Student Success Act dominates conversations at OSBA Summer Board Conference
Gov. Kate Brown visited Friday with attendees at the OSBA Summer Board Conference. (Photo by OSBA)
Cheers for the Student Success Act rang out loud and often at the OSBA Summer Board Conference. Record attendance, including the governor and legislators, added to the celebratory air.
The 2019 legislative session was overwhelmingly positive for school districts, including a $9 billion State School Fund and the historic education funding in the Student Success Act. Conference workshops and speakers explained recent changes in Oregon law and stressed the work still ahead to build community support for education investment and innovation.
Around 350 people registered for the preconferences and conference July 19-21 in Bend, including more than 100 new school board members.
OSBA Executive Director Jim Green credited the big turnout to the large number of newly elected board members and excitement about the Student Success Act.
“This is a unique time in history when the Legislature has made a historic investment in public schools, and I believe all school board members want to know what their role is in ensuring better outcomes for students,” Green said.
Gov. Kate Brown led applause for the act and asked for support for more education initiatives at the Friday networking reception. She noted that she had been working for stable and adequate funding for schools since her first campaign in 1992. The Student Success Act, which will create an additional $1 billion a year for education, finally offered a step in that direction.
Brown’s appearance was also a reminder of the political schism school boards are facing over the act. Democrats and Republicans agreed that students deserve a better education, but Republicans opposed the business tax to fund the Student Success Act.
Workshop discussions covered the basics of board member work, but they also sometimes touched on contentious and sensitive issues, such as equity, school spending, student free speech and staff benefits.
Consultant Jake Weigler of Hilltop Public Solutions reminded people during a full session on legislative advocacy that although the chasm between sides can sometimes be wide there is a unifying belief that can help bridge the gap.
“Education is an American idea about the gateway to opportunity,” he said. Weigler helped manage OSBA’s Oregonians for Student Success advocacy effort, which will continue to help support and implement the Student Success Act.
School boards will need to face the act’s baked-in accountability expectations to show the money is being spent wisely and effectively.
Keynote speaker John Horvick of DHM Research shared data showing Oregonians prioritize education but ideas about how the money is spent often fall along political lines. Graphs demonstrated how political affiliation and economic security can shape thoughts about education support. He said nearly two-thirds of the public supported the Student Success Act but it could still face political challenges.
“Don’t turn your backs,” he said.
McKenzie School Board Chair Tim Halloran said he appreciated the look at public polling. He said the data would be useful for a possible bond campaign next year.
Green addressed the conference and warned new school board members that although not everyone supports new taxes, they would see the need as they began working on budgets. Green also emphasized the power of members’ contacting their legislators to set education policy.
“You are locally elected experts on education,” he said. “They listen to you.”
In addition to training on topics such as ethics, budgets, charter schools and meetings, the conference offered networking opportunities.
Members mingled during breaks on the sunny balcony overlooking the Deschutes River and chatted over coffee or ice cream bars in the hallways and conference rooms. Breakfast and lunch tables brought together board members from around the state for conversations that ranged from student health care programs to superintendent searches and ways to engage their communities.
Jose Aparicio, a new North Wasco County school board member, said he appreciated the networking opportunities.
“It’s easier to have conversations when you can put a face to a name,” he said.
Whether new members or veterans, attendees said they came away with fresh understandings and ideas.
Diane Boisa of Nestucca Valley has been coming to Summer Board for more than a decade.
“I always learn something,” she said.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA