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Knowles, Gonzalez best for school board

Our View

The usual skills required to be an effective school board member must be bolstered this year with a thick skin and a willingness to do what is necessary to navigate the serious crisis about to hit education funding.

Voters have until May 19 to return ballots in two contested races for Portland school board positions. Given the recession's ravaging impact on Portland Public Schools' finances, we appreciate anyone who is willing to step up and contend with the immense challenges and budget choices facing the board.

We believe all five candidates for these two positions could bring valuable passion and expertise to the seven-member board. But two candidates - Pam Knowles and Martin Gonzalez - stand out as the best potential leaders for the district.

Northeast Portland (Zone 5): Pam Knowles

Knowles is the chief operating officer for the Portland Business Alliance, but her credentials as a school board candidate go well beyond her private-sector experience. She is the mother of three boys who attend, or have attended, Portland Public Schools, and she has spent years as a parent and community volunteer.

Her opponent, Scott Bailey, is another parent advocate who has an encyclopedic knowledge of the district and its processes. Bailey makes a strong case for better evaluation of principals in the district.

While we are impressed with Bailey's depth, our endorsement goes to Knowles, who not only is knowledgeable about education, but shows the potential for innovative thought at a time when the district will need it the most.

North Portland (Zone 4): Martin Gonzalez

Gonzalez, who was appointed to fill a vacancy on the school board last August, has earned an opportunity to be elected to a full four-year term and continue his push for district accountability.

A longtime school activist, Gonzalez has had five children in Portland schools and has been a strong advocate on behalf of students of color and other, under-represented communities.

He is challenged in this election by two candidates: Rita Moore, a self-described policy wonk who believes the school district needs stronger processes for making decisions, and Steve Buel, who served on the board 30 years ago and has deep experience as an educator.

Moore and Buel are fine candidates. But they offer no compelling reason for voters to replace the promising Gonzalez - someone whose cultural sensibilities and recent experience as a board member can be crucial assets for a district that must close the achievement gap among students even as it is forced to reduce expenditures.