Tuesday, May 7, 2013/lk
Good as it is to see challengers in any local election, when it comes to Hood River County School Board, Jan Veldhuisen Virk and Mark Johnson richly deserve to return to their posts.
Both are strong, experienced voices for the district.
Tim Counihan filed to run against Virk and Mary Reynolds is an organized write-in opponent to Johnson. They have aired thoughtful criticism of the district’s recent fiscal performance and, personally and professionally, both have merits as candidates. They have ideas and experiences that would well serve the district but at this point they should consider other support capacities.
Johnson should strive to be in Hood River when key issues, such as last week’s boundary policy changes, are up for vote. His increasing influence in Salem is, it must be recognized, a potential double edged sword for this dual-role man: as he is needed more in Salem will that require more time spent there, at risk of diluting his attention to the school board? It’s a question only Johnson can fully answer, but we believe he can maintain the balance, and that the school district gains from his knowledge and influence at the state legislature.
When it comes to school board responsibilities, it’s not that Johnson is chronically absent. He stays informed in other ways. He stresses that keeping in phone and email contact with your board colleagues is effective, but this misses a valid point: attending meetings keeps you that much more connected to constituents, and they to you.
However, this is neither quibble nor sticking point regarding Johnson: he is involved, attentive, and concerned about Hood River County Schools, as is Virk. After 14 years on the board, her passion for education remains undiluted, and she has shown calm, steady leadership through some difficult fiscal and personnel passages in her time on the board.
Tempting as it is to support the “time for a change” argument, it does not make sense in the case of either Virk or Johnson.
Reynolds’ write-in campaign, while well-intended and an earnest enactment of a right of democracy, feels like an afterthought, and the budget shortfall issue she places as her main motivation to challenge Johnson, had developed before the March 21 filing date for office. Reynolds works for another school district, giving her a strong general understanding of education, and she has strong backing of local school employees including the endorsement of the Hood River Education Association. But there is much for her to learn about this district. School board service requires a long learning curve, and passion for a particular issue, while admirable, is not enough.
Counihan and Reynolds both have merits as candidates, and they have ideas and experiences that would well serve the district in other ways. They should remain active and look for ways to contribute, just as the people they wish to unseat had done years ago. Virk founded the May Street Cooperative at May Street School, working to bring parents into the schools in meaningful ways to assist both staff and students, and Johnson served on the district budget committee before running for school board, giving him a solid understanding of the district before he gained elective office.
The district faces major challenges and changes with PERS and budget cuts, contract negotiations, and changes in curriculum standards. In addition, the board will have a new superintendent, curriculum director, and high school principal.
With these issues and changes in administration, the experience of Virk and Johnson is needed now more than ever.