Matt Thornton, Sherwood School District – Candidate Interview
By George Hough, Washington County Dems Communications Team
WCD: How do your values and those of the Democratic Party align?
MT: Why be a Democrat? I think simply that the Democratic Party is the party of good governance and institutions. Republicans are more concerned with cultural wedge issues (CRT, anti-LGBTQ, abortion) and seem to be more concerned about party power than they do the institutions of democracy, as exemplified by their stolen election rhetoric. The Democratic Party is concerned with good governance, solving problems, and is aligned with my values. For example, we need to take more steps toward renewable fuels and protecting voting rights. Democrats respect the individual and support a society where everyone has an equal voice and representation. As a former teacher, I strongly believe in public education and right now only Democrats seem supportive of public ed. Republicans are actively trying to divert public funds for public education toward private education, i.e.: “School Choice”.
WCD: If you are elected, what is the one specific project or goal you most want to accomplish?
MT: Since I have to limit it to one, I won’t use our current financial crisis in Sherwood as my one goal. Not because it isn’t important to get our finances figured out, but rather because money is a numbers problem which makes it a solvable rational problem. I am a former math teacher. A financial math problem will be solved because it has to be solved.
So I’ll select another issue I want resolved. And that is the lack of respect for school governance. The politics on our board has been disruptive. I want to see a return to good governance, civility, and a commitment to focus on the business of education.
As a Democrat I have a lot of other more appealing goals I would love to go after. Expand our diversity and inclusion programs. Do more to address bullying in our schools. The list goes on. I know it’s not an attractive thing to say to another Democrat, but right now my goals are to just move us back to where we were a few years ago. Regarding school board elections, Democrats are now on the defensive. We lost last cycle. I am just trying to get us back to where we were.
WCD: Which elected official do you most admire and why?
MT: It would be easy to point to a great many famous and well known political leaders such as former teacher/professor Elizabeth Warren. However, this campaign has taught me the importance and impact of our local leaders. So I am going to choose Representative Courtney Neron. Like myself, she is a former teacher. Knowing her personally I know she does what she does because she is altruistically motivated. She has values similar to my own. Given what local politicians are paid and the job they are asked to do, I am honestly surprised to find such a good person doing this work. Like, what is the motivation? She is an inspiration and ultimately one of the major factors in my personal decision on whether or not to run for school board.
WCD: What do you feel is the most important responsibility of the position you are running for?
MT: My primary job as School Board Director is to be a good steward of our tax payer money. Ultimately I have one employee, the Superintendent, Jeremy Lyon. My job is to support him and make sure that he and the schools have the resources they need. Regarding the stewardship of our tax payer money, it is key to make sure our money is spent appropriately and equitably. Money spent must equally represent all stakeholders. Both student, parent, and also staff.
For example it was brought to my attention that the district has had a pattern in the past of letting go a 1.0 FTE ( full time equivalent) classified hire and then choosing to hire two 4.25 positions. A hire at less than 4.5 doesn’t qualify for health insurance or benefits. So two 4.25 staff costs less than one full FTE. But at an entry position rate of $16 per hour, without health insurance or benefits, that efficient means our tax payer money is being used to support a system of non-livable wages. That is not an equitable use of tax payer money. This type of practice, if it were to continue, would not only degrade the qualify of staff Sherwood could attract, it is also an unethical practice. It is important that we spend tax payer money in a way that is reflective of the values of the community that it represents.
WCD: How will you navigate animosity at school board meetings if it occurs?
MT: I think it starts with the Board. We as a Board have to learn to work together as a team. At the very least put up a unified front to the public and be cordial. We have no business bringing in personal issues, or grandstanding. Regardless of how the vote goes, no one should be surprised how any one board member voted. Be professional and civil. It’s important to remember that all of us board members, no matter how different our political views, all want our children to feel loved, valued, and want our schools to be successful. If disruptive school board meeting events happen, I hope the board chair would elect to move the meeting to an online forum. This has happened in the past. Boards don’t have to sit there and listen to abuse. And board activity certainly shouldn’t encourage it.
Learn more about Matt Thornton, Candidate for Sherwood School District, Position 5, at his campaign website.