When east Portland voters charge for the mailboxes on May 16, they might have family on the brain. Voters will decide the fate of two particularly unprecedented sets of school board candidates: a married couple and a set of sisters.
Two sisters, Andrea Valderrama and Ana del Rocío Valderrama—both first-generation daughters of immigrants—will be running for positions on the David Douglas School District school board. Meanwhile, the Parkrose School District is witnessing Karen Carter battling for a seat to join her husband Dave on the board.
While two close-knit family members eyeing a common school board race might make for expectedly tense home environments, there are also various anxieties persisting throughout the larger community. Namely, there are concerns over the ethics of having a couple or sisters representing the same school district. Whatever stays in the school board meeting room is legally obligated to stay in the school board meeting room.
Concerns over familial closeness have been both opined and rejected by at least one of the candidates. And while their reasons for running are noted through key issues, their motivations for running are somewhat ambiguous. Notably, both Ana del Rocío Valderrama and Karen Carter added their names to the ballot at the last minute.
“As school board [members], our first priority is that we follow the public meeting laws and the ethics laws and leave our egos at the door,” says current Parkrose School District school board member and retired educator Mary Lu Baetkey, who started teaching in Parkrose in 1971.
Currently, to be eligible to run for either school board, there are only three potentially restrictive requirements: A candidate must be an elector of the district; a candidate must have been a resident of said district for at least a year; and the candidate cannot be an employee of the district. There is no law prohibiting relatives or spouses from serving on the same school board.
Another logistical worry revolves around the respective sizes of both the David Douglas and Parkrose school boards. The David Douglas school board consists of seven seats, while the Parkrose school board contains five.
Or, as Baetkey puts it, if both families were to win all four seats, the Valderrama sisters would control “two-sevenths of the pie,” while the Carters would control “two-fifths.”
In May 2015, Dave Carter beat out Joshua Singleton with 62 percent of the vote, securing Thuy Tran’s vacated seat on the Parkrose school board. His wife Karen joined this year’s electoral party late, submitting her application for next month’s ballot a few hours before the application deadline.
For Karen Carter, she maintains that her candidacy has little to do with her husband. If elected, she says you shouldn’t expect her and her hubby of nearly a decade to unequivocally see eye-to-eye.
“There have been a couple ways he’s voted that I have disagreed with. You’re talking to a Democrat who’s married to a Republican,” explains Carter, a longtime local who attended Madison High School. “There are some things that I find more pressing than my husband, like health and wellness and kids having P.E. and recess. He agrees that they need those things, but they’re more of a priority for me.”
While Karen Carter separates herself from her husband ideologically, Andrea and Ana Valderrama have so far been separated more superficially. Ana has opted to formally run as Ana del Rocío, dropping the Valderrama. As the staff policy and research director under Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, del Rocío is listed as Ana del Rocío Valderrama throughout all of her online staff pages.
Whether del Rocío symbolically dropped the “Valderrama” for the ballot so as to distance herself from her sister remains unclear.
“As many Latino community members do, I go by different names. In a community as small as Oregon, it’s difficult to avoid families coming across [each other] in the same work,” del Rocío says, somewhat shy on the subject.
Del Rocío’s sister, Andrea Valderrama, has been equally mum on her sister’s name drop. She did confirm that she suspects they hold similar views and that the two reflect shifting demographics.
Andrea Valderrama, who has lived in Portland for seven years and within her district for five, worked for former City Commissioner Steve Novick as his east Portland spet. When he was not re-elected, she got a job in Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office as a senior policy advisor. She is the mother of a young child. Upon being appointed to the David Douglas school board last May, she was the first person of color to join. Her sister would change that.
It is suspected that del Rocío may have been motivated to run in light of the recent recall campaign of current David Douglas School Board member Bryce Anderson. Anderson infamously came under fire for expressing views deemed anti-immigrant during a March school board meeting that was open to the public.
Andrea Valderrama, for her part, has not held back in publicly denouncing Anderson’s comments.
“Board members speak for themselves,” states Valderrama. “I can say that Bryce’s comments do not reflect the perspective of the full board, and they don’t reflect my perspective. I was personally offended, though it’s important to keep in mind that what we’re talking about is the specific language that he used and not who he is or other experiences he has had.”
The school board elections themselves arrive on the eve of the results from the Parkrose School District’s so-called “Appreciative Inquiry,” a large-scale, yearlong measure of community outreach. The Parkrose School District aims to gain feedback on what it’s been doing well and what it needs to be doing more of. The results will be revealed after analysis is provided by the University of Portland on May 24. Results should reflect opinions provided by at least 500 surveys and will set the tone for whatever issues new and returning school board members will zero in on.
“Basically, it’ll confirm everything we’ve been telling the legislature in terms of funding,” says Baetkey. “Relationships with teachers and small class sizes are a boon to people, and I think those are the things people are remembering.”
Unfortunately, whoever does end up scoring a seat on either school board next month will find economic hurdles in creating tangible change. Local power and finances remain largely in the hands of the state legislature.
“This is a survey that the board will look at in determining their goals for the next said number of years,” says Baetkey. “Are we talking about huge structural changes? No, I don’t think so. Will it reinforce some of the things we are currently doing? Yes. What if we’re already doing things people will appreciate?”
Please note: The photo caption in the original story incorrectly stated that Ana del Rocío is running for an open seat. The position she is running for has an incumbent. In addition, the cutline said “Shortly after the meeting, and just before the filing deadline, Valderrama’s sister filed to run for a seat on the board. ” Ms. del Rocío filed in February, a month before the school board meeting in question. We apologize for the errors in the story’s cutline.