City & Government

South Lane School Board candidate biographies and columns

Dustin Bengtson, Position 3

Age: 53

Hometown: Cottage Grove for nearly 30 years

Marital status: Married

Partner occupation: Public school employee

Children: Two teenagers in the South Lane School system

Party Affiliation: None

Education: Bachelor’s Degree, University of Iowa

Occupation(s): Deputy operations project manager

Current employer: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Public sector work experience: 33 years in natural resource management, asset management, and stewardship of public resources

Private sector work experience: Board member of South Valley Athletics Association, Cottage Grove Mat Club board member. Former memberships: Kiwanian, Urban Forestry Committee member

Elected office held, with dates: South Lane School Board 2019-present

Previous unsuccessful runs for office, with dates: None

I am a married father of two. I have lived in Cottage Grove for nearly 30 years. I have worked in public service all my life and have experience in organizational leadership, human resource management, budget, asset management, and safety. 

I have served on the Urban Forestry Committee, Kiwanis Club, the South Valley Athletics Board, the SLSD Bond Committee and the SLSD School Board for the last four years. 

We have to move away from partisan arguments and engage in productive ways to support  our schools. If we cannot set an example, we will lose something significant in our community over the long run. 

We have to meet our legal obligations as a public school system. That protects our staff, students, funding and future. We have to defend academic freedom. Teachers and students must feel safe in discussing complicated issues if we are going to have rigor in education. We cannot use literature and curriculum to curry controversy and frighten families. 

We need to focus on shared values around the development of our kids, understanding that diversity is at the core of a healthy public school system. Respect, service, personal courage, care for others, honesty, and integrity are all values that we should be able to agree upon.  We need to maintain focus on early childhood education. That investment translates to improved educational outcomes at all levels and for all kids. We have to maintain an environment where our kids feel safe, connected, and accepted. They need that support reflected in policy and fiscal priorities. We must defend the basic human rights of our most vulnerable students. 

It has been an honor to serve this district and if elected, I will uphold my oath, support our staff and keep all of our kids in focus.

Duane Allen Taddei, Position 3

Age: 47

Hometown: Watsonville Calif.

Marital status: Happily married 24 years

Partner occupation: School bus driver

Children: Ages 22 and 18; public, charter, and home schooled

Residence neighborhood: West Main and R streets for 18 years, 1 mile south of town for two years

Facebook page: Duane Taddei for South Lane School Board Position 3

Party registration: Republican

Education: High school diploma

Occupation(s): Locomotive engineer; union chairman

Current employer: Union Pacific Railroad; Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen

Private sector work experience: Critical thinking and problem-solving skills

I am seeking a position on the South Lane School Board, running against Dustin Bengtson and Martha Allen. 

I’ve been a resident of Cottage Grove for 21 years and have experience with local schools. There are so many more issues affecting schools, education, and our students than there were even just 10 years ago – let alone when I attended schools myself. There are federal mandates, state mandates, local issues, funding troubles, teachers, administrators, and board members with personal agendas and strong outside interests who use their big money to interrupt a basic education. 

This is where the voters come in. 

They must choose a person who can digest all of this and make the tough decisions without being influenced by these interests that aren’t in the best interest of students’ education. 

This is where I come in. 

I want to be the bridge between the administrators, the people hired to educate our children. I want to hear from each and every one of you who has a real interest in our children’s education. We as adults have a responsibility to be involved. Realizing some people don’t have the time, the ability or the resources to spend time in the schools, I am willing to take on that responsibility. 

To accomplish this, I need your vote and then I need your commitment that you will continue to share your thoughts, opinions and ideas on how we move forward together. 

On my end, I will promise you that I will fight to keep your voice from being suppressed by those with opposing views or by outside interests. When I don’t hear from you, I will not assume all is good and do my best to re-engage you, realizing you may be busy, exhausted, burned out and just ready to give up.

Tina Murphy, Position 7

Age: 74

Hometown: Novato, Calif. 

