In Position 1 race for the Forest Grove School Board, incumbent stands out above challenger

John Hayes and Brad Bafaro are both well-known figures on the local education scene. But Hayes is our clear choice in this race for Position 1 on the Forest Grove School Board.

JOHN HAYESHayes started his career as a chemistry professor before serving as dean of the college of arts and sciences at Pacific University, a position he held until 2012. He has two children in the local public school system.

Bafaro taught adaptive PE for years in the Forest Grove School District and is now the district's special education director. Along the way, he founded four nonprofits, including Adventures Without Limits and the Community Based Activities Program (CBAP), which bring abled and disabled people together in various settings and which have changed lives.

On many issues, the two candidates agree. They both support making contraception available to students through the School Based Health Center, for example, and providing gender-neutral bathrooms for transgender students.

But Hayes stands out to us for a number of reasons, the first being his strong connection to the money-dispensing Legislature, which started during the district's massive budget-cutting five years ago. Hayes formed a Washington County lobbying group that brought school board members together with all 19 legislators from the different school districts for what has become an annual dinner.

He also was appointed to the governor's 13-member task force on school funding in 2013, which is where he discovered Forest Grove had the highest per capita cost for high-cost disability students in the state.

Let's stop right here and note that this number-one position was due largely to the skills of Bafaro and his special-education team, who tackled the time-consuming task of researching and documenting the students' eligibility and applying for the extra funding and attention they needed. It's another sign of Bafaro's longstanding and effective dedication to people with disabilities.

Now back to Hayes, who helped convince the legislature to boost funding statewide from $18 million to $35 million a year, about $1 million of which came to the FGSD, although that amount goes down as the number of students needing it statewide goes up.

Hayes continues traveling frequently to Salem to testify in favor of more funding, often bringing students or parents to testify with him (or instead of him), and even wrote a grant to get $500 to support the high school choir.

We're also impressed with Hayes' numerous memberships in various local organizations, such as Forest Grove's Sustainability Committee, where he helped get LED lighting for the high school football field, lowering the school district's energy costs. He's a member of the city's Economic Development Committee (which also has connections to local schools) and the school district's Facilities Planning Committee, among other groups.

We also like Hayes' ability to acknowledge his mistakes and change his mind, such as when he realized his standard lecturing approach to teaching was far less effective than project-based learning.

He has also noted how he made mistakes as a dean and how that affects his approach to thorny issues, such as Superintendent Yvonne Curtis' hiring of the new interim director of support services to replace Bafaro, who is retiring in June. "I need to hear the superintendent's side of this story," said Hayes, who is concerned about how that process was handled and how it worried and frustrated many people.

When it comes to Bafaro, we like his passion for inclusion, which powers his most effective work with special-needs students. "Stop talking about 'us' and 'them,'" he said at an April 19 candidates' forum, and talk about "we" instead. That philosophy helped win high marks a few weeks ago when the Oregon Department of Education's annual report card showed the FGSD exceeded the benchmark for including special education students in "regular" classes (filled mainly with non-special ed students). But the district got mixed marks in the study, falling far short of the benchmark for special-education graduation rates.

We know parents of special ed students have filed at least two lawsuits against the district in recent years, but so far the district has prevailed, indicating Bafaro is not to blame.

There are also questions about a potential conflict of interest with Oregon GreenThumb Landscape Maintenance, a nonprofit created in 2007 by Bafaro, who still serves as executive director on a volunteer basis. The FGSD contracts with the company for landscaping services but Bafaro said he'd recuse himself from any decisions in which his nonprofits are involved, just as Hayes does when it comes to decisions about the Forest Grove Community School, where his wife is principal.

Overall, however, Bafaro's answers to our questions on school-related issues simply didn't impress us as much as Hayes'.

And frankly, we're concerned about his explanation for why he's challenging Hayes, who has been a longtime ally of Bafaro's disability-related ventures. Why not try to unseat one of the two other incumbents instead?

Bafaro told us it was because he had no idea he'd be running against Hayes when he signed up to run for Position 1. We find this hard to believe for many reasons (See 'Signs' story on Page A1).

If Bafaro is trying to shade the truth in order to hide an agenda that requires getting rid of all three incumbents, that in itself is troubling.

But if Bafaro is telling the truth, that's equally troubling because it would indicate gross incompetence. In order to not know who he was running against, one of these scenarios would have to be true:

- Bafaro didn't realize his ally, Hayes, was up for reelection.

- Bafaro knew Hayes was up for reelection but didn't check to see if he'd filed (or was planning to file) to run again.

- Bafaro knew Hayes had filed to run again but didn't check to see if Position 1 was Hayes' seat.

Any of these scenarios displays a scary recklessness; we definitely don't want school board members who might blindly vote on important issues they haven't taken the time to research.

But nor do they fit Bafaro's profile of a skilled educator with strong research and planning skills. So his cagey, dubious answer simply adds to the impression that Bafaro is not telling us something.

If he wants to help sweep in three new board members it would make sense for Bafaro to target Hayes because he may be the only challenger with a high enough profile to compete, not to mention that none of the other challengers wanted to take on Hayes. But we'd hope Bafaro would be open about his motives and explain why he feels such a complete change is necessary — if that's what he hopes to do.

Even without these concerns and even if Bafaro and Hayes were evenly matched in other areas, we'd still choose Hayes because he has been extremely accessible throughout his school board tenure, returning all the News-Times' calls and emails almost immediately, which is crucial as we try to explain important issues to our readers.

Bafaro, who has a history of either not returning our calls at all or at the last minute, told us that would change if he's elected to the board.

Meanwhile, we'll go with the candidate who has already demonstrated openness and accessibility, not to mention impressive community activism; a keen grasp of funding issues and connections to the decision-makers in Salem; and a track record in supporting strategic plan goals that are already showing success.

We urge voters to join us in supporting John Hayes.

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