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School Board candidates back fees to tackle growth

Forum helps answer some questions about curriculum, district's future
by: Jonathan House, Beaverton School Board member Tom Quillin, left, answers a question during Thursday’s school board candidates forum held at Stoller Middle School.

The Beaverton School District's math curriculum, increasing student populations and the future of the district's traditional schools were among the issues candidates for three contested School Board seats tackled during a forum last week.

The two-hour forum, the first of two sponsored by the Beaverton School District, was held April 12 at Stoller Middle School.

Participants included candidates: Zone 3, Bob Shook, Mary VanderWeele and Narendar B. Sahgal; Zone 4, Sarah Smith and Denise von Nagy; Zone 7, Lisa A. Shultz and Linda Degman. Zone 7's Keith Kern did not attend.

Also participating in the forum were uncontested candidates Tom Quillin in Zone 2 and Jeff Hicks in Zone 6.

Steve Clark, president and publisher of Community Newspapers (which publishes the Valley Times), served as moderator.

Candidates were given 30 seconds to answer questions (later extended to a minute) submitted by community members.

Here are some of the questions posed to candidates and their answers:

With 'alternative' schools seen as 'preferred' schools by some, is there room for the traditional schools and what are your plans from keeping them from being marginalized?

Degman said she thought it was important to reinvest money in the traditional schools. Equity at the traditional schools is important and resources should be given to those schools so they can succeed, said Shultz.

What steps should the district take to deal with growth?

Sahgal said it was important to 'get ahead of' growth, something that could be accomplished since the district knows where the population growth is.

VanderWeele said growth and capacity were probably the greatest challenges in the district.

Because there is no way to stop growth, Shook suggested that the district needs to find more creative ways to educate children.

What is your opinion of the current math curriculum?

Von Nagy said her two children don't have problems with the current investigative math curriculum, but added that should not rule out other valid approaches.

Smith admitted that math had been a hot topic and that there needed to be options.

What do you think about system development charges for schools?

VanderWeele, Sahgal and Shook all said they support such fees.

Vanderweele said that because there already were fees to pay for sewer, drainage and Tualatin Hills Parks and Recreation District fees, they probably were valid for schools.

Living in one of the fastest growing school districts in the state, Shook said it was outrageous that such fees weren't already in place.

Concerning missteps in the latest math curriculum adoption, do you believe that a curriculum adoption committee should make sure members don't have conflicts of interest such as affiliation with a publishing company?

Degman said she doesn't believe that anyone who has a vested interest should be able to choose curriculum.

The board already prohibits such conflicts, said Shultz, and she supports that policy.

What is your top priority for the current budget process?

Shook said that there needs to be money given to upgrade district technology, making sure computer 'firewalls' were adequate to protect schools against intrusions.

'It's an infrastructure that needs to be addressed,' said Shook.

'Total education of the child as a philosophy is terribly important to me,' said Sahgal.

VanderWeele agreed that the most important issues are to keep the budget focused on children in order to create a diverse student.

With changing demographics, should the district offer a more culturally sensitive curriculum and teacher training?

Smith said she has noticed that some of the district's curriculum is already becoming more culturally sensitive and that the district needs to be able to provide for language barriers.

Von Nay pointed out that more than 37 percent of the district's schools contain minority children.

She said Hazeldale Elementary School, where her child attends classes, has provided coffee socials to reach out to Hispanic parents.

What's the most important role of a school board member?

Vanderweele said it's forming a bridge between the district and community. 'You need to talk to all stakeholders,' she said.

Shook said the board needs to develop board policies that reflect community standards and values.

The school board doesn't run schools, said Shook, but should develop polices and act as an ambassador.

Sahgal said there's a gap between policy and adoption and that he believes it's healthy to make adjustments to that policy if needed.

Would you advocate for full-day kindergarten throughout the district?

Smith said she was in support of full-day kindergarten, saying her older daughter attended the program and it's a direction the district should be going in.

Von Nagy supports a full-day program as well, saying first-grade teachers have found noticeable differences between students who attend a full-time program and those who only go for half a day.

Can you justify your position on the school board given you have a full-time job?

Shook said he's had four years of experience on the school board while maintaining a full-time job. 'It's a challenge but it's very doable,' said Shook.

Sahgal said he realizes it's more of a time commitment, but he's a good time manager.

Vanderweele said before she made the decision to run, she told her boss she would need to go part-time if elected.