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Organizers say recall will come for school board

Efforts to unseat Terry Howell and Anna Tavera-Weller are on track, say backers

Leaders of a group looking to oust two Forest Grove School Board members say they're within reach of their signature-gathering goal.

With 19 days remaining on the clock, Jason and Jodi Giddings of Gales Creek say they have 1,350 of the 1,616 signatures they need on each of two petitions calling for the removal of Terry Howell and Anna Tavera-Weller.

If the group turns in enough valid signatures to the Washington County Elections Office by Sept. 26, a recall election could occur this fall.

'We are confident we'll reach the minimum by the end of next weekend,' Jodi Giddings wrote in an e-mail Monday night.

The Giddingses launched the recall campaign in June after a contentious debate around the district's 2011-12 budget, during which the board cut high school electives, laid off dozens of teachers and closed Gales Creek Elementary School to save about $7.5 million.

They targeted Howell and Tavera-Weller, saying each has 'shown incompetence' in executing the duties of a board member. The group spared board chair Alisa Hampton (Fred Marble and the newest panel member, Kate Grandusky, aren't eligible for recall until next year), in a strategy that maintained a quorum on the board so members would appoint replacements should the ouster succeed.

Howell, who has held Position 2 on the board since 2009, declined Tuesday to say what he'd do if petitioners gathered the requisite number of valid signatures. One option is to step down; the other is to face a recall vote.

'I'm leaning toward letting the system do what the system will do,' he said, adding that he's received 'quite a bit' of feedback from supporters encouraging him to stay the course.

If he remains on the board, Howell said he'd like to see the issue of remedial workshops at Forest Grove High School resolved. Tension between the district and some parents - angered that workshops received funding priority over electives cut last spring - continued to simmer as the new school year commenced this week.

'I'd like us to figure out and fine-tune what we're doing with workshops,' said Howell, adding that many other issues, including the way public education is funded in Oregon, 'are beyond our control.'

Tavera-Weller, who's held Position 1 on the board since 2009, did not answer the News-Times' phone calls or an e-mail request for an interview.

Both of their terms will expire in 2013.

'Not listening'

Recall supporter Melinda Fischer said she gathered 61 signatures on Labor Day by canvassing door-to-door, buoying her hopes for a special election vote. Over the last two months, she said, she's added about 400 signatures to the petitions by dedicating 100 hours to the effort.

'It's running 20-to-1 in support of the recall,' she said.

The Gales Creek resident has an eighth-grader at Neil Armstrong Middle School but pulled her fifth-grader out of the district after her neighborhood school shut down. Still, she insisted her quarrel with the board isn't about Gales Creek.

'This is a statement about how unhappy I am with the district and its decisions,' she said Tuesday morning, noting that removing her youngest child from student rolls in Forest Grove means a loss of about $6,000 in state funding to the district. 'They weren't listening to public input last spring, but maybe they'll listen to thousands of dollars going away.'

With regard to Tavera-Weller and Howell, Fischer insisted 'a change needs to be made.'

Board members 'were elected to be our public voice,' she said, but instead are 'doing exactly what the administration wants.'

Fischer pledged to continue knocking on doors in Forest Grove neighborhoods this week, where she said she's heard 'story after story' from people upset with the district's direction.

Jodi Giddings said a few dozen volunteers would continue gathering support door-to-door this week 'so that we have several hundred extra [signatures] for the inevitable fallout' that happens when elections officials comb through the recall sheets for invalid signatories.

Where the school board recall stands

Forest Grove School board recall: Organizers trying to recall board members Terry Howell and Anna Tavera-Weller say they'll reach their signature gathering goals.

1,616 signatures needed, 1,350 signatures collected

Days counting down - 19 days left

According to Washington County elections manager Mickie Kawai, the school board recall group needs to turn in petitions carrying the signatures of 1,616 registered voters by 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 26.

daily tally needed - 14 signatures per day needed to reach goal

Recall leaders Jason and Jodi Giddings of Gales Creek - and their cadre of helpers - need to garner 14 valid voter signatures per day between now and their deadline.