Marital status: Widowed

Children: Four children, all went through 4J and Springfield districts

Residence neighborhood: Nine years within the South Lane School District

Education: Novato High School graduate; attended Pacific University and Lane Community College for general education courses

Occupation(s): Many jobs throughout the years, including kitchen work, office work, field work, but mostly customer service work. I have also driven a van for Head Start and worked with the Summer Food program. At present, I am doing a little tutoring of special needs kids.

Runs for office: The only thing I ran for  was the cheerleading squad my senior year of high school. I did get voted in. 

Tina Murphy elected not to write a column. 

Gary Edward Mort, Position 7

Age: 59

Hometown: Cottage Grove, Ore.

Marital status: Married

Partner occupation: Public health advocate and researcher

Children: Adults, both educated

(K-12) entirely in Cottage Grove public schools (Bohemia, Lincoln, CGHS)

Residence neighborhood: Lincoln Middle School

Party registration: Variable

Education: Southern Oregon University, BS: Chemistry; University of California (Davis), ABD: Chemistry

Occupation(s): College chemistry teacher

Current employer: Lane Community College

Public sector work experience: Community college teacher, 31 years

Elected office held, with dates: SLSD School Board, 8 years, current (2015-present)

The board fields many specific questions: 

“Are you closing the pool?” 

“How will you increase graduation rates?”

I understand that, and it’s how I ask questions. But the questions aren’t well suited to the kinds of responses I (or the district) have.

Do kids need to learn to read? Do math? Write? Yes. Clearly yes. So why don’t we “just” teach them to do that? That requires figuring out why they aren’t, and addressing whatever problems we can to remedy those things. 

Do we really need music? Well? If I can get kids to stay in school for music, there’s some hope they’ll learn “the basics.” Does it really matter if kids can self-regulate and relate to others? I’d say yes. Can teachers teach the basics if they’re dealing with other problems kids have? No. Do kids learn well if they’re hungry? They do not.

We work under remarkable constraints – “You can have this money, if it’s spent exactly, ONLY, on this” – “You must provide this service/opportunity.” And within those bounds we must find ways to meet the kids where they are at. To give them support, motivation, extra resources, food, transportation, and yes, instruction – but that looks different for every kid – so they can grow into better versions of themselves, for themselves, and as our fellow community members.

Our public schools are not our “great equalizer.” Our society is too complex, and too unequal, for any one thing – no matter how grand, and no matter how complex – to do that. What our schools can and do provide, are opportunities for all. They can be places where all kids are welcome. Places where kids can learn both about things, and where they can discover how to learn and cherish learning. We try to do that. We will continue to try.

Martha Allen, Position 3

Age: 72

Hometown: Owosso, Mich.

Marital status: Married

Partner occupation: Retired

Children: Two children in their 30s; both went to public schools

Residence neighborhood: Creswell

Party registration: Democrat

Education: Bachelor’s Degree from University of Oregon

Current employer: Retired

Public sector work experience: Secretary of Democratic Party 15 years ago and was on the Eugene Library Board

I’m motivated to seek a position on the South Lane School Board because I’ve become increasingly concerned by what I perceive to be failings in our public education system, coupled with my desire to “give back” now that I am retired and have more time available. 

My concerns center around the poor performance of many of our students on tests of basic academic achievement; also on what seems to be a trend towards the increasing politicization of school curriculum. I freely admit that I am not an expert in the field of public education; discussing my concerns and possible solutions with both current and retired teachers over the past few years has only shown me how much more I need to learn. 

What I would bring to a position on the Board is an open mind, energy, and a commitment to work constructively with all the relevant stakeholders toward the goal of providing the best education possible for our students. 

I believe that the role of the school board should be to support school administrators (superintendent) and especially teachers in providing the best possible education for our students. This means not only ensuring that evidence-based approaches to developing curriculum and teaching methods are implemented, but also that schools provide a safe and inclusive environment in which students’ rights and individualities are respected.

Read the Q+A here.



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