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Stand for Children staffer steering recall opposition

Nonprofit leader woos community organizer to help Terry Howell, Anna Tavera-Weller keep seats on school board
by: Courtesy photo Stand for Children’s Sarah Pope is helping to direct a campaign opposed to the recall of two Forest Grove School Board members.

A professional community organizer has taken the reins in a last-minute campaign to stop two Forest Grove School Board members from being recalled in a local election Nov. 1.

Sarah Pope, Oregon deputy director for the advocacy group Stand for Children, led a meeting at the Forest Grove City Library Oct. 19 aimed at boosting an effort to keep recall targets Anna Tavera-Weller and Terry Howell on the board.

Bridget Cooke, who directs Forest Grove nonprofit Adelante Mujeres, confirmed Monday that she solicited Pope's volunteer assistance two weeks ago as a vehicle to diffuse potential community 'divisiveness' that could stem from the recall.

'Whenever there's a recall it can take the focus off what's really important,' Cooke said. 'We want to help move local educational efforts forward. We don't think [Howell and Tavera-Weller's] actions merit a recall.'

Helping Pope steer last Wednesday's meeting was school district communications director Connie Potter. Other district staffers in the room included school board secretary Kathy Bahnsen, Joseph Gale Elementary School principal Melissa Carter, Neil Armstrong Middle School principal Brandon Hundley and Harvey Clark Elementary School third-grade teacher and teachers' union president Jeff Matsumoto.

Besides Howell and Tavera-Weller, board members Fred Marble and Alisa Hampton also attended the session, during which Pope assigned tasks - such as targeted phone calling, Facebook posts, door-to-door canvassing and submissions of supportive letters to the editor - to a half-dozen people.

Mike Hundley, who's acquainted with Howell through Forest Grove Rotary, said he purchased $120 worth of yellow-and-black signs carrying the words 'Vote No On Recall' and asked for permission to place them in front of several local businesses.

'I'm confident Terry is interested in making things happen to the benefit of all,' said Hundley, the father of Brandon Hundley and owner of a Forest Grove insurance business.

It was the first meeting recall opponents are known to have held in their quest to persuade voters to retain Tavera-Weller and Howell, who have been on the board since 2009. Pope suggested 'Yes for ALL Kids' as the group's informal brand.

'What can we do in the remaining 13 days? What do people have energy for?' she asked the group of about 20, gathered in the library's Rogers Room. She told them to prepare for a low turnout in the one-issue election.

'We can expect 20 percent of registered voters to vote,' Pope noted. 'Ideally we can hit voters seven times in those 13 days.'

Pope, who grew up in Beaverton and has been organizing in Hillsboro with Stand for Children five of the last seven years, said she and Cooke believe Howell and Tavera-Weller's departure from the board could harm what they see as the district's progress toward closing the achievement gap between underperforming students and those who score well on state tests.

'Different leadership could throw the district off track,' Pope said.

Acknowledging she'd met Tavera-Weller and Howell for the first time last week, Pope said she was convinced retaining them was best for the 5,800-student district.

'For the district as a whole, the best thing is to stay on course with what's working,' she said.

Cooke said she would work to halt the recall on behalf of both board members.

'Anna is the first Latina board member, and the recall has had extra pull for what it says to other Latinas who might want to get involved in school issues,' Cooke said. If the recall succeeds and the board members are replaced, she said, 'the board is going to spend a lot of time trying to establish connections and develop trust again.

'Let's keep recalls for when they're really necessary.'

Jodi Giddings of Forest Grove, one of the main organizers of the pro-recall group 'Get on Board,' stood outside the library with three volunteers holding a pro-recall sign while the opposition's session went on inside the building.

Giddings and her husband, Jason - who soured on Howell and Tavera-Weller's performance on the board in the wake of severe budget cuts last spring that reduced electives, laid off teachers and closed Gales Creek Elementary School - deployed a group of about 30 volunteers who worked all summer to get petition signatures from 2,000 registered voters who wanted to bring the issue to the electorate.

In recent weeks members of the pro-recall group have distributed color flyers, posted information on Facebook and stood on street corners in Forest Grove and Cornelius urging pedestrians and motorists to vote to oust the targeted board members.

New school board member Kate Grandusky, who defeated Ralph Brown in an election in May, signed a petition to recall her two colleagues. Hampton, the board's chair, and Marble, who was re-elected to his position in May, do not support the recall.

Matsumoto has turned up at meetings planned by each side. He said Monday the Forest Grove Education Association voted earlier this fall to refrain from weighing in on the matter.

'The [teacher's union] decided it would take a position of 'no position' on the recall,' he said. 'It just made sense not to be involved in a decision of this kind.'

Ballots reached the mailboxes of 15,165 voters in the local school district last week. They're due back at the Washington County elections office by 8 p.m. next Tuesday, Nov. 1.

Voters can mail their ballots in, but should do so by today to ensure their timely arrival, elections officials have said. They can also be placed in designated drop boxes in Forest Grove and Cornelius.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 1,779 ballots had been returned for an 11.73 percent participation rate with seven days to go, according to Luther Arnold, a senior administrative specialist with the elections office.