Educator and legislator caps career with school board service
“All politics and all school board stuff is local and it’s personal,” says Coos Bay School Board member Arnie Roblan, who has built relationships around the state through his long school and legislative service.
(OREdNews is profiling a handful of school board members from around the state in January during School Board Recognition Month.)
The school board is a fairly common stepping stone to the Oregon Legislature. Every session a handful of current and former school board members hold seats.
Arnie Roblan, a former state senator and representative, has taken the nearly unheard of path of going from the Legislature to the school board. When he won a Coos Bay School Board seat last year, he brought his education journey full circle, with students’ well-being always at the center.
“The school district in Coos Bay has been good to me,” Roblan said. “I felt I owed something back.”
Roblan has made education his life. He had a full career in Coos Bay as a teacher and principal before retiring to enter the Legislature as one of public schools’ most ardent champions, including spearheading the monumental 2019 Student Success Act. It aims to generate $1 billion a year for public education.
Roblan’s early years shaped his education mission.
Roblan struggled to learn to read and often wrote letters and numbers backward, he said. He suspects he has dyslexia like his two younger brothers, but in the 1950s, he was never diagnosed.
Roblan said that to this day he struggles to read publicly, especially when tired. He said his struggles have given him an awareness that people can see the world differently from him.
“Because of my learning disabilities, I really like to think about how to teach things,” he said.
In middle school, his reading improved, but his difficulties had already cemented a preference for math. After college, he moved to Coos Bay in 1972 with his wife, Arlene, to become a Marshfield High School math teacher. Arlene is a retired Coos Bay elementary teacher and principal. They have three children, Aaron (deceased), Amy and Alexis; and two grandchildren.
Arnie rose to Marshfield principal, earning the prestigious Milken Educator Award before retiring in 2004. That same year, he was elected to the Oregon House. In 2011 and 2012, he was co-speaker for the evenly split House.
In 2012, Roblan joined the Senate, where he achieved his signature victory for education. As the Joint Student Success Committee co-chair, Roblan spent more than a year touring the state and building support for the 2019 Student Success Act, a historic investment in public education.
“It was why I came to the Legislature in the first place,” he said.
As a principal, Roblan had watched school funding bleed away after the property tax changes of the 1990s shifted the school funding burden mostly to the state. The act was the answer he had been looking for since his first House campaign.
Legislators hear frequently that they pass laws and then leave people to deal with the fallout, Roblan said, so he decided to see up close how the act was playing out after he left the Legislature in 2020.
He said he is pleased with what he is seeing. Class sizes are down, facilities are being improved and, most importantly, schools are working to make all students feel welcome, he said.
It’s also given him a new perspective on the Legislature’s allocation of funds and school district responsibilities.
“When you are in the Legislature, you wonder why you give local control when the state is paying so much,” he said. “As a school board member, trying to meet the needs of local students makes you think about it differently.”
School Board Chair David Geels is pleased to have a board member as experienced as Roblan who is generous with his time and knowledge.
“He has hit the ground running,” Geels said. “He knows a lot about district business already.”
Roblan’s education commitment resonates with district staff and the community, building trust, Geels said.
Roblan wants the Coos Bay School District to prepare students to go wherever and do whatever they want. He is proud of his district and can quickly rattle off successful former students in a variety of industries.
Coos Bay Superintendent Bryan Trendell said Roblan has a “steel trap of a memory” for students and staff. Trendell was a student while Roblan was teaching.
“He was kind and helpful and all of those words you want to hear when you are a student,” he said.
Trendell said he was excited to have Roblan join the board because of his understanding of education, finance and school policy. Still, Trendell said Roblan’s greatest skill is his ability to interact with people in a genuine way.
Roblan is a genial guy who used to hand out chocolates to spectators at legislative hearings. He believes in the power of relationships, and he is a natural collaborator.
“For me, that is the best way to get things done,” Roblan said. “I don’t always have the right answer, but if you get enough people together, the answer will emerge.”
- Jake Arnold, OSBA