Incumbents are out, 10 others jockey for position in Portland Public Schools board election.

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Portland Public Schools board chair Tom Koehler joins two other incumbents, Pam Knowles and Steve Buel, in declining to run for reelection.

This story has been updated from its original version.

It's a tough job, but somebody else has gotta do it.

All three incumbent Portland Public Schools board members Tom Koehler, Pam Knowles and Steve Buel will not seek reelection in May.

Knowles is finishing her second consecutive term, having first been elected in 2009. It is Koehler's first term and Buel's second term, having been elected first in the 1980s. The other four board members were all elected in May 2015 and have two remaining years on their terms.

In his parting statement, Koehler, the board chair, focused on the positives, pointing to the district's inventory of school health and safety hazards, finding a quality superintendent candidate and beginning "key work on organizational restructuring and accountability." He also endorsed for his Southeast Portland seat Julia Brim-Edwards, a Nike executive and Portland schools advocate who sat on the board from 2001 to 2005.

The district has very few leaders of any longevity left. The superintendent and scores of top administrators have left in the last year, in the wake of controversies over mismanagement, salaries and environmental toxins.

Meanwhile, negotiations are underway to bring education chief Donyall Dickey from Atlanta to be the next superintendent, and the district is asking for a $790 million bond to continue its 32-year plan to renovate all its schools.

Knowles, who frequently used her position to defend district staff and their decisions, cited strife on the board as a major reason for her departure.

"…the current dynamics of the Board, the inability of members to stay in a governance role and the overstep of certain Board members who undermine staff, work covertly with the press and intentionally use their position on the Board to advance personal agendas is counterproductive — and has created a divisive environment that preys on fear not trust or collaboration," she wrote in a statement.

Knowles also pointed to many successes in the last eight years, including a significant improvement in the graduation rate, the passage of two local levies and a contract with the teacher's union "that focused on ability rather than seniority in teacher placement, allowed for earlier recruiting and added days to the school year."

Three people are in the race for her Zone 5 seat: economist and longtime PPS activist Scott Bailey, account manager and PPS committee member Virginia La Forte and business analyst Traci Flitcraft.

Buel also announced recently that he was bowing out of the race, reversing an earlier decision to stay, and propping up Dickey's leadership abilities, despite his inexperience as a central office administrator.

"I am the guy you bring in to demolish the old house – I am the disrupter," Buel said on Facebook. "What you need now is a builder and you have it in the new superintendent."

Teachers union has already endorsed Moore, Bailey and Parks

In other Facebook posts, the retired teacher is throwing his support behind Rita Moore, a longtime budget committee member, for his north Portland Zone 4 seat.

Moore is in a hotly disputed race against Jamila Singleton Munson, whom critics are attempting to align with the Trump administration's education Secretary Betsy De Vos because of her work with charter schools. However, Singleton Munson's campaign manager Jake Weigler calls that characterization "pretty offensive."

"She does not support private vouchers for private schools," Weigler said, arguing that Singleton Munson has 16 years of experience in getting good outcomes for low-income kids.

Finally, in the Zone 6 race for Koehler's Southeast Portland seat are four relative unknowns against the newly announced candidacy of former board member Brim-Edwards. Ed Bos, an executive at Cascade Pacific Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and staff sergeant in the Oregon National Guard; data scientist Josie Simonis; app developer Zach Babb and Beaverton School District teacher and union leader Trisha Parks all filed for the seat by press time. The deadline for candidate filings is Thursday, March 16.

The Portland Association of Teachers union already interviewed candidates and announced their endorsements. They are supporting Parks, Bailey and Moore.

"Our school district is undergoing a great deal of transition, including many new leaders; we appreciate our endorsed candidates' deep knowledge of Portland Public Schools' needs and their ability to navigate the system to realize our shared vision for our students," said PAT President Suzanne Cohen in a statement.

The seven-member board is all-volunteer and involves lengthy and sometimes late-night meetings each month. The board is responsible for overseeing the district, making key decisions and holding it accountable, including its approximately 49,000 students, 6,000 employees, and nearly $600 million in general funds. Not to mention, over a billion more dollars in construction funds — if voters approve the 2017 bond while selecting their next PPS board members May 16.

EDIT: This story has added the candidacy of Zach Babb and clarified that the Cascade Pacific Council is part of the Boy Scouts of America.

Shasta Kearns Moore
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