Chair says vacancies won’t slow Portland School Board

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Resignations and elections will result in at least two vacancies on the Portland School Board for the first half of next year.

Chair Emily Figdor said the board has had conversations with members of the Charter Commission to ensure that this situation doesn’t occur again.

Portland School Board Chair Emily Figdor (Portland Phoenix/Jim Neuger)

After the resignation of District 5 representative Jeffrey Irish and at-large representative Anna Trevorrow’s election as District 1 city councilor, the nine-member board faces a period from January-June with only seven members.

While the board will welcome newly elected at-large representative Nyalat Biliew, who replaces Sarah Thompson, the total number of board members for the first half of 2022 also depends on the official result of the at-large City Council race.

A recount was set for Nov. 9 in the contest between at-large School Board representative Roberto Rodriguez and Planning Board Chairman Brandon Mazer, who was declared the winner of the tie election by a drawing of lots.

If the recount determines Rodriguez won, however, he would have to resign from the School Board – which would leave the board with another vacancy and only six members.

Successors for the vacant seats will not be elected until next June. Until then, Figdor said, although the reduced number of board members is unfortunate, there’s no time for the board to slow its work. 

She said to expect familiar themes in her State of the Schools address on Nov. 15: An emphasis on Portland Public Schools’ recent “core work” of dedication to securing equity for marginalized students and continuing to manage the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Figdor said she feels great about the School Department’s progress this year on these fronts, specifically an overhaul of discipline policies that had previously had an unfair impact on students of color.

She said the board will likely consolidate its committees to ensure each one has three members. For example, she suggested that the finance committee may combine with operations.

On Nov. 9, the board was scheduled to discuss a proposal to allow the use of private vehicles as a way to deal with the shortage of drivers the School Department faces. Figdor said the board also plans to roll out additional financial benefits to potential school bus drivers in an effort to fill open positions.

At the board’s meeting on Nov. 16 an informal poll will be taken to determine who will serve as chair next year. While traditionally chairs serve for two years, and Figdor said she hopes to keep the position she assumed last fall, she must still be reelected by her colleagues.