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Elected leaders of West Linn and WL-WV school district say their relationship could use work

PMG FILE PHOTO  - WEST LINN CITY COUNCIL With the West Linn-Wilsonville School District consistently ranked among the best in the state (a recent study from Niche put WL-WV at No. 2), one of the most common reasons a West Linn transplant comes to town is "the schools."

As its leaders, the WL-WV administration and school board play a significant role in earning the district's renown and accolades. Similarly, officials and staff with the City of West Linn are responsible for many of the other aspects of West Linn that draw people here, like parks and safe neighborhoods.

Crossover between the school district and City is not uncommon. From parking issues at West Linn High School, to building permits for possible new schools to student access to City resources, the two entities rely on each other a lot. Tension between the district and City-whether it is perceived or real-could hinder this day-to-day work, and so both agencies have expressed a desire to forge a better relationship.

School Board Vice Chair Chelsea King Martin noted that if the district's capital bond, which will be on the ballot for West Linn and Wilsonville voters in November, passes, the district and City will work even more closely. The proposed capital bond projects include retrofitting Athey Creek Middle School into a new home for Arts and Technology High School and a new middle school built on Dollar Street.

At a recent meeting, the West Linn City Council discussed the nature of its relationship with the WL-WV school district and board.

"We need to build a better relationship and the impression that I get is that they maybe don't want to spend the time for that relationship. I don't know exactly why that it is, but I think it's healthy that we do that," Mayor Russ Axelrod said during the meeting.

Councilor Jules Walters even asked her fellow councilors to use more considerate language when discussing the school board and district.

King Martin agreed that the relationship needs work.

"Anything that has created tension or anything that has resulted in a less than ideal collaborative condition, we want to be better," King Martin said. "I know that our school board and our superintendent are committed to our relationships with the city and we will continue to look for ways to improve how we collaborate."

King Martin noted that although the council and school board only formally meet together for a joint work session once every two years, staff members from the district and the City meet more frequently.

"Every two years is not very frequent but both bodies are doing really complicated work," she said. "The quality of the meeting is what's most important."

People tend to see the work of the school board and city council, as they are the elected representatives, but what residents and students don't always see is the day-to-day work district and city staff do behind the scenes, WL-WV Director of Communications Andrew Kilstrom pointed out.

"District staff also regularly work alongside City staff on many topics and projects throughout the year," Kilstrom said.

Kilstrom also noted that staff from both the district and the City have been working together recently on the coming Multi City Equity Summit, a collaboration between the school districts and the Cities of West Linn, Wilsonville, Lake Oswego, Tualatin and Tigard.

King Martin said she feels the perceived tension between the school board and the city council is emblematic of a national shift in sentiment toward government agencies.

"I think that mistrust of our government institutions is something that has always existed and seems to be really increasing the past handful of years," she said. "We in the West Linn-Wilsonville community are not immune to that phenomenon. Any kind of mistrust that exists is part of what I see to be a larger pattern."

Despite the negative outlook on government that seems to be rising in popularity, King Martin expressed faith in the City and the WL-WV district and school board.

"Our quality of life here is so high, I think sometimes we can't see it and that doesn't happen accidentally," she said. "That comes from really high-quality people working in a very committed fashion to creating it and I do believe that both in the City of Wilsonville and the City of West Linn, the reason why we're growing communities is because we have amazing quality of life and our schools are very high quality."

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