeline answer using data from nearly 3 decades ago. Far before most in the room were born.
On LGBTQ+ students; students of color; students with disabilities; and other historically marginalized populations…
When asked about support for LGBTQ+ students, students of color, and others from historically marginalized populations, some candidates chose to simply not provide a cogent answer at all.
For example, here was a simple question from early in the forum:
Do you support LGBTQ+ policies - how else will you use your role to support that population?
Troutt answered “Absolutely…” and then focused on how ALL students need to feel safe & welcome, and that it’s critical for parents to be involved in “the conversation.” And she stressed that all kids are different and have different needs.
She didn’t talk about her work as an anti-transgender organizer & activist. And she didn’t mention her failed efforts in banning books. Nor her work to recall Salem-Keizer School Board directors while she distributed anti-LGBTQ+ messaging throughout the community.
(Ed. note: This is weird, right? Like, total bullshit. Not only is Troutt not willing to actually answer questions during a candidate forum, but to simply say, “Absolutely…” and move on to what amounts to “all lives matter” propaganda is offensive and, especially considering her pretty gross history, kinda disqualifying and monumentally hypocritical)
Chandragiri handled the same question similarly, with a focus on involving the family & parents in the conversation.
After the first couple of questions, it started to become apparent that both Troutt and Chandragiri seemed to be following a similar script.
Take for example, another question about what each candidate thinks is the best way to deal with school board members, educators, administration or staff that openly displays hateful behaviors towards historically marginalized or discriminated against groups?
Chandragiri and Troutt both answered by focusing on punitive measures that can be taken - in fact, both specifically mentioned recalls. And both suggested that the community coming together and listening would effectively solve the problem.
Strawn and Richardson both gave very different answers to this question. The former focused on working with the new superintendent to make sure existing rules and policies are in place to address this. And the latter focused on continuing to work towards changing culture in schools.
(See what I mean? As the forum goes on, you start to see that two of these candidates - the right-wing duo of Chandragiri and Troutt - are kinda sticking to the same themes and saying the same things. Kinda like they were coached on what to say. Strawn and Richardson seemed like two folks with experience-based, progressive world-views that were answering authentically. Just an observation. You should watch the whole thing. See if you agree.)
On School Resource Officers and more productive uses of funding…
This topic was interesting because it was the single intelligent question asked from the first Salem-Keizer School Board candidate forum in Keizer.
For her part, Troutt just flat out didn’t answer this question in front of the youth audience at Willamette University. And she ran out of things to say after 60 seconds, leaving a full minute left on the clock.
I can’t imagine it’s because she didn’t understand it. And she was able to answer it much more clearly in the Keizer forum - in front of a very right-wing, very friendly crowd. It went something like this (paraphrasing based on my notes):
“Absolutely. The community believes they should be back. Our own students want it.”
Not sure what changed since then. Maybe her attitude on SROs has softened dramatically in the last two weeks? Or maybe she wasn’t able to give an honest answer to a room full of students asking a simple question?
Hard to say…
Chandragiri continued full steam ahead with his feeling that discontinuing the SRO contract was “the greatest mistake” made by the district. Despite the overwhelming majority of study, insight & data-backed evidence showing that SROs are a failed policy, Chandragiri seems to feel that Salem-Keizer is magically exempt from the repercussions of that failed policy.
Also interesting is that Richardson actually participated in the 2019 work sessions to hear the experiences of students with respect to equity, over-policing in schools via SROs, and other issues. She said she remembers the stories & pain from those sessions.
And her response to the audience at Willamette University was effectively the same as her answer to the folks in Keizer - we should listen to the students and we should put our limited police resources in the community, not schools.
Strawn addressed the question of SROs less directly, but acknowledged that safety has different dimensions and, ultimately, he would work with the superintendent to implement policy that approaches school safety with those dimensions in mind.
There were other great questions prepared by the student community…
They covered topics like:
How to encourage safe & effective advocacy among students
Honoring Indigenous People’s Day with time off (Troutt the only no, lol)
Representation and resources for students with disabilities
Staffing and hiring for a diverse student population
You can watch the whole thing here, thanks to the folks at LUS who livestreamed the forum on Facebook.
Wear headphones to hear some of the questions better
Watch it at 1.5x or 2x speed, if you are able. On Facebook, if you click the gear icon at the bottom of the video player, you should have a “playback speed” option (see image below).