Open thread: school board zones, elections, and pay

9:31 pm

Should school board members be paid? An unpaid board position is conservatively estimated to be equivalent to a half-time job. Why should service on the board be limited to those who can afford to work a half-time job for free?

Should school board members be elected by the zones they represent, instead of the whole city? Currently, school board members must live in the zones they represent, but all seats are voted on city-wide.

(Tip of the hat to Lakeitha for the open thread idea!)

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Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

filed under: Elections, School Board

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16 Responses

  1. Comment from Lakeitha:

    So, after considering running for School Board for a while, getting the go ahead from my supportive daughter, encouragement from my closest friend, PPS Equity and NSA and almost putting my hat in the race after the Draft Lakeitha movement, I thought long and hard about the impact it would have on my life and family. I asked myself if was willing to raise 35,000 + to be elected to a volunteer position. If I a single, actively involved, working mother could afford time off of work to attend committee meetings, trainings and school board meetings and retreats. The overwhelming response from my budget was NO. Wouldn’t it be so much better if the $35,000 could go to support a school and not a school board campaign? I also questioned why I needed to live in a specific zone but, had to run citywide. Shouldn’t the people in the zone decide who gets to represent them on the school board? The system is flawed, this is like us in Portland getting to decide who represents Beaverton at the Sate level. Somethings gotta give, I am researching wha tthe steps would be to chenge the existing policies. Below are a few articles I found when I google “paid school boards’;coll=2

  2. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    What is an open thread?

  3. Comment from Lakeitha:

    An open thread is just an open online discussion.

  4. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    “Open thread” means I don’t have time to be insightful, and I want you all to write my blog for me! :)

    But I will say this:

    The money bit is astonishing, especially given that it’s an unpaid position. The zone 5 race pushed $70K in spending, and only 41K people voted in that race.

    Bottom line: this is pay-to-play, and you’ve got to have a certain level of wealth (and a lot of wealthy associates) to be a serious contender (not to mention the wealth and employment flexibility needed to serve once elected).

    By contrast, a city council candidate merely has to raise 1000 $5 donations to qualify for public financing. And that’s for a full-time job that pays pretty well.

  5. Comment from Zarwen:

    Just for the record (and Steve Buel could testify to this better than I can): running for school board was nothing ridiculous like this 25 years ago. Something has gone seriously wrong in this past generation that now one needs to raise a year’s pay to run for a volunteer job, as Lakeitha said.

  6. Comment from ohme:

    What I am hearing is that the equity issues in this district extend all the way to the top. The people making the decisions for our district have to raise money to run. The people who give them that money then have expectations. The people who give money HAVE money. So the people with money have their voices heard. Again.
    I agree…you shouldn’t have to raise a year’s salary to serve on the school board. It should be a paid position so more people can realistically have a chance to be a part. I wonder what would happen if one school board position was a teacher on special assignment (TOSA). Might be interesting…

  7. Comment from Rita:

    Thanks for opening this thread, Lakeitha. Having just done a campaign, I’ve been thinking about this stuff, too.

    It’s not by accident that the business interests continue to be vastly over-represented on the Board which then produces policies that clearly respond to the wishes of the more affluent populations of this city.

    The fact that it’s a city-wide election dramatically increases the cost of a competitive campaign to upwards of $35K and makes it virtually inevitable that money politics will dominate, with all the same consequences that we’ve seen throughout American politics. Add to that the fact that voter turnout varies quite dramatically across precincts anyway, but is particularly depressed in off years when the school board election happens, and you get campaigns (and candidates) that must appeal to that narrow sector of the electorate — and we all know who they are — that actually turns in a ballot. Add to that the fact that it’s a volunteer position and you virtually ensure that candidacy will be an option for only a very small segment of the electorate.

    Is it any wonder, then, that we get the school boards that we get? I say this with all due respect to those who serve in these thankless, but powerful positions. I don’t question anyone’s motives, but the system we have of electing school boards conspires to create boards that do not reflect the diversity (in either socio-economic status or race/ethnicity) of the District or the City. Given that we all bring a perspective that is conditioned by our life experience, we don’t have to impute ill intent when we point out that Board policies and District actions advantage some parts of the city and seriously disadvantage others. What is deeply troubling, however, is that the inequities have been well known and well documented for quite a long time, but aside from public hand-wringing, little effort has been made to redress them. Meanwhile, the Board commits to creating a boutique school in 2011 for phantom children in the Pearl even as it slashes the budget. Gee, I wonder how that happened?

    I would love to see us form a group that really looks at these issues and develops a full proposal on how to make the school board elections more responsive and democratic. (I’m thinking of something like a City Club report.) We would have to figure out what would be needed to change the system, perhaps this needs to be a ballot measure.

    This will probably require some fairly serious historical and legal research, but it’s absolutely do-able and, I think, essential. I certainly would volunteer to work on this. Steve Buel could probably provide some oral history on how we got to where we are today.

    Let’s do this.

  8. Comment from Rita:

    Let me add one more observation about this last election. I don’t think I’m being oversensitive in saying that this last election got remarkably little coverage in the media, both print and broadcast.

