A question of balance: Budget appointments draw challenges

December 2018 Posted in Community, School

By Teresa Williams Jackson

The Silver Falls School Board appointed three members to the district budget committee at its Nov. 5 meeting.

Despite having three women among its seven applicants, two of whom have never served on the committee, the board elected three men, one of whom will be serving a third term, which is discouraged, though not prohibited, by the board’s policy.

The committee now has ten men and four women, including the five men and two women on the board.

Some community members are saying not having appointed at least one woman is a sign that Silverton has an “old boys club” mentality.

But Superintendent Andy Bellando said the board did follow its policy, which requires it to consider factors “such as gender, occupation and place of residence within the district” by trying to balance the number of in-town and rural members.

All seven of the applicants had experience with budgets.

Jacob Clotfelter, who garnered a vote from six board members, is a contracts compliance analyst with the Marion County Finance Department. He will serve a second term on the committee.

Kurt Metzger got five votes; he is the sales manager for the Northwest and Western Canada for a vegetable seed company. He will serve a third term.

Peter Matzka, who had four votes, said at the board’s Oct. 22 work session that in his work as a forest engineer and in outreach and youth education, his job was to make sure budgets were feasible and met objectives.

Of the candidates not appointed to the committee, lawyer Melissa Seifer Briggs got three votes. She said in her application that she has experience budgeting for several organizations. She had served two terms on the budget committee.

Patricia O’Sullivan, who received two votes, had been a lobbyist for the Oregon Department of Human Services and Portland Public Schools, among other agencies.

Karen Garst, who got one vote, has a doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. She was a field representative for the Oregon Federation of Teachers, was the executive director of the Oregon Community College Association, and was executive director of the Oregon State Bar.

Jon Fronza, who did not receive any votes, has managed the finances of a small consulting firm as well as a small nonprofit organization.

Before the board began discussing the candidates, member Shelly Nealon read the committee appointment policy aloud to remind her colleagues of its contents.

Board member Jennifer Traeger suggested looking at the candidates individually. She praised Matzka because he talked about making sure the budget met district goals.

At that point, discussion turned to the makeup of in-town versus rural applicants.

Tim Roth said Metzger was the only candidate from a rural school.

Chairman Tom Buchholz said he wanted to maintain the balance between the rural areas and town.

Ron Valoff said that although limiting a member to two terms was “best practice and tradition… we’re not necessarily beholden to that.”

The board voted without discussion of gender, occupation or experience.

When asked why, Buchholz said, “Honestly, I don’t know. Because no one brought it up as I recall.”

He said he expects a process next year that will help the public understand why the board votes the way it does.

“Had we done that this time around, I think there would be fewer questions. Though I strongly doubt it would have changed the outcome.”

Each member chose their top three candidates, so that any candidate with four or more votes was appointed.

Community member Chuck Sheketoff said the board should have looked at the top vote-getters at this point to see if they fit the criteria.

“In the year 2018, even if they didn’t have that in their policy, any board… has to consider gender,” Sheketoff said in a phone interview. “They should have said, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, we’ve got a problem here.’ They didn’t even discuss it.”

In a letter, Garst called on the board to reconsider.

“Instead of appointing myself or Patricia O’Sullivan, another woman with a wealth of experience, the board appointed three men, one of whom had already served on the budget committee for the two-term limit… Without a discussion about the criteria to be used, there was no indication why the board voted as it did.”

Garst said the board showed that “it is not bound to follow (its written policy) or give any logical reason for not following it.”

Sheketoff also wrote an email calling on the board to reconsider.

“Your decision to ignore aspects of the district’s policy… undermines your efforts to build community trust in your work and the work of the district,” he wrote. “It sets a bad example for the students in the district on how to follow the letter and spirit of policies and procedures.”

Buchholz replied, “I know you wished for a different selection, but the policy clearly states that we can do what we did. We violated no policy.

“… I can’t speak for the individual votes of the individual board members, but I can speak to mine,” he continued. “I voted to keep a balance of qualified rural school voices and qualified town school voices on the budget committee. That balance is very, very important to me.”

Nealon said she shares many of Sheketoff’s concerns.

“We just kicked off a woman and added another man,” she said, adding that that was “not OK.”

She also thought the board should have stuck with a two-term limit, “especially because we had so many applicants.”

Board member Jonathan Edmonds responded to Garst, saying he “weighed the various criteria… and arrived at a ranked list of candidates. My top three happened to all be men, though they were diverse otherwise.”

Buchholz, Nealon and Edmonds agree that the board could have made the process more transparent.

“Spending an additional 30 minutes discussing it may have been the right decision, if for no other reason than to ensure the public understood why we voted how we did,” Edmonds wrote to Garst.

Nealon said she was grateful to everyone who asked questions.

“Keep showing up,” she said. “Keep coming. Hold us accountable.”

Buchholz wrote to Sheketoff, “You asked, ‘Are we wiser?’ Yes, we are… We are not used to analyzing the criteria and selecting and defending our decisions when it comes to budget committee we selections. It showed. Struggling through new things makes us wiser. I anticipate more questions on the run-up to next year’s budget
committee selection.”

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