In debate about campaign filings for school board members, legislators balance transparency and safety
Tuesday, February 22, 2022
Increased transparency comes with increased potential danger for school board members, especially those of color, witnesses told legislators in a public hearing on House Bill 4114, on Thursday, Feb. 10. The House Rules Committee heard these concerns along with testimony in favor of the bill, and approved the bill last Friday, sending it to the floor for full consideration by the House.
HB 4114 requires school board members to file a verified Statement of Economic Interest. Oregon law prohibits using public office for personal gain and so requires a disclosure of economic interests and potential conflicts. These statements are required of many elected officials and public employees who control public money, and are an annual filing aimed at combating potential corruption.
Elected city, county and state officials as well as the members of many boards and commissions and school districts’ chief administrative officer and financial officer already must file the statements. A secretary of state audit suggested school board members should be added, as they oversee billions in public dollars and thousands of employees.
OSBA membership is split on the issue. Supporters of the bill, including school board members, spoke of the need for transparency to maintain public trust and accountability. But some members also fear making personal information more easily accessible will increase threats and harassment, adding stress to an unpaid role that is increasingly facing political and cultural heat. And the filing requirement represents a potential participation barrier to volunteer school board members. It’s annual paperwork and could be intimidating to some parents or community members who just want to support their local school.
OSBA School Board Members of Color Caucus President Sami Al-Abdrabbuh asked legislators to use an equity lens to consider the bill’s impact. School board members of color, already underrepresented comparative to the number of students of color, are facing increased threats and harassment as the state struggles with race issues. The economic statements could make it harder to recruit school board members of color.
Al-Abdrabbuh, a Corvallis School Board member, noted that school board members are already required to declare conflicts of interest during budget meetings.
Corvallis School Board Member Luhui Whitebear, a caucus director, told OSBA that legislators should also consider the safety of potential board members who have suffered violence in the past and may not want to be easily located.
“I have concerns that myself and my family are at risk,” Whitebear said. “Having that information out there can be really scary.”
HB 4114 next goes to the House floor. Assuming passage off the floor, it would next move to the Senate for assignment to a committee.