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Major education bills get first hearings
Three of OSBA’s top 2022 legislative focuses received hearings on the session’s first day. Legislators’ reception Tuesday was mostly positive.
Senate Bill 1546: An end may be in sight for the Elliott State Forest saga.
The forest was created in 1930 to provide money from timber harvests for public schools. But with logging restrictions, the forest’s maintenance has instead become a drain on the Common School Fund in the past decade. In 2015, the forest was put up for sale for $220.8 million. In 2017, Gov. Kate Brown proposed maintaining public ownership to use the forest for conservation and recreation, and the State Land Board scuttled the sale.
The 2017 Legislature provided $100 million for the Common School Fund to begin decoupling the Elliott from the fund and started the ball rolling on setting the forest aside for environmental research. Meanwhile OSBA pressed the board to fulfill its fiduciary duty to maximize the forest for students’ benefit and has maintained that the fund is still owed $120.8 million.
SB 1546 tackles both those aims. It would create the Elliott State Research Forest and put it under the management of a board and Oregon State University with provisions for public use. Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, a member of the State Land Board, told the Senate Natural Resources and Wildfire Recovery Committee that under the plan the state would meet its financial obligations to the fund to complete the decoupling.
“We believe that this is the best possible solution to a very complex problem,” OSBA Deputy Executive Director Mary Paulson testified. “While everybody didn’t get everything they wanted, it is a major win for the children of Oregon.”
Paulson is a member of the 15-member Elliott State Research Forest Advisory Committee. The advisory committee brought together competing forest stakeholders to hammer out the plan over more than three years, and they pleaded with legislators not to change a single carefully chosen word.
The committee will hear public testimony on the plan Thursday.
SB 1521: With unprecedented superintendent turnover, including recent high-profile cases of superintendents losing their jobs while in conflict with school boards, legislators vowed to do something. SB 1521, which provides superintendent employment protections, would be their start.
The bill would prohibit superintendents from being fired for following local, state or federal rules and require a year’s severance for a firing without cause. OSBA and the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators collaborated on the bill, and representatives of both testified to the Senate Education Committee in support.
OSBA Legislative Services Director Lori Sattenspiel told the committee that the bill balances the board’s authority to choose a superintendent with the need for leadership stability for the good of staff and students.
During the hearing, legislators suggested more school workforce protections might be forthcoming.
The bill will have a public hearing with a possible vote Thursday.
House Bill 4029: The bill requiring school leadership training has been caught in the heat of recent superintendent dismissals, but it actually was first heard last session before the recent controversies.
The bill would require school boards and superintendents to conduct a self-assessment every two years and develop a professional learning plan. Training would include a focus on educational equity and research-based best governance practices. School board chairs and vice chairs would be required to receive training within 90 days of taking the positions.
OSBA and COSA representatives testified in support of the bill, as they did last year. Parkrose School Board member Sonja McKenzie, the OSBA Board president-elect, stressed the need for volunteer board members to get the training to understand their roles and responsibilities. She also said there is an urgent need to build collaboration.
Grant County Education Service District board member Chris Cronin, an OSBA Board member, said the bill would provide much-needed resources and access to training for small and rural schools.
She pointed out that board member mistakes can cost schools money.
But the politics of the moment also reared its head, with some Oregon school board members testifying against by framing it as a local control issue.
Rep. Mark Owens, R-Southeast Oregon, has proposed amendments that would still require training but would remove focuses on educational equity and collaborative governance. The bill changes would also allow school boards to determine the frequency of training, and they would remove specific training requirements for school board chairs and vice chairs.
A second hearing for the bill has not been scheduled.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA