School board picks must restore trust
The school board needs someone who can dissect a budget and critique the district's long-term planning.
The Forest Grove School board got a much needed dose of good news Monday when eight people applied for the two open spots on the five-member panel.
Among the applicants are several impressive resumes and a good mix of professional experience and in-the-trenches volunteer work.
Picking a pair of qualified candidates from the field shouldn't be a problem. While the job of making those choices falls squarely with the existing board members, we'll offer some advice on what characteristics to look for.
But first, it's important to remember how these vacancies came to be.
The recall of two board members last fall had more to do with a general unhappiness over budget cuts than the performance of the two individuals voted out of office.
While we didn't support the recall, we readily concede that its organizers moved beyond a one-issue campaign (anger over the closure of Gales Creek Elementary School) and framed the election as a referendum on how school policy is crafted and approved.
The vote wasn't close, signaling that the discontent felt toward the district and board runs deeper than many (including us) had imagined. That's why the choice of the two new board members is so important.
The problems that led to the recall will not go away. The cuts that were made last year will be followed by more reductions this year. The Forest Grove School District's enrollment is shrinking, the state's tax revenues are flat and there's no magic formula out there to restore teaching positions, electives and extracurricular activities.
If the board is to avoid another parent revolt, it needs to demonstrate to the public that it understands what it's voting on. And while its members can't be the proverbial rubber stamps, neither can they simply vote 'no' when they don't understand a matter that comes before them.
The board needs people with experience navigating the internal politics of large organizations. Members who can confront the administration's 'we know what's best' attitude when it comes to decisions that effect kids, parents and taxpayers. People who will wade through the mind-numbing jargon that comes out of the central office, find common ground where it exists, but be willing to directly deal with differing opinions and agendas when they surface.
The board needs folks who can dissect a one-year budget proposal and figure out if the money follows the stated policies. Members who can look at enrollment forecasts (and the impact of Oregon's new student transfer policy) to critique the administration's long-term financial planning.
It needs people who can forge partnerships with regional organizations to bring new resources to the district and fresh perspectives to our classrooms.
And, finally, the board needs members with the ability to explain and defend their decisions to a public that isn't always going to like what they will be told.
We realize that this is a lot to ask of any individual, and it may be that none of the eight applicants can do it all. But we're confident that among that group is a pair of people who are up to the very tough job they are hoping to get.