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Legislator asks: Why not me for schools superintendent?

The Portland school district needs a superintendent.

At the same time, the Portland school district needs better relations with the Oregon Legislature Ñ needs, in fact, to get over its 'huge attitude problem,' according to state Rep. Randy Leonard, D-Portland.

So Leonard suggests a solution to both problems: The Portland school board should hire a legislator Ñ him Ñ to be Portland's next schools chief.

Leonard, who lives in outer Southeast Portland, sent Portland school board members an e-mail expressing his interest in the superintendent's job 10 days ago, shortly after all four previous finalists for the superintendent's job withdrew their candidacies.

But Leonard says his interest in the job comes not out of pity for a school board that's been searching for a superintendent for almost a year. It's out of a belief that the state's largest school district needs his skills.

A dozen years ago, before the tax-limiting Measure 5 transformed how K-12 education is paid for, schools got most of their money from local property taxes. Now, they get 70 percent of it from the state Ñ from the Legislature, essentially.

'You need somebody in there who understands how vital it is to have a relationship with the Legislature,' Leonard says.

Portland Public Schools leaders have never understood that, Leonard says.

While superintendents from Centennial, Parkrose and other nearby school districts have worked to establish relationships with him and other legislators, he has had difficulty even getting chats with recent Portland superintendents, Leonard says.

Before a legislative session, he says, 'their secretary calls you and tells you Superintendent So-and-So would like to meet with you. It's all about fitting into their schedule É and you get the sense they're holding court. As opposed to really caring what you think, they're more interested in telling you what they need.'

District officials dispute Leonard's assertions.

'I don't know of a situation where a legislator hasn't been able to talk to a superintendent,' says Lew Frederick, spokesman for Portland Public Schools.

But Leonard says his superintendency would change the district's attitude and would bring the district what it sorely needs: 'leadership on the political front.' Leonard says he would resign his House seat if named superintendent.

The Portland fire bureau lieutenant, who has a degree in history from Portland State University, acknowledges that he has no background in education. But 'I would surround myself with the people who had those credentials,' he says. 'That would be important.'

And, unlike the previous superintendent finalists Ñ all from out of state Ñ 'I live here, and I'm not moving,' Leonard says.

A few days after Leonard sent the e-mail, city Commissioner Charlie Hales announced he would be resigning his City Council seat. Leonard announced he would be running for it.

Still, Leonard said late last week, he would rather have the superintendent's job.

School board Chairwoman Debbie Menashe says the board received Leonard's e-mail, and Ñ as with all applications and nominations Ñ forwarded it to the board's search agency. She will not characterize how viable a candidate Leonard might be for the job.

Leonard, however, figures signs aren't good. Board members' messages back to him said only that they'd pass his rŽsumŽ on to the search agency Ñ 'which I kind of took as a kiss-off,' he says.

Contact Todd Murphy at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .