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Gervais elects mostly new faces to school board

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Sullivan, McCargar separated by seven votes for director position 5

COURTESY PHOTO - Gervais School Board Director 2 winner Henry BustamanteThe Gervais School Board of Directors will see a lot new faces in July following the results of Tuesday's election.

With all five board positions up for election, long-serving incumbents Maria Caballero and Molly McCargar lost their seats, making way for three new members — Lorraine Martin, Debbie Sullivan and Jenny Jones — to join holdovers Henry Bustamante and Michael Jirges, who each won their seats on Tuesday night.

"It's going to be a big learning curve for everybody, which is good, because that way everyone starts learning at the same time," Bustamante said.

Bustamante was appointed in April 2016 to fill the position vacated by former board member Shannon Baird. He ran for election this year against Caballero, the board's longest-serving member with 17 years of experience, winning with 59.47 percent of the 607 votes cast. COURTESY PHOTO - Gervais School Board Director 3 winner Michael Jirges
In winning, Bustamante becomes the senior-most member of the board with just more than a year of experience under his belt.

"It's going to be a little different," he said. "I don't know if there has been a board that this had happened to. It'll be something to look at over the next few years to see how this all works out."

Jirges joins Bustamante as the only other member with experience serving on the board, having won his election in an uncontested race. The two board members actually were the finalists to fill Baird's seat last April, with the board choosing Bustamante in a unanimous 4-0 vote.

But Jirges got his opportunity to join the board not long ago when he was selected to replace outgoing member Brent LaFollette, who resigned in the end of 2016. Both Bustamante and Jirges will serve four-year terms.COURTESY PHOTO - Gervais School Board Director 4 winner Jenny Jones

Jones, too, was elected to a four-year term in an uncontested race and expressed an interest in bringing unity to the school board through it's newly elected members.

"I'm excited I have been elected to represent the Gervais Schools and be part of a committee that has the opportunity to bring forth unity, communication, accountability, growth, setting forth positive strides for our schools," Jones said.

While Jones is one of three new members without board experience, she feels the turnover could provide a positive opportunity to forge new relationships between the board and the community moving forward.

"...With any turn over or the simple fact that new board members have been elected in might actually present itself as a blessing, a chance for maybe a fresh perspective," Jones said. "Each person sharing a different perspective, can come together as a committee."

Joining Bustamante, Jirges and Jones will be Martin, a longtime community member, parent and volunteer in Gervais who defeated Gilmer Miller and Lenthal Kaup, garnering 52.75 percent of the 618 votes cast. Miller picked up 31.88 percent (197 votes), while Kaup was third at 15.37 percent (95).

An oft-vocal critic and watchdog at board meetings over the past several years, Martin felt the board lacked communication and trust with the teachers and public, and ran for election with the intent to rebuild those bridges in the community.

COURTESY PHOTO - Gervais School Board Director 1 winner Lorraine Martin
"It's no secret there are some problems currently in the district, but that leaves lots of opportunity for growth and improvement," Martin said. "It would be very rewarding to see the district grow and become more than it is today."

Martin hopes that cultivating lines of communication in the community will eventually lead to improved relationships and much-needed trust, something that could take longer than her two-year term. Martin has made proper procedure and running board meetings according to law a priority, dating back to an official ethics complaint filed by Martin against the board in August 2015 for improperly meeting in executive session under the wrong subcategory of Oregon public meetings law. She has brought the topic of with various ethics violation claims to the board's attention in the last few months and feels that with time, the board can repair the the bridge of trust with the community.

COURTESY PHOTO - Gervais School Board Director 5 winner Debbie Sullivan. Sullivan's victory came by seven votes and will be certified in 20 days.
"A lot is possible in two years but we will have to be patient as well," she said. "It took a long time to get to where we are now in terms of lack of communication and lack of trust, and it will take time to rebuild that."

The only other contested race came between McCargar, a nine-year incumbent, and newcomer Debbie Sullivan that was won by a razor thin margin. The final tally will not be officially certified until 20 days after the election.

Sullivan won with 50.60 percent of the vote, defeating McCargar by a slim seven-vote margin, 297 to 290. Although Sullivan's margin was by single digits, it is still not enough to trigger an automatic recount, which takes place if the difference between the votes cast for the two candidates is just one-fifth of 1 percent, according to ORS 258.280. Once official results are tallied, even if there is no automatic recount, a candidate can still file for a recount, but must incur any costs associated with that. The official winner will serve out the remainder of a two-year term.

Lindsay Keefer contributed to this story.