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New board member signed recall petition

Grandusky endorsed ouster in June after board voted for administrative raises
by: Christian Gaston and Nancy Townsley Canvassers Melinda Fischer and Ellie Ashby (far right) talk to Tamarack Way resident Toni Jones (in doorway) about a recall effort against two Forest Grove School Board members. Jones signed the petition.

Kate Grandusky says it's nothing personal, but the newest member of the Forest Grove School Board has endorsed a recall effort aimed at two of her colleagues.

Grandusky, of Gales Creek, joined the five-member board in July after defeating incumbent Ralph Brown, of Cornelius, in May. On Monday she confirmed she had signed one of several petitions circulating in Forest Grove and Cornelius calling for the ouster of Anna Tavera-Weller and Terry Howell.

Both Howell and Tavera-Weller have been members of the board since 2009. The recall drive, spawned last spring after the district shuttered Gales Creek Elementary School, cut electives and laid off dozens of teachers in the midst of a large budget shortfall, started slowly but gained steam in recent weeks as volunteers began canvassing door-to-door.

Recall organizer Jodi Giddings of Gales Creek said that as of Tuesday morning, her group had about 1,650 signatures in hand, likely more than enough to meet Washington County Elections Office guidelines for a recall election.

Giddings and her husband, Jason, who pulled their elementary-age daughter out of the district after Gales Creek School closed, plan to continue gathering signatures over the next 12 days and turn in their petition sheets Sept. 26.

District pays for election

County elections manager Mickie Kawai said it would take 10 days to verify that at least 1,616 of the signatures belong to registered voters from the Forest Grove School District. If they pass muster, an election could occur sometime before Nov. 15 and cost the district between $11,500 and $20,000, Kawai said.

If an election occurs, it will be the first recall of a Forest Grove School Board member in at least 16 years, according to district communications officer Connie Potter.

Jason Giddings says the recall effort has already had an effect.

'For the first time since the initial budget conversations [last spring], we feel like we have made significant progress in our efforts to enhance how the school district responds to the public's priorities,' Giddings said Tuesday. 'We are convinced that appointing two new reform-minded board members will drastically benefit our kids' education.'

'Nothing personal'

Grandusky, 62, said she had 'nothing personal' against either of the targeted board members. She signed, she said, to make a point: that she and others in the community are sick of the status quo.

'For me, it's not about personalities at all,' said Grandusky, a retired teacher. 'I think all the board members are caring individuals. But they need to ask questions. We have to get people on the board who are willing to do their homework and do some investigation.'

She gave board chair Alisa Hampton credit for moving the board toward a 'more open and supportive' way of interacting with the public over the summer months by deciding to announce certain agenda topics ahead of time.

'A private person'

Longtime board member Fred Marble said Tuesday morning he declined a request to sign the recall petitions, but didn't criticize Grandusky for doing so.

'She's a private person and she can sign whatever she wants to,' he said. 'Even though I said 'no,' I told [petitioners] I believe in their right to carry out a recall.'

Hampton, an Intel Corp. employee and the mother of three students in the district, also joined the board in 2009. She was originally on the recall group's target list but was spared after organizers realized they needed to leave a quorum on the board that could appoint replacements should Howell and Tavera-Weller exit the panel.

Rather than face a recall, the pair could decide to step down. Howell said earlier this month he was inclined to remain on the board and let voters have their say. Tavera-Weller said last week she intended to 'let the chips fall where they may.'

Still, Marble said, each likely would consider resigning, if only to save the district money connected to a recall.

'They're both weighing that, I'm sure,' he said.

Howell lives in Forest Grove and works as managing editor of military.com. Tavera-Weller, of Cornelius, is the board's most outspoken advocate for the district's Latino families. She works for Legal Aid Services of Oregon in Hillsboro.

Marble, a retired carpenter and businessman who's spent a decade serving on the volunteer board, is currently exempt from recall. He was elected to a third term in May, and state law stipulates that elected officials are not subject to a recall for the first six months of their terms.

Hampton was circumspect about the recall attempt.

'I have no comment other than to appreciate the opportunities we have in our democracy,' she said. 'A recall election would cost the district additional resources that otherwise would be used to help educate our students.'

Her last point was not lost on Grandusky, who said she signed one of the petitions a month before taking office, after the board approved 1.5 percent raises for district administrators.

It was one of a number of controversial votes taken by the policy-making body in recent months.

'For me, that was the moment,' Grandusky said. 'I was out of town when they voted in the raises, but I had written letters to each of the board members ahead of time, urging them not to do it after all the budget cuts.'

She also indicated the closure of 152-year-old Gales Creek School, the district's smallest campus at 113 students, fueled her decision.

'It was a death to the community,' she said. 'I was elected because the community, and not just the Gales Creek community, was upset.'

Indeed, an analysis completed by the News-Times shows that Grandusky won nearly every precinct in her successful bid for the board last spring.

That broad base of support, she says, offers a clear message from voters.

'They wanted people on the board to listen, and to do what's best for kids,' she said. 'My election represents their dissatisfaction.'

In the end, Grandusky said she aimed to get the district, and the board, to take notice of that unrest - even if it meant offending her colleagues.

'I didn't know how else to get the district and the board to understand that taxpayers were fed up,' she said. 'Top-down decision making and leaving the community out of the conversation is not okay.'