Instead of the typical yard signs and election literature, it has been a candidate’s mug shot that has garnered most of the attention in this year’s campaign for Oregon Board of Education.
An anonymous mailer laid out P.J. Kapfhammer’s past on a flyer — his criminal record in the 1990s, tax liens, and back child-support payments from a decade ago — and sent it to local media outlets and throughout the community.
Mr. Kapfhammer’s reaction?
He said he thought the flyer looked nice.
“They nailed it,” said Mr. Kapfhammer, who is running for the school board because he disapproves of recent salary increases for school administrators, a topic that is expected to come up at a board meeting tonight. “Maybe they could come work for me.”
Mr. Kapfhammer, former school board president Jeff Ziviski, and Earl Gilliland, Jr., are the three candidates vying for two open seats in the Nov. 8 election. Incumbents Eric Heintschel and Diane Karoly decided not to seek another four-year term, which has a stipend of $125 per board meeting.
Mr. Kapfhammer said he grew up in Oregon, the kind of “small-town USA, if you do something, everybody knows about it — literally.”
His troubled background is no secret, Mr. Kapfhammer said.
“I’ve never hid from my past,” he said. “People knew I was in trouble when I was a kid.”
According to court records, all past charges against Mr. Kapfhammer were misdemeanors. On Oct. 3, 1993, he pushed a woman, causing her to fall down six flights of stairs at a downtown Toledo club, Toledo Municipal Court records show. He was convicted on a charge of disorderly conduct and paid $43 in court costs and was fined $50.
In another incident, he was yelling obscenities and throwing objects at a Big Boy Restaurant in Toledo on New Year’s Eve 1994. He was convicted of aggravated menacing and sentenced to pay a $250 fine and $43 in court costs.
“Every time I got in trouble, I was a young kid,” Mr. Kapfhammer said. “Going out and if I drank, I became aggressive … I was absolutely dumb. I’m lucky to have survived.”
He also was convicted in Oregon Municipal Court in 1990 for charges of criminal trespass and assault.
Now 39, Mr. Kapfhammer said he has changed and learned from his criminal past. He co-owns Maumee Bay Turf Center, coaches youth football, and runs a community gym out of his business. He has three children enrolled in Oregon City Schools.
“I’ve personally made sure, 16 years ago, I wasn’t going to be this guy again,” he said. “I’ve made sure to give back.”
Both Mr. Kapfhammer’s opponents denied sending the flyers.
“I am hoping people will judge me individually on my own merits and make their own decision,” said Mr. Gilliland, 63, about running against a candidate with a criminal background. “I do not judge others.”
One common issue for the three candidates has been their concern for how the district has handled its finances, especially the raises given to school administrators this year.
The raises come after the district shut down an elementary school and reduced busing for students.
On Aug. 16, the Oregon Board of Education approved salary increases for administrators — including an 11.3 percent pay raise for Superintendent Mike Zalar, whose salary increased to $130,221 from $116,965 this year.
Mr. Zalar said the salary increases were approved after the district cut 12 administrator positions since 2005 and needed to restructure the salaries and job requirements for the remaining 22 positions this year.
In July, the board also approved contracts with the teachers’ union, which gives the average teacher a 2 percent salary increase annually for the next three years, Mr. Zalar said.
Although salaries rose, health-insurance costs also increased by 50 percent for both administrators and teachers, he said.
“The overall context people need to understand is we are saving the district over $3 million as a result of our negotiations with our employee unions and administrative staff,” the superintendent said.
But Mr. Ziviski, 39, argued that the district should have spent the money on educating the students instead of salary raises for the administrators.
“Those are the kind of decisions I see and it’s creating a gap between the district and the community,” said Mr. Ziviski, manager of budgeting and financial analysis for Mercy Memorial Hospital in Monroe. “There’s a lack of trust and transparency.”
Mr. Ziviski said he would be a good school board member because he is experienced and has already encountered the learning curve when he served on the board previously from 2006 to 2009.
He was the school board vice president in 2008 and president in 2009.
“I’m able to reflect back on what I did as a board member. I think I can take that experience and make it a positive for the district now,” said Mr. Ziviski, whose daughter is in kindergarten at Coy Elementary.
Mr. Gilliland said he should be elected because of his “broad experience” in Oregon City Schools, from teaching science at Eisenhower Middle School, working as an assistant superintendent of business affairs and operations, and even doing substitute bus driving occasionally.
“I’ve seen both sides of the coin,” said Mr. Gilliland, who retired in August, 2010, after working as chief business manager at Toledo Public Schools since 2008. “I’ve been fortunate to hold many positions. I really know what the positions encompass.”
Mr. Gilliland’s main priority is repairing the district’s relationship with the community and listening to the public’s concerns.
“Is there validity [with those concerns]? If there is not, then we need to go back to those folks and explain what the real story is,” said Mr. Gilliland, whose two children attended Oregon schools as well as his two grandchildren, who are at Coy Elementary. “If there is validity, we need to take steps or have the administrators take steps to address them.”
Mr. Kapfhammer, who also spoke out against the administrators’ salary increase, said one of his priorities was fixing what he called the district’s “closed-door policy” by making sure the public has enough time to speak at meetings and is heard by school board members.
He said he should be elected because he would be a “hands-on” board member and has learned important lessons from running his own business.
“In business, the customer comes first,” he said.
Contact Gabrielle Russon at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6026.