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OSBA’s Annual Convention includes revenue reform focus

School board members around the state learned about an array of important issues facing schools at OSBA’s 70th Annual Convention Nov. 10-13. But it was revenue reform that took center stage.

K-12 education faces a roughly $2 billion funding gap in the upcoming biennium, and it will be OSBA’s top priority to champion a revenue reform package in the 2017 Legislature that changes the way education is funded in Oregon.

“We want to write a new future for Oregon and for our students,” said OSBA President Dr. Doug Nelson.

In January, OSBA will work with state-level partners to poll Oregonians to assess voter support for different revenue reform measures. The feedback will be used to craft a legislative package that OSBA will present to legislators in 2017.

Key elements of the package will be:

  • It will amend Oregon’s Constitution to require the Legislature to provide adequate funding to meet Quality Education Model goals.
  • It will address cost drivers such as PERS and health care and eliminate unfunded mandates.
  • It will provide accountability to taxpayers and policymakers through transparent planning and communications of how any new revenues would be spent to impact student achievement.

For too long, Oregonians have been waiting “until next year” to find a way to provide adequate, stable school funding, said Jim Green, who will succeed Betsy Miller-Jones in January as OSBA’s executive director. Green is currently OSBA’s deputy executive director.

“I need you to stand up with us this year as we take our plan forward to change the way we fund education in this state,” Green told the convention audience. “If the Cubs can win a World Series, we can do this. I am absolutely convinced.”

Keynote speakers each day inspired convention attendees. Chad Hymas, whose neck was shattered in 2001 by a 2,000-pound bale of hay, talked about turning obstacles into opportunities.
“The two most important days in your life,” he said, “are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”

He gave personal examples of how people can use the circumstances in their lives to make a difference, and urged board members to “do whatever you can do in your circle to have purpose.”

“If you want to be a person of influence, be visibly felt,” Hymas said.
 
Chad Hymas encourages attendees to turn obstacles into opportunities.

Pedro Noguera, a distinguished professor of education at UCLA and former school board member, said in a keynote address that schools need to focus less on test scores and more on cultivating talent in children.

He offered these suggestions for what school boards should do to make a difference:

  • Maintain the right priorities
  • Support and recognize high-quality teaching – focus on morale
  • Prioritize teaching and learning when setting budget priorities
  • Publicize your district’s successes
  • Provide incentives for teachers with a track record of effectiveness to work in high-need schools
  • Promote leaders who value and understand teaching

“You are the keepers of the American Dream,” he said. “That’s what it means to be on the school board.”

Heidi Sipe, superintendent of the Umatilla School District, said in a Sunday keynote address that school boards should support districts in cutting through red tape and focusing on positives to maximize student achievement. 

Two top educators were honored at Saturday’s luncheon. North Clackamas Superintendent Matt Utterback was recognized as Oregon Superintendent of the Year, and Medford kindergarten teacher Gloria Pereyra-Robertson was honored as Oregon Teacher of the Year.

Utterback urged board members to be “people of influence” and to help give students a voice. Pereyra-Robertson said she is an example of how education can change a child’s direction.

“Education is the one thing that can shape your future,” she said, “and is the one thing that no one can take away from you.”

The convention agenda offered more than 60 workshops designed to provide board members with tools and ideas for helping improve student achievement in their districts, com-munity colleges, ESDs and charter schools.

Board members attending the Leadership Institute learned three key steps to advocating for education with their local legislators:

  • Get informed and know their story
  • Contact your legislator and develop a relationship
  • Share your story and ask for their support

Districts planning future bond campaigns were encouraged to add student voices to their planning efforts. Karen Montovino, an architect with DLR Group, gave the examples of Camas and Gresham-Barlow as two school districts that successfully involved students in planning new buildings.

“Students have a lot to say that can help shape a facility for decades of students,” she said.

Montovino offered these suggestions for involving students in bond campaigns:

  • Host listening sessions with students about what they would like to see in their bond
  • Show them images of different buildings and spaces and ask them to pick one or two that they like and why
  • Hold student design charrettes where students can weigh in on different design ideas
  • Take students on school tours and see the spaces through their eyes
  • Shadow students throughout their day to see how they use their current spaces and how those spaces work
  • Include students on the planning team
  • Provide opportunities for student internships within the architecture or engineering firm

Diversification of staff remains a priority for Oregon’s schools but also a huge challenge, said Parkrose School District Superintendent Karen Fischer Gray in one of the breakout sessions. Of Oregon’s 576,000 students, about 36 percent are students of color. But only 9 percent of teachers are persons of color. She pointed to her own district as an example of the struggle.

More than 50 languages are spoken in the Parkrose district, she said, and 22 percent of the students don’t speak English as a first language. Students of color constitute 70 percent of enrollment.

“But we can’t get a diversified work force to match our student population,” she said.

The answer may lie in districts developing “grow your own” partnerships, said Fischer Gray, who served on the state Educator Equity Advisory Group through the Chief Education Office. Among their recommendations:

  • Provide state-funded scholarships for culturally and linguistically diverse Oregon Promise students seeking to become teachers ($750,000 in scholarships in 2017-19)
  • Fund mentors for two years for every teacher hired in an Oregon school and provide continued networking and retention support for culturally and linguistically diverse candidates who have been recently hired

Another session dealt with the importance of creating a safe environment for transgender students.

Oregon’s Equality Act of 2007 prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, but there’s work to be done to educate students and staff, said Karin Moscon, a civil rights specialist with the Oregon Department of Education. More than one-third of students responding to a survey said they have heard school staff make homophobic or sexist remarks. Studies show that transgender students commit suicide eight times more often than their gender typical peers, she said.

Schools are required to treat a student consistent with the student’s gender identity as soon as a student or their parent requests it with school administration, she noted.

Other sessions dealt with critical issues facing schools, including the role of school boards in closing the achievement gap. Board members also had an opportunity during the convention to participate in discussions on a variety of hot topics, from lead in schools to parent engagement strategies to the board’s role in layoffs and recalls.