Because Wallowa County students are already meeting many statewide educational goals, there’s hope that the Wallowa Education Service District (ESD) could sidestep the regionalization being pushed for ESDs generally.
Wallowa ESD Superintendent Karen Patton, who belongs to the state’s elite task force that is recommending ESDs be regionalized, thinks the local ESD has a chance to keep its autonomy.
Named superintendent of the Wallowa ESD July 1, 2012, Patton admitted she already was facing a steep learning curve when in early November she was named to the special six-person task force assigned to “improve the delivery of services to the students of our state” by tinkering with the ESDs.
And yet Patton is tied to her roots and says, in accord with her purpose for being on the committee, “I can only weigh in on how discussions impact small schools in general.”
At the outset of an interview, Patton points to wording on page 2 of a nine-page first report released the previous week by the Education Service District Task Force (that met for two days each in mid-December and early January) that reads: “Task force members do not all support each recommendation made here, but do unanimously support the package of recommendations contained herein.”
In regard to the regionalization issue, known as the P-20 system, Patton says, “I don’t see this impacting the physical presence of Wallowa ESD … Moving these services would not result in any benefit to our school districts and could easily cause the effectiveness of these services to diminish.”
In support of her argument, among other issues, Patton points out that graduation rates in Wallowa County consistently exceed 90 percent.
ESDs were launched in the Oregon Territory before Oregon became a state in 1859 and now incorporate a disparity of ESD sizes and student-population groups ranging from 10,000 square miles to 450 square miles and from 1,600 students to nearly 110,000 students. Patton said these wide ranges make one-size-fits-all remedies challenging at best.
The Wallowa ESD is one of 19 ESDs in the state of Oregon charged to provide efficient delivery of core services to local school districts. Those core services of special education, school improvement, technology, and administration are shared locally with the Enterprise, Wallowa, Joseph, and Troy school districts here. Last year the Wallowa ESD operated on a budget of $2.4 million.
The task force was named by State of Oregon Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Rob Saxton and consists of three ESD superintendents and three superintendents of public school districts.
Members of the task force were selected in part “for diversity of district or ESD size and geographic distribution across Oregon.” Patton was only four months into her position when the task force was named, but the active role in championing the rights of small ESDs evidenced for many years by her predecessor, Ed Jensen, could have factored into her selection.
In addition to the P-20 regional structure recommended in the task force report, is a recommendation dealing with technology. The report states, “More than 60 percent of the students in the state are currently supported by a single software solution in several distinct technology system areas.” It then advocates for “virtually all districts and ESDs” to join such a system.
Patton says school districts in Wallowa County currently are not included in the 60 percent, and further states her opinion that not all school districts “will be required to migrate to the specific systems being utilized by this alliance.” She said details in regard to this task force recommendation remain vague at this time.
The initial task force report now is under review by such agencies as the Oregon School Board Association, Oregon Small Schools Association, Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, and others.