At a special Oregon Board of Education meeting Thursday, Gov. Kate Brown started the meeting with a few words of context.
“I think we have a critical opportunity this legislative session to make a significant investment in our education system,” Brown said.
Most of the meeting was spent on a report from the Governor’s Convening on Fiscal Management & Transparency, a group of superintendents, state officials and school board members. The group was created to come up with recommendations after an audit on ODE and Portland Public Schools by the secretary of state’s office found mismanagement and lack of transparency at both the state and local levels.
“I think it's critically important for all of us to use every single tool that we have to ensure that we’re being accountable for every single taxpayer dollar,” Brown said.
The report from the governor’s convening group acknowledges that both PPS and ODE are taking steps to address the secretary of state’s audit — but the group presented five recommendations.
Several are related to financial transparency and better money management. The group suggests a best practices guide for responsible spending, shared between districts and updated annually. They also recommend a partnership with a data analytics company to create a tool to share district spending with the public.
Colt Gill, Oregon Department of Education director, favors training for new school district leaders — especially when it comes to fiscal management.
“Principals oftentimes become district leaders — or go right to superintendency — with little to no additional training after that,” Gill said. “This is the first time they find themselves in control and responsible for large sums of money.”
The governor’s group recommends continued administrator in-service training too, as well as a model for all school districts to measure student success and make sure student funding improves student outcomes.
ODE is asking the Legislature to help fund the recommendations.
“If this biennium is the biennium where the Legislature seeks to make a new investment in school,” said Gill, “we think this is also the time to make an investment in how we’re managing those dollars.”
During the meeting, Brown asked questions of the presenters. At one point, she asked board members their thoughts on a separate report presented at Thursday’s meeting — on instructional time, one of her priorities.
That work group on instructional time — separately from the fiscal management and transparency group — also created five recommendations. They include keeping instructional time requirements in terms of hours instead of days and modernizing the definition of instructional hours to include “high-quality” activities.
"I agree with the recommendation that it’s important to focus on quality, not quantity first,” said board teaching adviser Alyssa Nestler. “The reality is, there are several school districts with shorter school years that have better graduation rates than those with longer school years — that’s likely because they’re doing what’s right for students.”