It all started for Carolyn Ortman when her eldest daughter was in kindergarten, 25 years ago.

The state had just mandated health education to include HIV and communicable diseases.

There was a lot of angst in the community, and Ortman wanted to know more as well — especially about what it meant for her kindergartener.

So she joined a parent committee. Soon there was an opening on the Hillsboro School Board. She ran and won.

And she’s been involved with school district politics and policy ever since.

The committee “was excellent exposure to the district,” says Ortman, the Zone 2 board member since 1992 who just announced she won’t be running for re-election in May.

“I’ve been doing this a long time,” says 55-year-old Ortman, whose daughters are now 23 and 30, both graduates of Hillsboro High School. “I think you just know when it’s time to be done.”

Ortman says she still has a passion for many of the topics she’s worked on over the years, and will continue to be involved in them after her term expires June 30.

Those areas include exploring how to better use technology as a teaching tool in schools, and helping in the long-range facilities planning for the district. During her tenure, the district passed all of the bond measures it floated on the ballot, which isn’t a feat many districts can boast.

Ortman led the charge on some of the bond measures except the most recent, in 2006, when her role as board chair and her work with the National School Boards Association kept her busy. She’s also served as president of Oregon School Boards Association, a member of the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission and chair for one year. She did work at the state level for special education funding.

On the Hillsboro board, she’s volunteered countless hours lobbying, researching, studying and preparing for the twice-monthly board meetings as well as committee hearings and other engagements.

She currently serves on the board’s budget team, technology study team and Public Employee Retirement System reform team.

Ortman wants to see the Legislature take action in PERS reform, and believes that many viable options are available — “It just depends on if they have the willingness to do it.”

Hillsboro’s School Board is in full swing on the budget, trying to find ways to cut $8.5 million, on top of last year’s cuts. Ortman finds it a painful process.

“We can’t continue to cut (school) days and take pay from people who are deserving and make less each year,” she says. “The teacher to student count is too high already. It comes down to days and efficiencies, and we’ve found the efficiencies we can already.”

Give volunteering a try

Ortman says anyone who runs for the voluntary board position must be willing and able to take on a tremendous amount of work and be ready to be a policy maker, with a clear understanding of state and federal education laws and funding details, land-use policies, achievement scores and endless other topics, she says.

Much of it can happen on the job, for anyone who’s passionate about public education and has a flexible work schedule.

Ortman, who works part-time as manager of a homeowners association, has called Hillsboro home since moving from Springfield, near Eugene, in 1977.

She recently told her board colleagues that in searching for her replacement, she wants a fiscal conservative “who’s not going to put the district in harm’s way financially, is willing to save money, and see public education as an excellent choice. Somebody who doesn’t have a personal agenda, but looks at all children.”

Ortman, who lives in Southeast Hillsboro, sent her daughters to Mintor Bridge Elementary and J.B. Thomas Middle School. After graduating from Hillsboro High they went onto college — her eldest daughter is a nurse with two children of her own, and the other is in law school at the University of Oregon.

Once she wraps up her term, Ortman looks forward to having time for her craft hobbies, to relax at the beach and to attend Ducks football games. The district gives its retirees and outgoing board members a little school bell as a souvenir.

Ortman hopes even if people don’t run for school board, they’ll give volunteering a try — helping high school students plan for college, reading to first-graders, or anything in between.

“There are so many opportunities for people to get involved, you just have to find it,” she says, noting that she’s always tried to instill the value of service to her own daughters. “When our children are involved, you need to be there for them.”

Ortman’s seat is one of three vacant positions in the May 21 election.

The others are Position 1, held by Janeen Sollman; Position 3, Monte Akers; and Position 6, Rebecca Lantz.

The filing deadline at the Washington County Elections office is March 21.

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