Should Oregon's Top Education Official Be An Elected Office Again?

Mar 19, 2017
Originally published on March 20, 2017 9:46 am

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow Oregonians to once again vote for the state’s top education official.

For more than a century, Oregon voters selected a separate superintendent of public instruction every four years. That changed after lawmakers voted in 2011 to shift those duties into the governor's office. Direct supervision of the Oregon Department of Education was then delegated to a deputy superintendent of public instruction.

It was part of a package of legislation overhauling the state's education governance model that was championed by then-Gov. John Kitzhaber.

Democratic Sen. Arnie Roblan voted in favor of that reorganization but said he now thinks it spread the oversight across too many different boards and commissions.

"When you get too many cooks in a kitchen, the opportunity for overlap and redundancy and not as wise a use of money becomes more and more evident," he said.

Roblan is one of the sponsors of the bill to allow voters to choose the superintendent of public instruction again. The Coos Bay lawmaker chairs the Senate Education Committee.

As a state representative in 2011, he was co-speaker of the Oregon House, which was evenly tied between Democrats and Republicans.

"Lots of deals were being made" that session, said Roblan, when asked why he's in favor of reversing a policy he voted for six years ago. "It was a unique time in the history of Oregon."

Roblan's proposal, and a similar one proposed by Republican Sen. Jeff Kruse, would also allow voters to choose some or all of the members of the Oregon Board of Education. Presently, the seven voting members of the board are appointed by the governor, subject to Senate confirmation.

Roblan says neither his nor Kruse's bills are likely to move this session, but that a work group would be appointed to study the matter in the interim with an eye towards bringing the issue back in the next session.

This story has been updated.

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