OSBA listens to members’ concerns in eastern Oregon
Tuesday, October 19, 2021
OSBA Executive Director Jim Green and OSBA Board President Maureen Wolf led a contingent of staff to hear eastern Oregon school leaders' concerns on Monday in Vale during the first Fall Listening Session. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
Eastern Oregon school leaders say they don’t feel heard in Salem. On Monday, OSBA came to listen.
“Local control” became the theme of the night.
“You want to have things done through you, not to you,” said Jill Conant, Malheur Education Service District Board chair.
A half-dozen OSBA leaders, including OSBA Board President Maureen Wolf (Northwest Regional ESD) and OSBA Board regional representative Chris Cronin (Grant ESD), traveled to Vale in Malheur County on Monday for the first of the OSBA Fall Listening Sessions.
OSBA has replaced its traditional Fall Regional Meetings with a series of in-person, small-group listening sessions over the next two weeks, with more planned in the spring.
More than a dozen superintendents and school board members from school districts in the Malheur Education Service District attended in-person or online. In-person attendance was limited to assure physical distancing was possible.
Attendees said it was good to talk with OSBA staff and each other in person and to put names with faces, even if they were hidden behind masks.
Over more than 90 minutes, OSBA Executive Director Jim Green asked what the association needs to hear and how it can better support its members.
“It’s OK to be blunt, and I would say be angry if you think you need to be angry because it’s not been a fun year and a half,” Green told the crowd.
Although many topics were touched on, attendees’ frustration kept returning to local control. Salem’s one-size-fits-all mandates don’t take into consideration Malheur County’s unique conditions, particularly with poverty and diversity, attendees said. They would also like to see visits from the Oregon Department of Education and the governor’s office to see their successes with raising graduation rates.
Attendees said mandates were driving apart communities, school districts and the state. They made the case that parents are more likely to comply with rules coming from their fellow community members.
Vale School Board member Jason Johnson suggested that even small moves by Gov. Kate Brown to return some local decision-making might help calm communities.
But several attendees also expressed a fear that Brown might offer some measure of local control and then yank it back again.
Board members wanted help from OSBA both to express their needs to Brown as well as to help them explain to their communities why boards had to take some actions.
Green reiterated OSBA’s long-standing support for locally elected school board members making decisions for their students. He said listening sessions this week were an opportunity for OSBA to collect views from eastern Oregon to take back to Brown. He said the association is also working hard to get “goal posts” such as county metrics for lifting mask mandates.