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School board recall a step backward

When elected officials make tough choices from a list of bad options, they're just doing their jobs.

We understand why people are upset with the Forest Grove School Board. The budget that board members adopted last month gutted valuable electives at the high school, cut funding to arts and athletics at the middle school and closed an entire school that was the heart of Gales Creek.

As we've made clear previously in this space, we felt that the board's decision to push the budget debate late into the school year, and to withhold plans from the public, was a big mistake.

So, too, was approving raises for school administrators.

And we still feel like the board needs to be answering questions that community members have raised, including:

•Where is the proof that the extensive use of remedial workshops at the high school is helping do anything other than raise test scores?

•How is credit by proficiency really working?

•What happens to the bond money earmarked for space to accommodate programs, such as FFA, that have since been cut?

• What evidence is there that the expensive new textbooks will help improve reading skills, as opposed to reading scores?

Some who are backing a recall of two board members point to all these questions as proof that the current board needs a shake-up.

We argue just the opposite.

We don't agree with every vote cast by Terry Howell and Anna Tavera-Weller, but we don't see any evidence that they've abused their power or done anything else that warrants their ouster.

They both put in countless hours analyzing the budget, responding to students, teachers and parents (including many who were openly hostile).

Removing them now would be a huge distraction at a time when the five-member board needs to focus on the challenges ahead. The decisions made last month will have huge implications over the next year and beyond. Recalling two of the five board members would be disruptive, divisive and, in our view, undemocratic.

The vacancies created by a recall would remove the only Latina (Tavera-Weller) and a needed entrepreneurial perspective (Howell).

It would also set up a situation where any two of the remaining three board members would be able to appoint a pair of replacements. That, in turn, would allow two new unelected board members to cast deciding votes on any issue that splits the three remaining elected members.

Finally, while the backers of the recall insist it's not a response to the decision to close Gales Creek Elementary School, that vote sparked the recall drive and continues to fuel it. While it was a hugely unpopular decision, the fact remains that it made a lot of sense for a district with a shrinking enrollment.

A recall is a blunt political tool that should be used with extreme caution. When elected officials ignore their governing charter, are unwilling to debate their ideas openly and explain their actions publicly, as is the case on the Cornelius City Council, then they need to be removed as quickly as possible.

But when elected officials make tough choices from a list of bad options, they're just doing their jobs. Their unpopular actions may cost them votes in the next election, but shouldn't result in early removal.

To be sure, board members can do a better job of communicating with community members. Toward that end, earlier this week we agreed to provide space on this page each month for a board member to weigh in on a topic of interest.

We see that as an important step forward. Let's not kill that momentum with a big step backward.