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Steele exits school board just after filing deadline

vacancies -- Resignation creates three openings on the five-member volunteer panel, two up for election

Last Monday, midway through his four-year term and four days past the filing deadline for the May 15 election, Mike Steele quietly resigned from the Forest Grove School Board.

Steele, 61, who has served on the board for 10 years, slipped a letter across the table to his colleagues on the board late in a special meeting on March 19.

Nothing was said about its contents in the public session that night.

'I've been mulling this over for some time now,' Steele, a longtime English and Peace Studies professor at Pacific University, said this week.

'The issue for me is how I can get my day done,' he added, suggesting that his duties on the local campus, as president of the U.S. Handball Association and as a member of the Forest Grove Parks and Recreation Commission were consuming most of his time.

He asked to be relieved of his duties 'a few days before Memorial Day,' May 28. The move hiked the number of open board seats from two to three and set the scene for a major power shift on the five-member volunteer panel.

Steele, who lives in Forest Grove, insisted that the upcoming election 'wasn't a factor' in the timing of his announcement. He said he had notified Superintendent Jack Musser 'in planning trips to Minneapolis, Minn., in April and San Diego in May for handball association events, taking him away from school board business.

'Then we begin to push up against commencement' at Pacific, he added, lending further urgency to his departure.

Open seats

Board positions 4 and 5, currently held by Susan Winterbourne and Fred Marble, respectively, are open in the vote-by-mail election.

Winterbourne, the board chair, is not running for re-election. Marble filed for re-election but is running unopposed.

Cornelius resident Ralph Brown and Forest Grove resident Matthew Knight met a March 15 Washington County Elections Office deadline to file for Winterbourne's seat on the board.

As of Monday, it was not exactly clear how the hole created by Steele's exit would be filled. There are just over two years left in his term, which is due to expire on June 30, 2009. Board members are expected to formally accept Steele's resignation during their regular meeting April 9.

'I'll be having a discussion with the board about a process before that,' said Musser, who has been busy trying to fill a number of key administrative positions in the district, including the business manager slot and principal jobs at two Forest Grove elementary schools (See related story, page 11A).

One possibility is to invite the public to apply for the vacancy during a specific two-week period, said Connie Potter, the district's public information coordinator. In that case, the board would interview and select from that applicant pool.

Or, the board could wait until after the election - ballots will be mailed out beginning April 27 - to allow the runner-up for Position 4 a shot at replacing Steele.

'There will be a winner in that race, and we could conceivably ask the other person to fill Mike's position because they showed interest,' Musser said.

Steele said he had 'no stake whatsoever' in who might be named as his successor. He said his greatest accomplishments on the board centered on the partnerships he helped to forge between the school district and Pacific.

They include Tualatin Academy, a program that allows seniors from Forest Grove, Banks, Gaston and Yamhill-Carlton high schools to take classes at Pacific free of charge; and a library privileges program for Talented and Gifted students and their teachers.