By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Y-C School Board race: Watson challenges Nettles

YAMHILL-CARLTON — Incumbent Holly Nettles, operations manager with the Yamhill Community Care Organization, is facing a challenge from Ken Watson, a retired Yamhill-Carlton teacher now serving as Yamhill Fire Department chaplain, for Position 5 on the Yamhill-Carlton School Board.

Voters will fill the post in a mail-ballot election concluding Tuesday, May 16. Ballots must be returned to the Yamhill County Clerk’s Office, by mail or in person, by 8 p.m. election night.

The Watson-Nettles race is one of two in the district this spring. In addition, incumbent Jami Egland, a state employee with a business in Carlton, is facing a challenge from Terah Long Mitchell, who works for Intel, for Position 1. Look for a story about that race in the Friday News-Register.

Software engineering manager William “Jack” Bibb Jr. is running unopposed for Position 4. Rick Yeo, who currently holds the seat, is not seeking re-election.

Nettles, a six-year Yamhill resident, was appointed to the board in August 2015 to replace Carlton resident Carol West.

Nettles previously worked with other volunteers on the Ford Foundation project supplying bike racks to Yamhill and Carlton. She was one of five who applied for appointment to the seat.

Being appointed to the board offered her a chance to serve the community and learn more about the school district, said Nettles, who has two children, now in the second and fifth grades. “I love this community, and I wanted to be a good role model,” she said.

She said being able to listen to constituents and make tough decisions are key elements to the job.

“I’ve been very proud of the board we have,” she said. “We don’t always see things the same way, but we usually come to consensus.”  

Board members “get to find out all the amazing things we are doing in the district,” she said. “It’s so rewarding to see the impact you’re having on children’s lives.”

She said she enjoys the student and teacher presentations at each meeting. For instance, students from the elementary school recently told board members about their good behavior game.

“I feel so connected to the schools,” she said. “I feel so blessed to live here.”

Nettles helped campaign for the $14.2 million bond measure voters approved last May. It will pay for repairs across the district and build a new high school gym and career tech education center.

Some of the work, such as addressing deferred maintenance, is already underway; major construction will begin this summer.

Seeing the sorely needed bond projects come to fruition is one reason Nettles is seeking to retain her seat. “I want to be part of that process,” she said.

“I feel this is the best way for me to be involved and help lead the district in positive directions. There’s a lot more work to do.”

Nettles added she wants to help the district deal with challenges such as balancing the budget in light of a state funding shortfall. “We’re looking to try to stretch every penny as far as we can,” she said.

She noted Y-C is putting together its budget based on “one of the potential lowest funding scenarios.” That way, the district can add features if more money comes in, rather than having to make additional cuts.

Next year, Y-C High will have an official student representative at each board meeting. The rep not only will report to the board about high school activities, but will return to his or her school to tell other students what the board is doing.

Nettles said she’s excited about the prospect. She wants to increase communication between the district, community members and students.

She especially wants people to know they are welcome at board meetings, held at 7 p.m. on the second Monday of each month. If they can’t attend, meeting minutes are available on the district’s website, she notes.

Nettles said she favors “better communication and transparency.” Without good communication, she said, it’s easy for people to hear misinformation and make assumptions. 

“We really have to be pro-active,” she said. “We need to work together to create positive change.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport. We really have to get involved.”

Watson taught for 30 years at Yamhill Grade School and retired in 2005.

He now volunteers as a pastor with the fire department and his church. 

“I love my community,” he said. “I’m blessed to be member. I’m looking for ways to contribute to help the community to be such a good place.”

He supported the efforts to pass the Y-C School District’s construction and remodeling measure last year. This spring, he filed to run for office because he wants to bring his expertise to the school board.

Watson said he sees the role of board members as making sure the district “educates kids and gives kids the skills they need to effectively be part of the workforce and society.”

While he’s always believed in teaching basic skills, he said, “Increasingly, I’m a believer that teaching kids to be good problem-solvers and apply knowledge is just as important.”

As a former teacher, Watson believes teachers are important. Administrators and board members must support the teaching staff, he said.

The school board needs to represent the concerns of the community, as well, he said.

He took note of the recent controversy over a book, “Eleanor & Park,” being used in eighth-grade classes at YCIS. The novel contains multiple examples of foul language and references to budding sexuality.

Citizens filled the board room to speak for and against “Eleanor & Park,” and the board ended up removing it from use. After a second, equally passionate meeting, the board appointed a review committee to make recommendations.

“I agreed with the position the board took that the book wasn’t appropriate for the way it was being used,” Watson said.

He said he was happy the board listened to all the public comments. “As a teacher, I know sometimes well-intentioned teachers need reminders to be respectful of the concerns of students’ families,” he said.

In general, Watson said, “I’m pretty happy with the school system in Yamhill.” He said he has no real complaints about the administration, which has “managed to preserve a good learning environment for the most part and be responsive.”

Watson called himself a social conservative. “But that doesn’t mean I’m desiring to turn the schools into a reflection of my strong religious beliefs,” he said, “as much as it reflects my concern that schools can become excessively involved as leaders of social change. On that I would be socially conservative.”

He said he believes students have a right to free speech and expression. However, he said, schools “don’t necessarily need to give them a megaphone.”

Another challenge for the school board this year, and in feature years, will be funding. Watson said Y-C may face funding shortages because of state cuts and rising PERS costs.

The latter is “a huge challenge,” he said, noting he is a beneficiary himself. “It won’t be the position of our board to solve the PERS crisis, but it will be a challenge for us to wrestle with the effects.”

He said he believes in strong investment in public education. As a school board member, though, he will have to recognize that funds are limited and deal with that.

“There will be challenges and the need for restraint for educational bodies to be realistic in view of current economic realities for all public employers,” he said.