Endorsements: Portland Public Schools Board
Serving on any school board is typically a thankless job. Given the tumultuous past 12 months, those who volunteer for the Portland Public Schools board are far more likely to hear gripes than gratitude.
The challenges facing the district are particularly daunting following revelations of lead in the drinking water, the subsequent departure of several top administrators along with longtime Superintendent Carole Smith, and infighting among the board members.
It's not surprising then that none of the three incumbents up for re-election this year filed to run again.
What is, perhaps, remarkable, is that 11 people are running for the three vacant seats. Here are our picks in two of those races.
Zone 5: Virginia La Forte
Sometimes impatience can be a virtue. Virginia La Forte, like many school activists, first got involved because she had young kids, and was unsettled by the disparities she saw in the schools. The next thing she knew, she was on three advisory panels and started thinking she might run for school board when her kids, now 7 and 11, graduate.
But after the past year, La Forte — seeing an open seat —decided she couldn't wait, and jumped in this race.
The marketing administrator is ready for the job, having put in countless hours working to rid schools of lead paint, improve the Talented and Gifted (TAG) program and pass the current bond proposal.
Along the way, she's become known as someone who forcefully advocates her position without alienating others. If elected, La Forte says she'd explore ways for the board to engage parents on social media, since it's unrealistic to expect them to show up for meetings.
La Forte has two challengers, including Scott Bailey, whose involvement in the district goes back further than hers.
Bailey, an economist, has taken a leadership role in pushing for site council training, been involved in the contentious school boundary revisions and worked on the past three school bond committees.
He can speak clearly (and expansively) on many school topics and has a particular interest in boosting career training, supporting the arts and examining alternative options to "stuck-in-the-chair" education models.
So, why doesn't he get our nod?
In another matchup, he likely would. But we like the energy and urgency that La Forte brings to the race and urge voters to support her bid.
Zone 6: Julia Brim-Edwards
Although voters in Zone 6 can pick from six candidates, there's one clear choice.
Julia Brim-Edwards, who served on the board from 2001-2005, would bring invaluable experience to a board that's seen tremendous turnover in the past four years.
Brim-Edwards, a Nike executive whose duties include lobbying for the Fortune 100 company, got good reviews during her last tenure on the board, where she proved a persistent, but polite, solutions-focused critic of district policies. She would bring valuable business and political acumen to a body that needs both, and as a PPS grad, parent and former board member, she offers a broad perspective that none of her five challengers can match.
A few of them, however, have highlighted issues that need addressing. Josie Simonis, for example, is an eloquent champion for greater inclusivity. Zach Babb is spot-on with his call for clearer communication from the district. Even David Morrison's single issue — concerns about an overreliance on wireless technology in the classrooms — is worthy of a discussion.
But none of them, like Brim-Edwards, can have an immediate positive impact on solving the considerable challenges facing the district.
NEXT WEEK: School District Zone 4, Measure 26-189 (city auditor) and Measure 26-194 (lodging tax).