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School Board Scramble

It's crowded in Forest Grove incumbent Ralph Brown's corner, while Fred Marble runs unopposed
by: Chase Allgood Fred Marble will go unchallenged in the May 17 Forest Grove School Board election unless write-in campaigns emerge.

Every four years or so in Forest Grove, the local electorate has the opportunity to either keep or reject incumbent members of the school board.

Board members Ralph Brown and Fred Marble are up for reelection this spring - but due to a few strange twists, only one of them has company on the May 17 ballot.

At least partly by accident, Brown, a retired educator and former two-time mayor of Cornelius who's running for his second term on the school policymaking body, drew three challengers for his seat, Position 4.

Marble, on the other hand - a former carpenter and businessman who's making a run for his third full term on the board - has, officially, no one running against him for Position 5.

That sets Marble up as a lock for retaining his seat. And the crowded field for Brown's seat will likely make keeping his job a bit easier.

But according to a pair of the candidates, it wasn't supposed to be this way.

Kristie Lesser, a Forest Grove mother of two and co-chair of last fall's 'Yes for Kids' bond levy campaign that won $63.5 million to build a new elementary school and complete other building projects in the district, said in February she intended to run against Marble.

But when she filed her paperwork with the Washington County Elections Office March 17, the filing deadline, Lesser went for Position 4, Brown's seat - as did political newcomers Jeff Cooper of Forest Grove and Kate Grandusky of Gales Creek.

The scramble for Brown's seat isn't an indictment of his popularity, but instead, seems a quirk of election-season hearsay.

'I was given some misinformation,' Lesser said March 19. 'I got an e-mail [last Tuesday] that said three people were already running for Fred's seat.

'My intent was never to run against Ralph.'

Cooper, too, was surprised about the crowd that emerged after he tossed his hat in the ring for Position 4 last Thursday. 'At the time, I thought Fred had opposition,' said the former English teacher and technology specialist.

He says he's planning to run as a write-in candidate against Marble as well, a plan Lesser said she was mulling.

Race is set

Washington County Elections supervisor Tracy Krevanko said Tuesday that while in the past, a handful of candidates have filed for one position but later mounted write-in campaigns for the other slot, the strategy typically backfires. 'I've never seen anyone win that way,' said Krevanko.

It's too late for a candidate to change the seat they're running for - ballots are already in the printing process and will be mailed out April 29. It's also too late to remove a name from the ballot.

'The filing deadline is also the last day to withdraw,' Krevanko noted.

Grandusky, who retired from the Forest Grove district as a special education teacher last November, appears to be the only candidate who intentionally filed to run against Brown.

'I talked to a number of people out here, and I know that Fred's father was a pastor out in Gales Creek for years,' she said.

by way of explaining her campaign to unseat Brown, a Cornelius resident.

A Facebook page rallying support for keeping the doors open at the 152-year-old Gales Creek Elementary, which could be shuttered in order to save the district money, indicates that Grandusky's race for a board seat has gained steam in her community.

An initial campaign strategy meeting drew a half-dozen people to Grandusky's corner March 18, according to Jodi Giddings, whose daughter Jada attends Gales Creek School.

Grandusky, 61, said she'd bring an independent mindset to her job as a school board member. She thinks better advance planning could have at least partially circumvented the deep budget cuts that loom next year.

'[District leaders] should have been doing some real serious planning two to three years ago,' said Grandusky. Since it's clear the massive reductions will cut deeply into the district's programs and personnel, she suggested circumspection.

'We need to cut and it's going to be painful - there's no doubt about that,' Grandusky said. 'I'll look for creative ways to educate our kids,' including an intricate network of volunteers.

Lesser, who hosts a cooking show on KUIK 1360 Radio and works for Forest Capital Partners, also serves as Parent Teacher Organization president at Joseph Gale Elementary.

She described her campaign platform as one of change.

'I think we need to be looking at public schools differently,' Lesser said last month. 'Maybe run them more like private companies in terms of funding [and] which teachers we keep and which we don't.'

She sees herself as someone who 'jumps in wholeheartedly' when she commits to a task and insisted she isn't afraid to shake things up a bit.

'I would still be running for the board if everything was great, but the funding issue is a huge motivator,' Lesser said.

Avoiding layoffs is the bottom line for Cooper, who started teaching in California 20 years ago but was laid off from his job as an education technology specialist at Pacific University in 2003.

'Teachers losing their jobs is the last thing I want to see happen,' said Cooper, who added he would welcome a candidates' forum. 'Parents, teachers and students need an active and activist voice on the school board, and not a rubber stamp for administrative decisions,' he said.

Brown said he'd emphasize his flexibility as a retired person in his reelection bid. 'In 2010 I attended 101 school events, from board meetings to negotiations to expulsion hearings,' he said. 'My availability is a big plus.'

Marble wants one more term on the board to continue as 'an advocate for kids.'

He supported the recent reading program adoption even though the money connected to it could mean lost jobs for teachers.

'When you've got fewer craftsmen, you've got to have better tools,' he said.