David Douglas School District, the low-key Southeast Portland educational agency best known for its drama-free governance, will experience something of a historic milestone May 17.
For the first time in at least 16 years, all of the incumbents in this year's David Douglas school board election face opponents. (Three of the board's seven seats are on the ballot.)
The incumbents include Frieda Christopher, who has won five elections since 1991 without ever facing a challenger, and Mike Centoni, a six-term incumbent who's served on the board since 1987. Centoni's opponent this year was just 5 years old when Centoni first won election in the district, which now serves 10,000 students.
The electoral energy comes as David Douglas confronts a number of challenges due primarily to the state's budget drain.
Long considered a fiscally conservative district, David Douglas banked a $25 million reserve as recently as 2008. Now the district's savings have dropped to $6.4 million. And to fill a $12 million budget hole for the upcoming school year, district officials have decided to eliminate 79 teaching positions—or 12 percent of its teaching staff. District spokesman Dan McCue says that's the largest single cut to the district's teaching corps ever.
Mix in a superintendent who's been on the job only one year and it's clear David Douglas is on the cusp of change.
"It's a pivotal year," says Shemia Fagan, a 29-year-old business litigator for the Ater Wynne law firm who is challenging Centoni.
In another first that signals just how much has changed in the 52-year-old school district, which is headquartered at Southeast 130th Avenue and Market Street, Fagan has raised more than $8,000 for her race against Centoni, a retired construction-equipment business manager.
The Fagan-Centoni race isn't the only contest drawing attention. Christopher's opponent is John Payne, an insurance agent who's also active in the Multnomah County Republican Party.
In the third contest, Jane Doyle, a 1979 graduate of David Douglas High School who coordinates programs for senior citizens with Portland Parks and Recreation, hopes to unseat her former classmate and neighbor Mike Price, a vice president for an industrial-equipment company who first won his post in 2007.
State Rep. Jefferson Smith, a Portland Democrat whose district includes parts of David Douglas, says he thinks the contested races are a good sign for Portland's east side, which has historically lacked political clout.
"More and more eastsiders are paying attention to what's going on," Smith says.