School board bubbles with new chemistry

By Bob Roegner, Inside Politics

“What a difference a few months makes,” commented one watcher when asked about the new Federal Way School Board.

After several years of controversy on the board, culminating in last fall’s election changes, the tone of board meetings is noticeably different, according to several sources. The formerly tense atmosphere has been replaced by one of calm deliberation and focus on the business at hand.

Even with turmoil surrounding the former board, the business of education policy still was accomplished, but the distractions wore on the board’s relationships — and those relationships are important to the conduct of successful debate and consensus.

Charlie Hoff is still present at most meetings advocating for his point of view, but now it’s as a citizen with a speaking time limit, not as a board member who can influence the tenor of the meeting or direction of the debate.

This board appears very much aware of the dynamics of the last board and seems intent on creating a new sense of decorum and efficiency. As another close to the scene put it, “We are entering an era of good chemistry.”

But that chemistry has not yet evolved, nor has the board’s collective personality fully taken hold. Last year’s elections replaced Evelyn Castellar’s experience, passion and controversy with Amye Bronson-Doherty’s parental involvement, consensus style and leadership potential.

Charlie Hoff’s decision not to run for re-election created a vacancy filled by Suzanne Smith’s studied commitment rather than Hoff’s lightning rod ideology.

David Larson’s departure from the board to serve as Federal Way Municipal Court judge also contributed to the board’s changing personality. Larson was only on the board for a short period of time, but his impact as the de facto leader was significant and resulted in the board’s collective personality becoming more activist and aggressive. As president of the board this year, Larson would have been able, with support from veterans Ed Barney and Tom Madden, to shoulder much of the burden while Smith and Bronson-Doherty served their apprenticeships.

But Larson’s resignation deprived the board of his leadership at a critical time and restored Barney as board leader. Shortly after Larson’s departure, Madden submitted his resignation to concentrate on his business.

Larson’s position has been filled by Tony Moore, whose longtime interest in education made many wonder why he ran for the Legislature rather than school board a few years ago. Moore’s personal style will blend well with the other board members, enhancing the “era of chemistry.”

This new chemistry should not be confused with unanimity as this board will have its disagreements, but it’s how they handle disagreements that will reflect their true character.

In June, a replacement for Madden will be selected, which will further change the board’s personality. So far, four names have been mentioned.

Ed Barney will effectively manage the board’s business as president this year, but it seems unlikely he will run for re-election when his term is up next year. That will leave the board in 2010 with its most senior members at two years of experience.

As we look toward the issues that will likely confront the board in 2010-11, it will be important that a leader emerge to guide the board through the decision-making process. Smith, Bronson-Doherty and Moore all have potential to fill that leadership role.

Community confidence in the board is as high as its potential. Only time will tell if that potential can be realized.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner, a former mayor of Auburn, can be reached at bjroegner@comcast.net.

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