OSBA committee to consider rural district representation
Tuesday, April 26, 2022
The OSBA Board wants to give rural members more voice, but first members will have to define what “rural” means.
During a meeting Friday, April 22, the OSBA Board decided to create an advisory committee to consider adding a rural school district caucus along the lines of the OSBA Oregon School Board Members of Color Caucus.
Rogers said he was responding to members’ requests, but he also has a personal interest as board chair for the Athena-Weston School District, which has fewer than 600 students northeast of Pendleton.
“We hope it will serve as a catalyst for conversations about the challenges smaller districts face,” he said.
Cultural fights over COVID-19 safety measures and statewide equity efforts have widened a rural and urban divide and left many members in less populated areas feeling unheard by decision-makers in the Capitol. Many school board members are also in remote areas that make it hard to get to conferences and other gatherings, leaving them feeling left out of the conversations.
OSBA Executive Director Jim Green said the caucus would help rural representatives be heard, but he emphasized that “rural district caucus” would not be used as a code for political affiliation. Instead, he said, the caucus would be forming around shared issues.
Smaller districts, especially ones in more remote locations, face unique hurdles such as nonexistent broadband access, limited housing for staff, extreme bus commutes for students, lack of specialized personnel in schools, and community resistance to bonds.
The committee would explore setting up the caucus’s bylaws and mission, and one of its first steps would be defining a rural district. Do small districts near urban areas count? What about school districts that have very large and very small schools over a large geographic area? Possible parameters include county populations and other groups’ small school designations.
Green said the Oregon School Board Members of Color Caucus pioneered the need for and the benefits of having a strong voice on shared issues.
The Oregon School Board Members of Color Caucus was created in 2016, and the OSBA Board formally recognized it in 2017. In 2018, OSBA membership approved giving the caucus a voting seat on the OSBA Board. Membership is open to anyone who self-identifies as a person of color.
The caucus’s primary mission is supporting leaders of color while bringing light to the different needs of all students. It has issued statements on statewide issues of race and equity and been a point of contact for media.
“It has given us the opportunity to hear from our members in the BIPOC community about the special challenges faced by them and Oregon’s students of color,” Green said.
Rogers said the advisory committee will include himself and three other OSBA Board members: Emily Smith of the Helix School District, Chris Cronin of the Grant County Education Service District and Dawn Watson of the Phoenix-Talent School District. He said he is reaching out to other school board members around the state to fill out the committee.
Under OSBA bylaws, the new caucus would have a voting seat on the OSBA Board and two seats on the Legislative Policy Committee that helps set OSBA’s direction. OSBA Board seats are based on student populations, so a small number of districts in the state’s most populated areas are represented by multiple seats while dozens of small districts might be represented by one seat.
Cronin said she represents 37 school districts and education service districts with more than 175 board members in the northeast part of the state and it would help to have another voice addressing those districts’ particular issues.
The committee will put a proposal before the OSBA Board. If the board approves creation of another caucus, the decision will go to an OSBA membership vote in fall 2023 at the earliest.
“I’m excited to see where this is going,” said committee member Smith. Helix, about 14 miles from Pendleton, had 160 students last school year.