Two vying for board’s only contested seat

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: April 22. 2007 5:00AM PST

The race to represent parts of Prineville and Powell Butte on the Crook County School Board this spring pits a 17-year veteran of the board against a current member of several other community civic organizations.

Current Board Chairwoman Janet Roberts, 59, and Mark Severson, 48, are vying for the Zone 4 seat on the school board, which covers the southwest corner of the county. Of the three board positions that are up for election in May, Zone 4 is the only one that is being contested.Roberts, who lives in Powell Butte, has been on the board since she was appointed to fill a vacant seat in 1990. Severson, a Prineville resident, is currently the chairman of Prineville Memorial Hospital’s Board of Directors and serves on the board of the High Desert Education Service District and the Crook County School District’s Budget Board.

As Crook County continues to grow, the school district faces some major hurdles. All of its school buildings are currently at or over capacity, and a facilities committee has been working on recommendations to deal with those challenges.

Both candidates said that their priorities would include evaluating the district’s facilities needs and making sure more high school graduates have opportunities for post-secondary education.

“I believe in giving back to the community that supports me,” Severson said. “I have a passion for kids and their success, and you know, sometimes I see where we’re not maybe doing the best we can for the kids and we have to become innovative.”

Roberts said she still has goals she wants to meet before leaving the school board.

“I still find it interesting and fascinating and satisfying,” she said. “I believe the stability of the same board – and obviously we have some changes – is very important to support the administration, the superintendent and the team to go on with their work.”

School board positions are unpaid and members serve four-year terms. The school district is divided into four geographic zones, each with one representative on the board and there is one at-large position on the board.

Janet Roberts

One of her best accomplishments as a school board member, Roberts said, was helping create a plan for a new high school, which opened in 1996.

Roberts was familiar with the old school building as well, having graduated from Crook County High School in 1965.

“I’m really proud of the new high school that we built – I’m the only one left from that board,” Roberts said. “I was in on that from the very beginning.”

Roberts, who has been filling in as the head of the high school’s drama program this year, called her role on the school board “my main volunteer interest.” She said that she wants to continue working to beef up the high school’s curriculum requirements.

“Our interest is in the academic core, the reading, the writing and the arithmetic and so forth,” she said. “Let’s not forget about social studies and history – that’s important – and also supporting activities like drama, music, band. Those are things that grab kids and help keep them at school and keep them engaged.”

Increasing the amount of college classes available for high school students is also a priority, Roberts said. But she added that her style as a school board member is “not micromanaging.”

“My style is interested and engaged but not hands-on,” she said. “The board does not involve itself in day-to-day operations.”

Although she has been on the school board for nearly 20 years, Roberts said she still has work to do.

“I’m not tired of it yet,” she said. “There are still things that I want to accomplish before I leave.”

Mark Severson

After serving on the Pioneer Memorial Hospital Board of Directors, the Crook County School District Budget Commission, the Crook County Planning Commission and the High Desert ESD Board, Severson said running for a position on the Crook County School Board is a logical next step.

“I think my experience on all those boards and being a local businessman is a great resume for a school district board member, and I think the experience and the contacts I’ve created is invaluable,” Severson said.

The two major issues facing the school district right now, he said, are the overcrowded school facilities and the need to raise the rate of graduating high school seniors who go on to college.

“Another item that I’d like to see is teacher retention … We’ve had a lot of good teachers that are here and then gone after a brief stay,” he said. “I’d also like to work on programs like (the Reserve Officer Training Corps) that bring the kids into more connectivity with the school.”

He added that he would like to see the high school offer Advanced Placement classes.

Severson grew up in the Willamette Valley and moved to Prineville almost 30 years ago. He has been an agent for American Family Insurance for five years and was in the restaurant business for 22 years before that, he said. He also has a daughter who is a junior at Crook County High School and two older daughters in college.

Severson said that his campaigning has included talking with local groups, distributing fliers and meeting with some school committees.

He added that he would continue with his other commitments if elected to the school board. The High Desert ESD is one of 19 education service districts in the state and provides regional educational services.

“I’ve learned so much on (the High Desert ESD) board that I just thought I had a lot to offer, so I decided to run for it,” he said. “I think that’s part of what really makes a nice partnership is the fact that I’m very familiar with ESD functions on a day-to-day basis, which would lend a hand and complement the Crook County School Board.”

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