    Two examples: the big candidate forum in mid-April received, as far as I could tell, NO coverage by TV or radio. The election results, as far as I know, also received NO coverage. Broadcast media is how most people get their news and these outlets, in my opinion, failed to fulfill their obligation for public service.

    The print media did a little better, but only a little. The candidate forum was covered by the Oregonian in a web post that night, but the print version didn’t appear until the following week. On the day of the election, the Oregonian had a tiny article buried in the middle pages reminding people of the deadline whereas for most elections there’s a lead editorial exhorting people to vote.

    My point here is that few people outside of those who routinely follow school politics — a pretty small group I would guess — even knew an election was happening. In fact, only 14.5% of registered voters voted. That’s appalling even by American standards. A number of my friends who intended to vote for me mentioned that they almost missed the deadline because they didn’t get reminded and three weeks after the election I’m still getting questions from otherwise aware people about who won. Something is clearly wrong here.

    This was not an insignificant election, but you wouldn’t know it from the coverage. On the other hand, bad news about the budget cuts is all over the press and TV. You’d think people would want to know who’s making these decisions.

    What can we do to insure that future Board elections are more visible?

    Slate of candidates for 2011, anyone?

  9. Comment from Lakeitha:

    Thank You Rita, well put. I am starting to work on some research about how to change the process and would love any help. I am going ot try to talk to Chip Shields to see what information and help I might be able to get from him. In the meantime, I am working on PPS Parent Union stuff and thinking we might be able to use that group to help lobby for the change.

  10. Comment from sheila warren:

    Yes we can put this issue under our PPAC/ Political action committee in the Parents Union.
    I think it is an intiative that
    we can lobby to change. Sounds like you are on it. Thanks Lakeitha. I often thought the process was ridiculous. Logic and common sense sure didn’t fit this process.

  11. Comment from Lakeitha:

    So, according to this document, Board member can choose to be reimbursed for actual expenses related to doing board business up to a certain amount or receive a lump sum stipend (the amount is determined by the board). What is surprising is that the Board Member recieves a 1099 and must report the money as taxable income. I wonder how much the stipend is.

  12. Comment from Scott:

    Don’t know if anybody’s still listening, but…

    The reason for zones with a district-wide vote is that before zones, most of the board lived in the West Hills. Zones assure at least some geographic diversity. The district-wide vote means board members are accountable to all, not just their zone. If it was a zone-only vote, there’s a greater chance of provincialism (I only care about my cluster) and coalitions that could pit schools against each other.

    I think paid board positions, and public funding of the school board elections are both good ideas.

  13. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Your points are correct, Scott. But, I kind of like the ESD system where you have 5 zones and two city-wide positions. This allows for actual grass roots campaigning and at the same time preserves the ability for some city-wide voting. Right now, money is the main weapon of choice and we all know how that works. The people who favor the more well-to-do schools can raise the money and the others can not. There is no balancing mechanism like grass roots campaigning and effort with which to offset the $ since the electorate is too large. This would suggest the need for public funding if you leave the electorate the way it is.

    Paid positions are not the answer in my opinion since you already have that with staff and the expense would be pretty heavy.

    The old system, prior to zones, at least allowed a candidate to pick their race. You could challenge the weakest link. I would have much rather run against Trudy. It holds board members more accountable to the electorate.

  14. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    If I had the time, I’d do two research projects: 1) plot individual school board campaign contributions on a map of Portland, and 2) plot school board election voters by precinct.

    I strongly suspect these two data points would illustrate that west hills residents still largely control who sits on our school board, even if five of them are now required to live elsewhere.

    Campaigning only within a zone would significantly reduce the influence of money in the campaign, and eliminate the ability of west-side precincts to overwhelm the local vote.

  15. Comment from Rita:

    Just a couple of quick comments. The election office has the numbers online for turnout by precinct, but I can tell you that the biggest turnout is in SW and inner SE. As you get to the periphery, the turnout falls off a cliff.

    Personally, I think there’s something to be said for defining seats by zone, but I like Buel’s compromise with a couple city-wide.

  16. Comment from Steve Buel:

    The Pam Knowles election was pretty interesting. Scott was the school guy, the Stand for Children endorsee, plus most school advocates I know voted for him, etc. Yet he lost pretty substantially. I think this is a good indication of what would happen if the position was paid. After all, how many advocates for the poor get elected to city council or the county commission? Amanda Fritz? Maybe. She did it with public funds so there is an indication there. I mean true advocates not the people who say they are advocates for the poor but spend most of their time with the political wheelers and dealers.

    One approach is to really work for candidates who you know are going to stand up for equity etc.etc. To a certain degree that is what helped Ruth get elected. But we know how that turned out.

    Most people won’t spend the months and months of time needed to really have a chance coming from the outside and the school activists who support equity and the other things talked about on this blog aren’t really willing to work to the degree you have to to offset the money. Maybe they might if elections were voted on in zones. Until then the same people will keep control and the emphasis and watchdogging will be on certain schools.

    So in grade school make sure your kid has a good teacher. That is about all you can do. In the middle grades send your kid to a private school — catholic probably is your best bet. And watch like crazy to make sure his or her friends are decent. In high school go with the best deal you can find. And pray. Right now that is about it. Sad.