Newcomers Topple Incumbents in Hard-Fought Races for Canby School Board

The Canby School Board will soon sport three new faces, as voters on Tuesday elected newcomers for all three open seats in the May 16 special district election, according to the latest unofficial results from Clackamas County.

In Position 1’s wide-open, three-way race, Ninety-One School-area mom and former teacher Katie Iverson (53.6%, 4,830) held a 15-point lead over retired senior service analyst Lori Boatright (38.49%, 3,455) in their quest to replace retiring board member Rob Sheveland. Local mom JooLin Rice was a distant third, with 8%.

“I’m thankful for the support I’ve had throughout this process,” Iverson told The Canby Current shortly after initial results were released. “There are still votes to count, but I am ready to be a voice for our community and our schools!”

In Position 5, Mark Bigej (63%, 5,642), business owner and father of several Canby High School graduates and current student-athletes, boasted an even larger lead over one-term incumbent Dawn Depner (37%, 3,318). More than 2,000 votes separated the two candidates.

“I’m honored and excited to get to work,” Bigej told the Current Tuesday night, during an Election Night watch party with friends and supporters at the Wild Hare Saloon in Canby.

Newly elected Canby School Board member Mark Bigej and his wife, Amy, celebrated the victory with friends and supporters Tuesday night.

And in Position 6, retired educator Kelly Oliver had a lead of just under 1,000 votes over another one-term incumbent, Stefani Carlson, 4,972 (55.4%) to 3,996 (44.6%).

“I feel very encouraged with these initial results!” Oliver said Tuesday night. “Win or lose, I have been so moved by all the support from our community.”

Boatright, Depner and Carlson had campaigned together on an ideologically aligned platform criticizing the district’s academic performance, alleged inappropriateness of library books available to middle and high school students, and claimed lack of transparency with parents.

They, along with current board member Sherry Smith, also vocally supported a controversial push by two local parents earlier this year to review and consider removing three dozen books from Canby high school and middle school libraries based on claims that they contained mature and inappropriate content.

Their challengers ran independent campaigns, generally touting their experience and involvement in Canby schools and the community, supporting student achievement and well-being, and collaboration with parents, teachers and community members.

Kelly Oliver is a retired elementary school teacher with more than 30 years of experience and a first-time political candidate.

The trio boasted endorsements from several local and state-level politicians, including Republican State Representative James Hieb, Mayor Brian Hodson, Canby City Councilors Traci Hensley, Shawn Varwig, Jim Davis and Herman Maldonado, and Newberg School Board Chair Dave Brown.

They were also backed by the Parents’ Rights in Education PAC and the Oregon Family Council.

The challengers were endorsed by the Canby Education Association — the local teachers’ union — and a smattering of prominent business owners and current or former educators and school administrators.

Bigej also earned votes of confidence from Republican Congresswoman Lori Chavez-DeRemer and former gubernatorial candidate and House GOP Leader Christine Drazan.

The sound defeat of a bloc of parents’ rights candidates, including two incumbents, was noticed by statewide and even national media this week. Slates of far-right candidates were also turned down in favor of more moderate and progressive challengers in neighboring communities, including Newberg and Oregon City.

Katie Iverson is a Canby High School graduate, a former science teacher, and a mother of four in the Canby School District.

The defeats ends Depner’s and Carlson’s brief turns on the Canby School Board, which began after squeaking out narrow victories in a low-turnout election four years ago.

Carlson’s win was especially a surprise, since she had earlier told local media that she’d dropped out of the race after her public opposition to a Transgender Day of Visibility proclamation at a Canby City Council meeting upset some in the community.

Controversy followed her on the school board, most notably in early 2021, when her apparent endorsement of a Facebook post calling for politically motivated violence sparked several formal complaints and a spat between her and then-Superintendent Trip Goodall that preceded his decision to leave the district later that year.

In other results, the Canby Fire District passed its request to increase its five-year local option levy to 95 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, allowing the district to hire new firefighters and emergency medical personnel and greatly increase operations for fire and medical calls.

In initial results, 3,880 residents (60.6%) had voted in favor of the increase, while only 2,526 (39.4%) had voted “no.”

Incumbents Stefani Carlson and Dawn Depner campaigned on a single, ideologically aligned slate with newcomer Lori Boatright.

In an open letter to community members in February, Canby Fire Chief Jim Davis explained the increase stems from a sharp increase in calls for service — primarily medical emergencies — that has outpaced the district’s funding and staffing levels.

If it does pass, the average homeowner would pay about $262 a year, compared to $113 under the current levy. (For tax purposes, assessed value is different — and typically much lower — than real market value.)

The levy is in addition to the district’s permanent tax rate of $1.54, which cannot be raised under Oregon law, making the district’s combined tax and levy rate $2.49 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The new levy would add six new firefighter/medics to the district’s roster, for a total of 24 serving the Canby Fire District. It would help staff the district’s new Medic Station 363, which opened last summer, greatly improving response times in the north side of town.

In fact, it was a good night for fire levies in general. No fewer than six local option levy increases or renewals were on district ballots in Clackamas County (Aurora, Canby, Clackamas, Lake Grove, Molalla and Monitor), and all six were passing in initial results released at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Some of those districts also have voters in other counties, so Clackamas County’s results would not be considered definitive.

After a slow start, returns appeared to have topped the near-record turnout for a special district election in 2021 (27.9%) and were significantly higher than four years ago, when more than 80% of the county’s registered voters failed to participate in democracy.

According to the county’s updated results, 90,439 county voters had returned their ballots, good for a turnout of 29.4% — which would be the second-highest mark for a special district election in county history since Oregon adopted universal vote-by-mail.

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