The chair of the Portland school board will not seek re-election, setting the stage for an entirely new board over a two-year period.
Tom Koehler announced his decision to leave after one term in a statement Monday.
Koehler didn’t provide a specific reason for leaving.
“It’s been a great tour of duty and now it’s time to pass the baton,” Koehler said, in a statement.
Koehler noted accomplishments like the recent naming of a superintendent finalist and expansions of technical education. But his “tour of duty” phrase suggests the toll the last year, especially, has taken on the board chair.
Portland Public Schools has been roiled by facility and organizational problems over the last year, as well as frequent disagreements among board members. Turmoil intensified a year ago, with the discovery of elevated levels of lead in school drinking water. The controversy hastened the exit of long-time superintendent Carole Smith.
School board members have publicly disagreed on major policy questions, such as placing a bond on the ballot and whether to search for a new superintendent in public or in private. Koehler struck a hopeful tone as he looked ahead to the school board’s future.
“The next person filling this position will join a strong, committed board that is making consistent progress towards its goals,” Koehler said. But Koehler’s departure adds to turnover on the school board and among top administrators at Oregon’s largest school district.
The two other board members up for re-election have also decided to leave at the end of their terms. Both Pam Knowles, the district’s longest serving member, and Steve Buel have indicated they aren’t running for re-election.
While the Oregon School Boards Association has made efforts recently to recruit more candidates for board positions across the state, there’s no shortage of candidates to fill the Portland seats.
Three people had already filed to run against Koehler in Zone 6: Ed Bos, Trisha D. Parks and Joseph L. Simonis. One more person joined that race Monday, after Koehler confirmed that he’s not running. Koehler’s statement included support for past board member Julia Brim-Edwards. She was not among the listed candidates Monday morning.
Multiple candidates have filed to replace Knowles in Zone 5 and Buel in Zone 4. Rita Moore and Jamila Singleton Munson are running in North Portland’s Zone 4 to replace Buel. In Northeast Portland’s Zone 5, the registered candidates are Scott Bailey, Virginia La Forte and Traci Flitcraft.
Portland school board members are required to live in the zones they represent, but they are elected district-wide.