Parent Activist Rita Moore to Challenge Steve Buel for Portland School Board

The race is five months away, but it's already heating up.

The Portland School Board election is five months away, but already it's a hot contest.

Incumbent Steve Buel says he'll run again to represent North Portland on the seven-person board, and parent activist Rita Moore says she'll challenge him in May.

This isn't the first time Buel, a retired teacher, has faced Moore, a policy analyst for the Oregon Health Authority. But much has changed in the district and on the board when they both sought a seat in 2008 and 2009. Alliances have shifted, and the stakes are high as PPS officials seek a new superintendent and another multi-million-dollar construction bond.

Buel, who previously served one term on the board in 1979, ran and won in 2013 as an outsider highly critical of then-Superintendent Carole Smith and the school board's relationship with teachers, who nearly went out on strike in 2014. With last-minute financial support from the Portland Association of Teachers union, Buel ousted incumbent Martín González, who had been the lone board member to vote against the teacher's 2011 contract.

From 2013 until July 2015, when four new people joined the Portland School Board, Buel served unofficially as the board's prodder-in-chief, poking publicly at problems but rarely achieving results in the face of a board majority that largely sided with and protected Smith.

That changed in 2015 with the addition of board members Mike Rosen and Paul Anthony, who joined Board Chair Tom Koehler to push Smith aside.

Now, Buel says he's no longer the outsider. He's getting results, he says—on everything from the hiring of principals to the inclusion of culturally relevant curriculum in more schools—and he wants to run again. "I think we're beginning to address problems that have lingered for years," he says. "I'm still pushing the board, except now they listen better."

He has also drawn the ire of fellow school board members, notably Pam Knowles, who frequently takes issue with Buel's unguarded style of communication.

Candidates for the Portland School Board have to run in zones according to where they live. Once on the board, they act on behalf of all children in the district, not just those in their geographic zones.

"If I had my druthers, I wouldn't have to run against Steve," says Moore. "He may not be right about everything, but he's not wrong."

Buel and Moore both sought appointment to the school board in 2008, after then-member Dan Ryan resigned to take over what was then called the Portland Schools Foundation. The board appointed González that year, and when he ran to keep his seat in 2009 he again faced Buel and Moore, who split 49 percent of the vote. (González got 51 percent.)

If re-elected, Buel says he's focused on the same three things he's always wanted: equity in educational opportunities; wise spending; and fairness to employees.

Moore, who has served on advisory boards with the district, says she wants to bring transparency and strong financial stewardship to the district. She also wants to improve how the board operates as a whole, fostering greater unity, she says.