Our Opinion: Kohnstamm, Lowery best picks for PPS
On Tuesday we published our endorsements for two of the four races for Portland Public Schools Board of Directors, recommending Andrew Scott in Zone 1 and Michelle DePass in Zone 2. Today we wrap up our recommendations. All four endorsements can be found online at pamplinmedia.com/portland-tribune-opinion.
Amy Kohnstamm's toughest opponent in her re-election bid is not her challenger. It's Amy Kohnstamm.
Two years ago, the longtime parent volunteer was the board's point person in pushing a $790 million bond to rebuild four schools and to fix a host of health-related issues throughout the district. Voters overwhelmingly bought the bond backers' sales pitch, only to find a year later that the work will cost $190 million more than they were told.
Those looking for an easy scapegoat have one in Kohnstamm.
We agree that Kohnstamm and her colleagues should have asked tougher questions. For example, when the estimated price tag for the Madison High School renovation went down during the bond deliberations, board members cheered the news, rather than recognizing it as the obvious red flag that it was.
In their defense, the school board was listening to the same folks who had run a 2012 district bond measure on time and below budget. In our view, their failure to drill down on specifics, while regrettable, is forgivable.
Kohnstamm, who ousted incumbent Bobbie Regan in 2015, says she's learned from that experience and wants another term, in part, to provide stronger oversight of current bond projects and to better vet future proposals.
She also is eager to work with Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero and his new leadership team as they try to improve transparency of administrative decisions and better engage parents in setting district priorities.
The bond fiasco aside, Kohnstamm has proven to be a thoughtful board member with a deep understanding of the district.
The same can't be said for her opponent, Deb Mayer, who has some educational experience, but most of it was in Florida and Indiana. We share Mayer's concerns about the addictive nature of electronic games, but think parents, not school board members, are best poised to address that issue. There's little or no scientific evidence behind her claim that radiation from mobile phones poses health risks.
If the district convenes a citizen panel on impact of electronic devices on education, Mayer would warrant consideration. But she does not provide a compelling argument to unseat Kohnstamm.
The race to replace outgoing board member Mike Rosen features a pair of first-time candidates with contrasting backgrounds and styles.
Our nod goes to Eilidh Lowery, a pastor of a Southeast Portland Methodist church who is active in the Woodstock Neighborhood Association. (Note: Lowery was born in Scotland and her first name is a Gaelic spelling of a common Scottish name. It rhymes with "Hailey.")
Lowery, who has a daughter in middle school, has served on the district's budget review committee, where she learned the art of asking questions.
That skill came in handy when her daughter came home in tears after learning that, because of the limited flexibility in scheduling electives, she had to choose between continuing her Spanish language studies and taking band.
Lowery started asking questions. She was told that the school "had to" offer certain core science classes. Many school officials assumed it was state law. Lowery eventually found that it was district policy.
The experience motivated her to run for a couple of reasons.
First, she says, too many district officials "are hiding behind the rules" without exploring where they come from or questioning their value.
Second, she thinks it's important to give students the ability to take more electives, particularly in lower grades. Her daughter, she says, had the option of taking private music lessons outside of school. But not every family can do that.
Her three-point platform focuses on improving educational equity, increasing options for arts classes, and finding long-term stable funding for all public schools.
Her opponent, Robert Schultz, says he also is interested in district policies while advocating for one of his children, a son who had a health condition that the full-time single dad felt was mishandled by school officials.
And, like Lowery, he is troubled by the disparate number of black and Latino students who are struggling in school.
Shultz did not respond to our editorial board's invitation until it was too late to come in. But maybe it was for the best, as he picked up some unwanted attention for storming out of Willamette Week's endorsement interview after fielding a question he found insulting.
The man with a long beard and short fuse says it's time for voters to elect a newcomer who will bring some fresh ideas and a different skill set to the board.
We agree. And that person is Lowery.
You can read our previous endorsements here.
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