For the first time in many years, every open West Linn-Wilsonville School Board seat is contested in the upcoming election and the race is full of highly qualified candidates. In fact, after hours of interviews and research, the Spokesman can say with candor that any vote in this school board election will be a good one — there is no wrong choice.
Election season means newspaper endorsements, however, and after careful consideration we have made our selections.
Position 1: Regan Molatore
Position 3: Dylan Hydes
Position 5: Trey Maust
Regan Molatore believes in investing in professional development and attractive compensation for instructional staff, linking student achievement to high-caliber teachers. A former attorney now working in the construction industry with two children attending school in the district, Molatore commends the residents and staff of the West Linn-Wilsonville district, confident that even a high-performing district can go higher. Her career history — as well as her term on the school board — has brought many opportunities to mediate, hear all sides and build relationships. As an incumbent, Molatore insists that she's well aware of areas the district needs to work on, including communication and more attention to potential long-term consequences of decisions made near-term, and we expect to hold her to both goals during this next term if she is re-elected.
The outlier of the candidate field, retired IT professional Mike Taylor has been a frequent critic of the district. Taylor's insistence that the board should look harder into staff recommendations, dialogue more frequently with each other and work towards increased transparency are all good ideas and we support them. As long as everyone says "everything's great" nobody is looking under the covers, he says and we tend to agree with that. Even a well-ranked school district should invite scrutiny from within and from outside. We do have concerns about Taylor's distain of the board and the district, however, and worry his self-appointed role as dragon slayer may breed tension on the board and among administration. Taylor is intelligent, well-researched and full of ideas — but we fear he may fixate on small details or problems at the expense of the bigger picture.
A relative newcomer to the district, Dylan Hydes provides a nice bit of fresh air. A former teacher with insight into what really happens in the classroom and administrators' offices, Hydes is now an attorney living in West Linn with children attending local schools. His pragmatic views ("some changes might take years but openness can start on Day One") are appealing, as is his quest to more actively lobby the Legislature for school funding changes. He's a strong advocate for better communication from the district, including more complete meeting minutes and use of social media. He expresses respect and admiration for the current board and the district but has plenty of ideas on how to make it better. A politically savvy Little League coach with experience on budget advisory groups and as a board of director of a national nonprofit, we feel that Hydes would bring a needed new perspective to the school board.
Grady Nelson, a retired police officer-turned-realtor, was appointed to the district's Long Range Planning Committee last year, after years of volunteering at his children's school and with local sporting groups. After participating as a member of the district's boundary task force, Nelson says that overall the district communicates well but could always do better — something we agree with. His law enforcement and volunteer experience are good skills to bring to the table but we feel Hydes' experience in the classroom gives him the edge. While he told us "kids aren't just a number" — and we can't agree more — his overall views seem more status quo and might not be the best thing for the board at this time.
Trey Maust may be the unicorn in this school board election. A longtime resident, Maust has lots of experience in local schools, which he is quick to admire while at the same time filled with ideas how to make things better. A banking executive, Maust is in his second term on the budget committee and was formerly on the site committee for his children's school; in addition, Maust serves on other professional and nonprofit boards. He has good ideas about revamping the current budget committee culture, to invite more public input and feedback from committee members to district staff before a proposed budget is finalized. We feel confident Maust's financial acumen will be a boon to the school board in the coming years.
Ginger Fitch has made a career of advocating for children, through her role as general counsel for the state's Child Welfare Division and she envisions serving the school board as a natural extension of that. Her ideas are sound, things like more vocational education and recruiting non-college bound students into AP classes that appeal to their passions, in an effort to keep those students engaged and graduating. She believes that the school board needs to ask more questions from district administration and work harder networking with legislators in Salem, where the purse strings for K12 education ultimately reside. This would be her first time serving a board of directors, however and the first time in any official school district role. We feel that she could use more hands-on experience with the district before election to the board.