Of the four seats up for reelection on the Hillsboro School Board, the Position 2 candidates likely won't get a lot of attention from the public — but they should.
It was this race, which pits incumbent Glenn Miller against political newcomer Mark Watson, that our Editorial Board struggled with the most.
After all, Miller is an affable high-tech analyst who in his first four years on the school board has made a name for himself as someone who will make bold, even unpopular, decisions in the name of what he thinks is right.
Those are admirable qualities in any candidate, but we, unfortunately, cannot endorse his re-election.
We didn't endorse Miller when he sought his first term in 2013, either, but we were impressed with his problem-solving skills and involvement in the district. We wrote at the time that he was committed to improving educational opportunities for students.
But in the four years since, he hasn't changed our minds.
Miller was the brainchild behind a land swap with the Beaverton School District which became a major issue between members of the school board. Miller met with Beaverton officials about swapping a piece of land in the Hillsboro district with a comparable-sized one in Beaverton without alerting fellow board members. This newspaper wrote on its Opinion page that Miller acted inappropriately and one school board member was so upset she tried to file ethics complaints against Miller.
That complaint was unfounded, but Miller has a knack for finding contentious ways to address issues.
The school board is a non-partisan position, yet the district has found itself wading into the political arena several times in the last few years. Many of those issues have had Miller at the helm.
Miller stood firm against the rising minimum wage — an issue community members, his colleagues on the school board and even Superintendent Mike Scott said should never have been tackled by the board. He also voted against allowing birth control at the district's School Based Health Center and last December, when news stories began to circulate across the nation that Hillsboro had banned images of Santa Claus from its classrooms (something the district says was blown out of proportion), Miller called out Scott and the district in a school board meeting that ended with one district staff member in tears. Whether the district was in the right or not, that wasn't a proper way to handle that situation.
We applaud Miller for being able to take a stand, but he wears his politics on his sleeve, and in a seat that's supposed to be non-partisan, we're looking for a candidate that can not only put the needs of students ahead of political ideology, but someone who is willing to take their lumps and admit when they're wrong.
Neither Miller nor Watson has a great handle on how to raise the graduation rate among Latinos, who have a staggeringly poor success rate in this district. One in three Latino students currently doesn't graduate on time. That's unacceptable in any district, let alone one where nearly 37 percent of students speak Spanish at home.
One of the issues, Miller told the Editorial Board, was that many struggling Latino students are children of migrant farm workers, who spend part of their year outside of the U.S., and have a hard time when they return to school. That's certainly true for a portion of students in the district, but it's far from the normal experience of most of the district's 9,400 Latino students — and to claim that is more than a little insulting to the many, many Latino families who have lived and worked in Hillsboro for generations.
That said, we're not in love with Watson, either.
Watson has said he'd work to raise the district's graduation rate, but was light on details how. Admittedly inexperienced with the minutiae of how school districts operate, Watson has some research to do in order to get up to speed, something Miller doesn't need. Watson didn't know, for example, how poorly some of the district's lowest-income elementary schools are performing until we brought them up.
Watson said he's "data-driven" and has called for the school board to change how candidates are elected. He prefers to split the board seats geographically to ensure that parents from more diverse parts of town are represented on the panel. That's unlikely to happen, but it's an interesting idea.
"I'm working to put myself out of a job," he told us.
We like Watson's ideas about getting students more involved through internships with local businesses, and he showed us he's willing to hit the books and learn what he needs to about the school district.
It should also be noted that Watson has amassed an impressive list of endorsements, including the school district's teacher's union, several sitting school board members and the mayors of Hillsboro and North Plains.
Watson has said the district needs to be more transparent with the "good works" it does. There is a disconnect between what the district is doing and what the community sees, he told us. We can see Watson not only as a cheerleader for the district's successes, but also, in time, as a leader who can thoughtfully weigh the hard issues the district will be facing in the next few years, including both a possible construction bond and a local option levy, as well as battling the seemingly never-ending budget woes from Salem and handling the third rail of school district politics: re-drawing school boundaries.
Most importantly, however, Watson won't sink the school board into political infighting. While we have an idea of his political leanings, they don't seem to weigh heavily in his decisions. Watson is a collaborator who puts kids first.
Like Miller, Watson has been immersed and involved in the school district for years as a parent and volunteer, and with time we believe he can become a valuable member of the school board.
The choice here is clear: Vote Mark Watson for Hillsboro School Board Position 2.