School board looks for Murphy's replacement

The Federal Way School Board is in the position of looking for a new member since board president Ann Murphy’s sudden resignation last Monday, but it could turn out to be an opportunity in disguise.

Earl Van Dorien, who the board appointed president in Murphy’s place, and school district superintendent Tom Murphy are discussing how to take applications for a new board member.

The board has 90 days to fill Ann Murphy’s old District 3 position, but district boundaries are expected to change this month following results of the 2000 Census. The board is expected to vote on the boundary changes as well as a plan for accepting District 3 applications at its March 11 meeting.

While many have expressed hope the board will replace Murphy with the best-qualified person, some also say a little diversity also wouldn’t hurt.

“Having some minorities would help,” said Ron Walker, former president and still a member of the city’s Diversity Commission. “Not only with public perception, but because people bring certain backgrounds, understandings and perceptions that may be beneficial.”

More than 80 languages are spoken in the Federal Way public schools system.

Federal Way’s population is 69 percent white, 13 percent Asian-American, 8 percent African-American and 8 percent Hispanic, according to Census data. The remaining 2 percent is made up of other races.

Because Federal Way has such a diverse population, it would seem safe that residents expect a reflection of that diversity in its community leadership, said Trise Moore, president of the Diversity Commission.

“The School Board is a place for our city to demonstrate its respect and value for cultural diversity,” she said.

Ann Murphy, who is not related to the district superintendent, resigned during her eighth year on the board. Her term had about 18 months remaining, and she would have served as president until the board’s regular restructuring in December.

Murphy was an advocate of more traditional, academic and results-based education programs and systems. She spoke against requirements that she said took away from the academic experience and that focused instead on values or socialization.

Those were jobs for parents, she maintained. She believed schools only were responsible for providing an education.

Murphy’s only statement about her resignation was that she felt a spiritual calling to leave the board.

“My time is done here and if I stay, that’s just really self-serving,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been told, ‘Your time is done here. It’s time to move on.”

Some associates knew of her resignation plans before Monday’s board meeting, but they remained unclear afterward about her reasons.

Party insiders said Murphy, a staunch Republican, hadn’t revealed any plans to run for another office, though Murphy said she would leave her options open.

Board member Don Putman said he has no preconceived ideas of who should replace Murphy, he’s just looking for someone with the time and the willingness to do the job.

“I don’t think of liberal issues and conservative issues, I just look at each issue and how it pertains to kids,” he said. “I’m not going to mark up or mark down based on conservative or liberal. I just want to find the right person for the job.”

To fit into the position, he said, a new director must have a vested interest in education and be willing to ask difficult questions to ensure all kids are educated.

Walker cited as an example the difference between kids who have parents at home and kids who don’t. If the former perform better in school, he said, then the district — with board of education support — should find a way to augment that experience for students who don’t have parents at home, whether through mentorship programs or after-school activities.

“You copy success and make sure everyone has the same piece of pie,” he said.

Putman said a new director will need the time and energy to do the job well.

“You need a lot more time to evaluate the issues than you think you have,” he said. “There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work — papers from the district, e-mail from families, information from Olympia, federal information, budgeting, initiatives ... we’re looking at all those things. It was more than I anticipated.”

Though the four remaining board members are relatively new to their roles (about one year of combined experience), Putman thinks they can handle the job.

“We’re sorry Ann is gone. She brought insight and experience to the board,” he said. “But the board is always bigger than one person.

“We look forward to getting the work done. We look forward to getting someone picked. I think the board’s going to do fine.”

Because the board’s agendas are set months in advance, directors will be able to continue without any real disruption to district business.

“You will not be able to detect so much as even a minor bump in the road,” Van Dorien wrote in an e-mail.

Tom Murphy, the superintendent, also expressed confidence in the board.

“Ann, in her role as board president, was really the history of the board and board operations. That’s going to be a huge hole to fill. It’s not easy to replace someone who’s been on the board eight years,” he said. “I don’t know what to expect. The other board members are hard-working people. All the elements are there.”

Staff writer Erica Jahn can be reached at 925-5565 and

Meeting scheduled

The Federal Way School Board has scheduled a special meeting for Monday at 7 p.m. at the Educational Service Center, 31405 18th Ave. S. Topics are to include graduation requirements and the district promotion policy.

The next regularly scheduled board meeting will be March 11, same time and location as Monday’s session.

Beginning April 23, regular meetings will be conducted on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month. Along with the new schedule (they’ve been on Mondays) will come a new location: Federal Way City Hall (City Council chambers).

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