Mike Taylor's slogan for his West Linn-Wilsonville School Board campaign is "Make Our Kids Exceptional." He calls the school district "good" at the moment, but says there's much room for improvement, and that the type of outside-the-box thinking he provides is what the school district needs.
Taylor, who recently celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary, has two grandsons in the school district — one at Sunset Primary and one at Rosemont Ridge Middle School. A West Linn resident who's running for Position 1 against incumbent Regan Molatore, Taylor says overcrowding at Rosemont and a lack of district transparency were big reasons he decided to run for the school board, but that there's a lot he would like to do if he were elected.
"It's the kids that need the education, and I think we can do better for the kids," he says. "My slogan is 'Make our kids exceptional' and right now we're not exceptional, no matter how (the district) wants to cut it. I look at the (Smarter Balanced state testing) numbers and I see decline. The excuse is ... that the Smarter Balanced, it was only the second year it was offered. But the second year you'd think you would do better, so that's crazy. It defies logic. If you want exceptional schools you need to address these situations."
Taylor was born in Buffalo, New York, where he attended multiple K-12 schools, both public and private. He went on to graduate from Canisius College before a stint in the Army as a drill sergeant. From there Taylor worked in marketing at Campbell Soup Company for three years, eventually enrolling in a programmer's course.
From there he was recruited to run the IT department at Precision Castparts Corp., bringing him and his family to Lake Oswego. He later worked as the IT director for a Seattle bus company before taking the same position at Vigor, the Pacific Northwest's largest ship builder. That's where, Taylor says, he did his best work.
"I was there about 10 years before I retired and it was the best job I ever had," Taylor says. "I think our high was near ($500 million) in today's dollars annually while I was there. I was on aircraft carriers, nuclear subs — we had three sites and maybe 2,000 employees at different times. What I did in late '99, or 2000, I put in an ERP (enterprise resource planning) system on time and on budget, which is pretty unusual.
"It was state of the art at the time ... and every shipyard in the United States came out and spent a week at our place just to see what we were doing and how we did it."
Taylor officially retired in 2010 but says he continued to do consulting work for a number of organizations, including the British Navy. He says the creativity he was able to use as an IT director will carry over to the school board. He believes his out-of-the-box thinking could be particularly useful when the district looks ahead to alleviate overcrowding at the high school level. Taylor believes the high school task force that is expected to be created in the fall should take a look at multiple options — not just the construction of a traditional school.
"I'm saying 'OK, go ahead with the task force, but put together another task force and call it the alternate high school task force,'" Taylor says. "And don't (the district) pick the people, let the people come on who want to propose alternate ways of doing this. ... One example would be to spend $4 million or $5 million and attach a STEM building at Athey Creek Middle School — treat it like a magnet school or add (vocational) programs for students. We'll come to some consensus on an alternative plan and then let the board decide."
Taylor, who has lived in West Linn for the past several years, also served on the Lake Oswego City Council in the past. He says putting together the plan that resulted in Kruse Way is one of his memorable accomplishments, but that he's also proud of his work as a member of the Oregon League of Women Voters. In 2013 he led a research study for LOWV that took a look at Oregon's K-12 education, and says he was surprised at what he saw.
"I was lead of research, so I started looking at education for all of Oregon and found many shortcomings," Taylor says. "I interviewed a large number of people and put together a PowerPoint presentation of facts, and the Oregon Education Association participated in those meetings as did the (Oregon School Board Association) and others.
"Eventually I bowed out because I couldn't keep going down to Salem, and the group that was left worked with the union to get signatures to what became IP 28, which became Measure 97 (a proposed measure on the 2016 Oregon ballot that would have removed the cap on corporate gross sales tax and establish a 2.5 percent tax on gross sales that exceed $25 million). I didn't get involved in the revenue side, but I did the research that led to that."
That experience, coupled with growing concerns he saw at his grandsons' schools, is ultimately what prompted Taylor to get more heavily involved in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District. He says improving test scores and getting schools down under their enrollment capacities are his two biggest goals, but that increased transparency and communication from the district — specifically when it comes to the budget and ending fund balance — is also vital.
"We've depended on one person ... for the accounting and all the PERS accrual money, and he has no experience in that and that's millions upon millions of dollars," Taylor says. "What I'm asking is that (the district) hire an actuarial firm just to look at the PERS accruals. You're talking about a $10,000 expenditure to come in and look at where we're at."
"There's nothing wrong with being conservative (in terms of the ending fund balance), but (the district) has no empirical data to back up their decision, and to get that empirical data is not a lot of money. ... There's nothing wrong with being conservative with money, but you can't hide behind that mantle of 'I'm a conservative saver.' If you've over-saved you've undereducated."
Taylor believes the school board should be more open and honest in its deliberations, both with the public and with each other, and that there should be more accountability at all levels. He points to the Lake Oswego School District as a district West Linn-Wilsonville should emulate, and while he admits he's critical of many decisions past boards have made — including opening the district to so many open enrollment and out-of-district transfer students over the years — he says his track record shows he's an effective collaborator. Ultimately, Taylor says the district's kids are most important.
"We don't live in a bubble and we want to have an exceptional school district. And we have the resources to do it, and I would not settle for anything less than exceptional," he says. "And if you can believe you're going to be exceptional then you're halfway there. I see good, we're a good school district, and we're one of the best school districts in Oregon. But your kids aren't competing in Oregon. They're competing all over the nation."