School board tries to gauge citizen interest in Steeles open seat

discussion -- Options for filling two-year vacancy include seeking applications from public

With board member Mike Steele absent, the remainder of the Forest Grove School Board on Monday night declared his seat vacant and began discussing options for filling his position for the next two years.

Steele, 61, officially resigned from the board March 19, asking that his seat, Position 1, be filled as soon as possible. He is two years into a four-year term.

Steele's announcement came just days past the filing deadline for the May 15 school board election and created a third opening on the five-member panel.

Positions 4 and 5, held by board chair Susan Winterbourne and Fred Marble, are up for grabs in next month's election. Marble is running unopposed for re-election to his seat.

Winterbourne, who lives in Cornelius, is the lone representative on the board from that community. Two candidates, Ralph Brown of Cornelius and Matthew Knight of Forest Grove, filed for election to her post.

Winterbourne suggested there was some urgency to naming someone to fill Steele's slot.

'We need to understand Dr. Steele's wishes or operate with a smaller board for a short period of time,' she said.

The board declared Steele's position open from June 1, 2007 'or sooner' to June 30, 2009, the remainder of his term.

Steele has said he will leave the board by the end of May, mostly due to his commitments as president of the U.S. Handball Association and his teaching duties at Pacific University.

One option for replacing Steele is to advertise his position at local schools and in the media, Superintendent Jack Musser said.

Applicants would write a letter of interest and, if selected, sit for an interview with the board. Then, board members would make the final call.

'Most people who talk to me about the school board ask about the time commitment,' Winterbourne said. 'Two years is a lot different than four.'

Marble and board member Dawn Pratt both were appointed to fill other people's slots on the board after they resigned.

Marble suggested the board could 'take a stab' and 'ask one of the two candidates' running for Winterbourne's seat to step up early and fill the vacuum resulting from Steele's exit.

Musser has said the board could name the runner-up for Winterbourne's seat to slide into Steele's.

Pratt leaned toward the idea of soliciting applications for Steele's position from interested community members.

'There's no way I would have ever taken a step forward through an election process,' said Pratt, who was appointed to her position. 'It's only two years - you're kind of dipping your toe in the pond.'

Shawn Vilhauer, another board member, said he would 'really love some representation' from Cornelius, home to two district elementary schools.

Marble added that a 'member of the Spanish-speaking community' would be a plus.

With only three board meetings remaining before the end of the 2006-07 school year, Superintendent Jack Musser said he would e-mail board members 'a proposed process with a timeline' for filling Steele's position by sometime next week.