When it comes to elections, having too many strong candidates is a good problem. Presenting voters with a difficult decision helps to ensure strong government.
Such is the case in the race for Position 2 on the board of directors for Vancouver Public Schools. The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends Sandra Zavala-Ortega, Kathleen O’Claire and Chartisha Roberts for the position. At the same time, we note that Michelle Belkot also is a worthy candidate in the four-person race.
As always, this is merely a recommendation. And in a contest with four strong candidates, it is particularly important for voters to do their homework by studying the candidates and the issues. That includes watching the Editorial Board interview, which revealed four thoughtful, well-informed challengers.
Typically, before the primary, the Editorial Board recommends two candidates because the top two vote-getters will advance to the general election. In this case, we were unable to narrow the selections — which is a compliment to those who have chosen to run for the office.
Zavala-Ortega is the incumbent, but even that status is unusual in this election. She was appointed in April to fill the vacancy created when Camara Banfield resigned after being appointed as a Clark County Superior Court judge.
Zavala-Ortega has a compelling story. The child of immigrants, she started kindergarten in Vancouver schools knowing no English; she eventually graduated college and writes in the Voters’ Pamphlet, “As our district’s diversity grows, it is essential that these same opportunities are provided to all students.”
She is the mother of a special-needs student and the owner of a small business — traits that help her understand the inner workings of education and fiscal responsibility.
O’Claire previously worked as a school risk manager for the district and has worked for the Clark College Foundation. She would be a detail-oriented board member who has some insight to the district’s inner workings.
“We tend to live in a silo,” she told the Editorial Board, reflecting on her time as a district employee. “The process we have is, ‘talk to that person, then talk with that person.’ By the time they get to the board, they’re screaming mad.”
Roberts has experience in human resources and administration with large public-facing corporations — a background that would serve her well on the school board.
When asked about current controversies surrounding diversity training and education in public schools, she said: “We need to understand the complexity of our history; change is coming, and it’s here. We will be a better country for it at the end of the day.”
Belkot has experience in procurement and engineering contracts while in the military, and questions the transparency of the current board. “I know a lot of parents feel they have been ignored,” she told the board about the past year of evolving district adjustments to the coronavirus pandemic.
Belkot would be a fine addition to the school board, but The Columbian believes the other three contenders are slightly stronger candidates. Regardless of which two advance to the general election, the Editorial Board will recommend one candidate prior to the general election.
Heading into the Aug. 3 primary, we are confident that two strong candidates will emerge. But for now, the Editorial Board recommends Sandra Zavala-Ortega, Kathleen O’Claire and Chartisha Roberts for the Vancouver school board, Position 2.