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Editorial: School board candidates outline positions
Tom Colett, a contract negotiator and local government liaison for LiUNA 483, has experience working in the Oregon Legislature, and served as co-facilitator for the Beaverton School District Music Task Force. He also has volunteered in Beaverton classrooms, and co-founded a local grassroots music education advocacy group.
Jen Fife-Adams is a classified substitute for the Beaverton School District. She has volunteered for Oregon Battle of the Books, as well as Planting Seeds Community Support Group at Sexton Mountain Elementary School.
Matt "A-W" Anthes-Washburn is a past honoree for Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Mathematics. His Beaverton School District volunteer experience includes teaching science, hosting engineering challenges, mentoring students on science projects, and working with groups of teachers to develop science curriculum. He is a parent of two at Chehalem Elementary School.
Sheri Wantland has worked at Clean Water Services since 1994, and frequently has partnered with Beaverton School District in her work. She has taught Tualatin River Ranger programs to hundreds of local fourth graders, and worked with award-winning Westview High School students as a coach for the international Stockholm Junior Water Prize. Wantland's daughter attended district schools, and her grandson is a current student.
Voters are being asked to select a new member of the Beaverton School Board for District 7, a zone that takes in the center of the district, with neighborhoods both north and south of Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. Four candidates are on the ballot. The Valley Times newspaper submitted five questions to the candidates, asking about their priorities and positions on a wide array of topics. Rather than publish a traditional endorsement, the newspaper is breaking down their answers for readers. Their full answers, unedited, can be found online at BeavertonValleyTimes.com.
Question:This year, the Legislature is unlikely to finalize the state budget in time to meet the school district's obligation to have a budget in place by the end of June. How would you, as a school board member, direct staff to craft a budget without knowing the amount allocated by the Legislature?
The question draws on recent history: Since the 1990s tax revolt, the Oregon Legislature has been expected to provide the lion's share of funding for public K-12 school districts, and districts are required to have budgets written and approved by the end of the fiscal year, June 30. But in the middle of the last decade, the Legislature repeatedly failed to finalize a budget on time, which in turn meant school districts created false budgets based on imaginary numbers, then had to scramble during the summer and — worse yet — fall to slash programs, lay off teachers, and hope for the best.
Right now, 2017 is looking to be repeat of those years.
Matt Anthes-Washburn responded by saying the board should seek community responses now to potential cuts before they come to pass; not all cuts are created equal in the minds of parents and community supporters, he said.
Tom Colett opted for an answer that would mean more work for staff, but which makes good sense in an unpredictable political world: Craft three budgets (think of them as small, medium and large), and let residents know what cuts would happen at each level. That's a pretty good strategy (sorry, district budget-writers).
Jen Fife-Adams had a similar idea: develop a "worst-case scenario" budget in order to prepare for the worst of the potential shortfalls.
And Sheri Wantland said the district could "ride out reduced funding without cutting teachers or instruction time." While we doubt that's true, we did like her idea of asking the community whether to tap into $40 million in reserves and rainy-day funds now, or to pursue other remedies.
Question:We are a community of "haves" and "have nots" — of six-figure salaries and food insecurities. What steps should the school board take to more fully address the needs of underserved students and their families?
Colett offered, by far, the most nuanced and thoughtful answer to this question, highlighting a three-pronged approach: Wrap-around services for low-income students and families, such as homeless liaisons, school-based health centers, and bringing social workers into schools; a focus on early-childhood education to identify the needs of students as early as possible; and a laser-like focus on "serious arts education," such as music, which has been shown to narrow achievement gaps.
Fie-Adams has been involved in the Planting Seeds program (which provides food backpacks for students who are "food insecure) and she praised Community Resource Coordinator Christina Mackin, but she also pointed to increasing the number of support people in the classroom, such as instructional aides.
Wantland was the one candidate whose answer moved beyond the issues of poverty to such inequity indicators as mental health, immigration status, domestic violence and sexual identity.
And Anthes-Washburn spoke strongly of using school boundaries to promote equity (as opposed to "ghettoizing" low-income families in one school), as well as programs such as restorative justice and the AVID direct-mentoring program. He also directly spoke out against vouchers, which use district or state money to allow students to opt out of public schools and into private schools. Since the "money follows the students" in public education programs, vouchers "lower most boats" to raise a few, and Anthes-Washburn is right to call them out.
Question:What can and should the school board do to address the issue of class sizes and crowded classrooms?
This topic comes up every year for parents and public school advocates, but in fact, districts have struggled with it for decades without much success. Lowering class sizes means hiring more teachers — and Oregon school districts, on average, are lean organizations that already put money in the classrooms. Most schools also use all existing class space. Everyone hollers for smaller class sizes, but who advocates the use of modulars (trailers) or holding classes in non-classrooms, like corridors and locker rooms, which districts throughout the state have done? The mantra of "smaller class sizes" has failed to generate simple solutions for decades.
Fife-Adams said the district should prioritize smaller class sizes at the lower grades and should lobby the Legislature for more funding — two strategies that have been employed for decades and which haven't moved the needle much.
Wantland identified a major challenge, pointing out that only one quarter of the Beaverton community has children in school; how, then, to convince the other 75 percent of residents that additional funding isn't "pork," but is vital? That's the kind of question a school board should address.
Anthes-Washburn also pointed to "marketing" — making sure that each area of the community understands how the community as a whole benefits from each individual piece of the puzzle — a good program in the school furthest from your home still benefits you as a resident of the community. That big-picture thinking is the best way to build wide support for future bond measures.
But Colette's answer touched on a little-understood but often-important function of a school board: Land banking. That's where a school district (or a city, or county) buys land with the intention of holding onto it until such time, if ever, that it proves of use. Land banking can be terribly unpopular among voters and advocates; you're spending money on a potential future need that might not pan out, rather than spending money on kids in classrooms right now.
But prudent school boards ignore that short-term thinking. In Oregon — with its urban growth boundaries that limit the supply of buildable land — property doesn't get less expensive over time, only more expensive. And if a board guesses wrong and buys where growth doesn't happen, they can always sell the unneeded property or trade it to another government entity for a better parcel.
Amo De Bernardis, then-president of Portland Community College, famously purchased a bit of farmland in Washington County in 1970 over the objection of a young board member named Earl Blumenauer. That farmland turned into the Rock Creek Campus, which has helped make PCC one of the most all-pervasive and successful institutions in the county.
Colett's answer to this question shows a good understanding of land banking.
Question:The district has several priorities. Which do you fully support, and which would you de-emphasize, if you were on the board?
It's sometimes helpful to find out where a board member would serve as a "change-agent."
All four candidates paid homage to the district's four pillars of strategic planning: excellence, collaboration, innovation and equity. Wantland added a nuanced "pillar" — class time, noting that Oregon students spend less time in the classroom than many of their counterparts in the rest of the country. She's right to point that out. She also would emphasize the "basics" of comprehensive education, early-childhood education, smaller classrooms and more instruction time, over other programs. Fair enough.
Anthes-Washburn created a hierarchy for the four pillars, saying that collaboration and innovation are the ways to get to equity and excellence. That's probably true. He also pointed to his background as a classroom teacher, which we don't discount.
Colette, again, offered the most nuanced response, which is worth reading in full on our website.
And Fife-Adams said equity is her north star: the reason she's running for the board.
Ballots have arrived in homes for the mail-in election, and the deadline to vote is Tuesday, May 16. Also on this ballot: candidates running unopposed for other seats include Susan Greenberg, Zone 1; Anne Bryan, Zone 2; Donna Tyler, Zone 4; and LeeAnn Larsen, Zone 5.