Despite a campaign that was briefly interrupted by an anonymous flier that detailed a criminal past, P.J. Kapfhammer continued to hammer away at what he saw as a superintendent and school board out of touch with the public in the Oregon City Schools District. On Tuesday, the public agreed with Kapfhammer and made him the top vote getter among three candidates vying for two school board seats.
Kapfhammer, co-owner of the Maumee Bay Turf Center, received 550 votes, while Jeff Ziviski received 513 votes to take the second seat on the board. Earl John Gilliland, a former administrator in the district, came in third with 475 votes.
Two issues that resonated with voters, said Kapfhammer on Wednesday, were the elimination of busing for high school students, and administrative pay raises in a district that has been struggling financially in the last few years.
“I was just expressing the feelings of others in the district. Everyone was upset about those issues. I was telling the board what the people were feeling,” said Kapfhammer.
He said he wants to promote transparency on the board so that the public is fully informed of its actions.
“I want to move forward. I don’t want the public to have to stop talking at the meetings just three minutes after they talk because that’s all they get. I want that board room to be an open forum. And I want to be able to address their issues. And if I don’t have the answers, I want to call them later and see what I can do to fix it. There may be times I can’t do anything, but I want people to have that option,” said Kapfhammer. “I want to be the guy who listens. I know the community. I want to work with the community to rebuild those bridges that have been torn down.”
Kapfhammer sparked outrage in the district when he asked the school board last month why it had approved raises for administrators at an Aug. 16 meeting when they had previously eliminated busing and closed Wynn Elementary School to cut costs. The board had approved raises for 12 administrators, which included Superintendent Mike Zalar, whose annual salary increased to $130,221 from $116,965.
The issue, said Kapfhammer, will be at the top of his agenda when he takes his seat on the board in January.
“I want that money to be put into a fund that has something to do with programs for the kids. And when the economy gets better, they can get the raises back,” said Kapfhammer. He acknowledges he would have to get others on the school board who voted in favor of the raises to change their votes. “What’s the chances I can get one of them to vote the other way? We’ll have to see. I want them to explain to the public why they are in favor of the raises.”
Ziviski, manager of Budgeting & Financial Analysis with the Mercy Memorial Hospital System, agreed.
“It would bring back community trust if they would donate it back to the school. There’s several options out there. Obviously, the individuals have to be willing to do that. That would be a great step in the right direction for the new board,” said Ziviski.
He said the high voter turnout showed how strongly the public felt about the issues in the district – particularly the busing and administrative raises.
“The community was tired of not having a voice. They want to be heard and have a say in things. They want some change,” said Ziviski. “They’re unhappy with the way things are going. I think the administrative raises was the final straw. You can only put up with stuff for so long. There’s that one thing that makes people go over the edge. Now it’s time to take action to make things better. That occurred with people coming out to vote. There was a great turnout.”
Ziviski said he plans to make school board meetings more “community friendly.”
“I think you’re going to see a change in the structure in the way things are getting done. P.J. and I can make it more friendly for the community attending the meetings. Maybe we can have a little more interaction between the board and the administration and those in attendance. Public comment shouldn’t be limited just at the start of the meeting. If someone has a question, they should raise their hand and ask. You have to allow that interaction. The community has to have an opportunity to have input on decision making. There are too many backroom deals, too much going on in executive session. And no more 10 a.m. school board meetings, when a majority of people are at work,” said Ziviski.
“P.J. and I are not going to stand for the status quo or the way things are always done,” he added. “We’re looking for new ideas to better the district. I’m excited about it.”