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Elect Strelchun, Allen, Clift to school board

One of the toughest tasks we have is deciding who to endorse in local races for public office. The decisions are rarely easy, as the candidates are often closely matched and all have positive attributes they would bring to the position. That’s certainly true in this year’s Hillsboro School Board races, where eight candidates are competing for three seats on the seven-member school board.

In the Position 4 race, the candidates are incumbent Kim Strelchun, who currently serves as the school board’s chairperson; Tim Reeves, a field service engineer; and Christian Honl, an engineering manager at Intel.

In Position 5, there are also three candidates, and there is no incumbent in the race as the current school board member, Adriana Cañas, decided not to seek another four-year term. The candidates are: Christopher Barry, a mortgage banker; Bart Rask, an orthopedic surgeon; and Lisa Allen, a full-time mom and former teacher.

The candidates for Position 7 are the incumbent, Wayne Clift, a computer engineer at Intel, and Jaime Rodriguez, a Workforce Development Department career specialist with Portland Community College.

After meeting with the candidates and interviewing them, our editorial team has reached a consensus regarding who would be best for the school board.

Starting with the Position 4 contest, we believe the incumbent, Kim Strelchun, deserves another term. Strelchun is a strong and dedicated advocate for public education. While school districts around the state struggle with budget issues, Strelchun pointed out that the Hillsboro School District is “outperforming its peers” with a solid track record when it comes to graduation rates.

For example, the Hillsboro School District’s 2013-14 four-year graduation rates averaged 81 percent. For the state as a whole, the graduation rate for the same period was 72 percent. The school board certainly deserves some of the credit for that level of achievement.

Strelchun appears to have a good handle on school operations, and seems to be very knowledgeable about current state education/funding issues. Further, the current school board has excelled at finding ways to deal with difficult budget constraints — making cuts when needed, but without completely eliminating any programs.

In our view, Strelchun has earned the right to continue serving on the school board. That said, we were impressed with Christian Honl as well. We liked his support for, and empathy with, special needs students. Honl seems genuinely interested in the school district and in trying to help the district’s students get ahead, and we hope he stays involved.

The third candidate in this race, Tim Reeves, did not respond to any of our email or telephone requests for comment, and he did not attend the candidates’ forum last week.

For the Position 5 election, we believe Lisa Allen is most qualified to step in. She has gone above and beyond in her efforts to examine local schools, and, amazingly, has visited every school in the Hillsboro School District. She has clearly been working very diligently to familiarize herself with the district. Further, she is chairwoman of the Citizens Curriculum Advisory Committee, and recently steered the group through adoption of a new curriculum.

Allen seems to be willing to listen to all points of view, and appears open to fresh ideas. We also like the fact that Allen would be the youngest member of the school board, as that is a perspective we believe is important in helping to understand the needs of contemporary public school students.

The other two candidates in the race have their strong points as well. Bart Rask does a lot of work in support of school athletic programs, and previously served on the Hillsboro Schools Citizens Curriculum Advisory Committee. Rask seems to care deeply about how the school district is being managed and how it impacts local students, although he came across as a bit strident when he pointed out that “people don’t trust how the school board spends money.” Given that the board members need to work closely together, this was a bit of an off note.

The third candidate in Position 5, Chris Barry, also has an impressive background in community service, including serving on the Hillsboro School District Budget Committee and as president of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office Foundation. And we liked his philosophy about the importance of tapping the entire community to support schools.

“We are all together in this,” Barry said. “It’s not just us (on the school board); it’s a community thing.”

In looking at the big picture, however, we believe Allen would be most effective in this position and most prepared to step in.

In the Position 7 race, we believe the incumbent board member, Wayne Clift, deserves another term. In our view, there is no compelling reason to oust an incumbent who has been doing a solid job. Clift is often a voice of reason on the board, asking thoughtful questions that help other members consider issues from a slightly different perspective.

We also liked what Clift had to say about special needs funding and the impacts of budget cuts on certain programs: “You can strip away extras, but that doesn’t add up to solving the (funding) problem,” he said.

And when looking at a current controversy facing the school board, Clift had a logical approach to resolving it: “Is it a value to the students of Hillsboro that we serve? That’s the overriding issue,” Clift said.

Jaime Rodriguez is running against Clift, and we wish there was an opening for Rodriguez. He is very knowledgeable and is active and involved in the community. Rodriguez serves on the school district’s budget committee, and would be an effective board member. We’d certainly like to see Rodriguez run again when the next opportunity arises.

These are our choices, but no matter which candidate you prefer, please remember to vote by May 19.

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