Five questions with school board member Rep. Andrea Valderrama
With Rep. Andrea Valderrama, the Legislature added this year another strong and knowledgeable voice for education.
The representative for House District 47 in East Portland is also the David Douglas School Board chair. She has worked as policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon and served as a policy adviser first to former Portland Commissioner Steve Novick and then to Mayor Ted Wheeler.
Valderrama was appointed in March. She spoke last week to OSBA about her experience as a school board member and new legislator. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length.
OSBA: How are you finding the session? This is a weird time.
Valderrama: It is a weird time! What I keep sharing with folks is that the biggest transition is just going back to a place of work. I have been pretty isolated for the last year and a half. I’ve been lucky, but now just coming back to see people again, making small talk, saying things like, “How was your pandemic … did you get a pet?” That’s weird!
As an advocate, being in the Capitol, it’s an unusual feeling. To be in a space where there has been a lot of community and organizing and advocates, it feels sad to have the hallways empty.
Are you able to be effective? What challenges have you run into?
I think it’s important to say that we [the Legislature] have been effective in some pretty historic ways. There has been incredibly important policy about public safety, historic investments in education, redistricting, transportation dollars. There have been a lot of great policies and resources that will say: “We’ve made this thing better.”
But it’s also true that it is going to take collaboration and coordination going forward. With the federal level, governor’s office, local officials and local governments, school boards, and organizations, it is collectively all our job to continue these hard conversations even after the end of session.
What topics need additional effort?
So many. We have done good work, but there is still so much to be done on housing, behavioral health, wraparound services. And even from a school board lens, these are ongoing issues. Statewide and in House District 47 and in the David Douglas School District, we are finding the need for so many things. So it’s not just the need for broadband access for students, which is there. But it is also the need for digital equity, for culturally specific navigators to help families understand devices that students are using.
The State School Fund continues to be a hot topic for school board members. You’ve supported the current $9.3 billion State School Fund allocation and simultaneously advocated for a $9.6 billion allocation. How do you think about education funding?
I think that we have a really historic level of investment with $9.3 billion. I’m very excited to see the implementation and see what districts can do. But as a school board member — actually especially as a mom — I know that $9.3 billion is not enough. We’ve faced so many challenges, even just the lost learning and decreased enrollment that we’ve yet to quantify. I believe those additional resources to get to $9.6 billion are necessary. I remain committed to advocating for that.
In thinking about additional resources, as a school board member I’m really excited to have those conversations within our community. Our racial justice policy, our investments in teachers and teachers of color — we don’t have that kind of flexibility at the state level.
Is there anything you want school board members to know?
I want to acknowledge how challenging it has been to be a local elected school board leader in this moment. We have been faced with real complex decisions: closing the school, reopening the school, layoffs, lost learning, PPE … the list goes on and on. If anything, we’ve seen how integral schools and education are to the backbone of our community.
I would also say now is the time for value-based leadership. The time is yesterday. Not just on COVID but also on the issues of racial injustices, really listening to our students of color, communities of color, communities of refugees. I think that is happening. I want to give deep appreciation to school board members for that.
- Richard Donovan
Legislative Services specialist