Umbrella Board for Schools Weighed

Article excerpt

Byline: Saul Hubbard The Register-Guard

SALEM - Gov. John Kitz haber's proposal to create a single, centralized board to oversee all public education in Oregon, from pre-kindergarten to college, saw its first legislative action Tuesday in the Capitol.

Surrounded by supportive, high-ranking education officials, first at a press conference and then at a public hearing, Kitz haber said creation of the Oregon Education Investment Board - the centerpiece of his long-term plan to reform the state's public education - would produce a more efficient and accountable education system in Oregon, one that would help students perform better.

"I'm extraordinarily excited about this long-overdue project," he added.

Kitzhaber acknowledged that the proposal would not alleviate the big budgetary crunches facing the state's school districts, public universities or community colleges in the coming biennium.

But he asserted that it would set up Oregon for the future by creating more stability in public education funding.

The proposed board would have control of the portion of the general fund currently allocated to education as a whole - about 51 percent of the state's almost $15 billion general fund biennial pot - and it could distribute those funds however it chose.

It also would replace the appointed state Board of Education, which currently oversees K-12 state schools and community colleges, and the state Board of Higher Education, which is responsible for Oregon's seven public universities. The governor himself would chair his proposed Oregon Education Investment Board and would appoint the board's 12 other members, subject to Senate approval.

Currently, the Board of Education and the Board of Higher Education both are appointed by the governor, subject to Senate confirmation.

By centralizing power, the new board would be able to focus on the "big picture" and help streamline and connect the different branches of education - early education, K-12 and higher education - which compete for general fund money, advocates say.

Whether lawmakers will adopt Kitzhaber's bill - Senate Bill 909 - is unclear.

A task force Kitzhaber created is backing it.

But lawmakers - pushing their own pet bills and fretting over the looming state budget shortfall - haven't had much time to study it. And there was scant time at Tuesday's hearing for people to comment on it.

Many questions remain about just what powers the new education board would have, what it might do, and how that would affect students, school districts and colleges.

In the existing system, many students fall between the cracks when transitioning from one branch of the system to another, proponents argue. …