Education Overseers: Spending sheds light on ed board’s priorities

PORTLAND, Ore. – The overarching education board charged with streamlining and unifying the state’s education system and strategically targeting funds to student outcomes has attempted to do so through at least three major initiatives, a review of public records and interviews found.

The Oregon Education Investment Board has spent hundreds of thousands of General Fund dollars on consultants to analyze and summarize data relating to educational outcomes, develop a statewide literacy campaign and, most significantly, foster partnerships within communities around the state.

The OEIB calls those partnerships, Regional Achievement Collaboratives, or RACs.

View the money breakdown of the RACs and find out about yours

There are 13 in the state and they encompass, in most cases, more than one county. There are RACs that exist in the Columbia River Gorge, eastern Oregon, the coast, the Willamette Valley, central Oregon, southern Oregon and southeast Oregon. In short: almost everywhere.

They have innovative-sounding names like The All Hands Raised Partnership, Career and College Ready, Connected Lane County, the Klamath Promise Initiative and Poverty to Prosperity.

“The goal of the RACs as an OEIB strategy is to build off regional assets, needs, and expertise to find solutions to tackle locally defined issues related to student outcomes,” said OEIB’s spokeswoman, Kristin Gimbel, in emailed remarks.

But beyond the OEIB’s mission statements and educational jargon, its goal with the RACs boils down to providing support and incentivizing, with money, community partners to collaborate on the regional level to improve education.

“The only way you can move anything P-20 is to have everybody in a region tied to P-20 working together on common goals,” said Mark Mulvihill, an OEIB board member and superintendent of InterMountain Educational Service District in Pendleton, which received $50,000 from OEIB. “So the idea is – let’s create these RACs – let’s see what’s going on out there – let’s invest a little bit of coin to incentivize to get this going and see who wants to play together.”

The amount of “coin” the OEIB has invested in the RACs or related activities since July 2013 is a little more than $400,000, according to Department of Administrative Services records obtained through a public records request and follow-up interviews with each of the entities that received money.

View the list of OEIB expenditures (Excel)

The OEIB also seeks to get many entities in a community that go “beyond the classroom” involved. These entities include businesses and nonprofits that support the region’s educational goals.

The OEIB was the brainchild of former Gov. John Kitzhaber. The Legislature signed off on it in 2011. There are 13 members on the board, including the governor, who chairs it. It has 16 staff members, most of them well paid.

At first, OEIB was funded out of the governor’s office. In 2013, it became its own agency, and the Legislature approved a $6,035,608 budget for the years 2013-15. In 2014, lawmakers transferred funds from the Engineering and Technology Industry Council to the OEIB, increasing its budget to $21,008,299. The OEIB was given responsibility to invest the money in engineering education.

The whole thing is run by the chief education officer. Rudy Crew was the first. He lasted just short of a year. Nancy Golden, a former Springfield school district superintendent, is currently at the helm. Even OEIB critics praise her for being inspirational and collaborative.

The OEIB is up for review this year. The Legislature will decide if it continues or if it is modified in some way. A plan is afoot in the halls of the Capitol to dissolve the board in its current form and replace it with an advisory council. The Senate Education Committee will hold a work session on SB 215 on Friday, April 17 to consider amendments to the bill and the future of the OEIB.

Critics say the board only listens to a narrow field of experts, lacks transparency and drains away money from an underfunded education system.

Said Chuck Bennett, director of government relations at the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, during a February public hearing on SB 215: “Some of the ways it has used school classroom funds to pay for grant-related and directed dollars for programs that are presumably scalable, but never scaled. … They don’t seem to come into the system in a meaningful way.”

Gimbel said it’s not the OEIB’s intention to scale programs statewide.

“Given the unique challenges and opportunities in each community, the intent is not to scale a one-sized fits all approach across the state, but to honor the unique regional assets and opportunities and foster RAC learning networks to share effective practices and collective impact strategies,” she said.

As for the RACs themselves, they have used the money from the OEIB for a variety of purposes, including starting pilot programs in their region, hiring staff or RAC coordinators and for consulting.

Almost all the RACs were contacted for comment or information for this story. A common theme from those that responded or commented, which was most of them, was that the OEIB had helped them network with other regions in the state and provided support for developing their RACs.

OEIB has “helped Better Together Oregon build organizational capacity and grow the statewide recognition of our work,” said Anna Higgins, coordinator for Central Oregon Better Together, a RAC that encompasses Jefferson, Crook and Deschutes counties. “We feel a genuine partnership with OEIB and other RACs.”
 
“The ‘bully pulpit’ function of the OEIB has also been very helpful in getting local education partners and others (to) understand the critical value of community collaboration,” said Scott Perry with Southern Oregon Success that spans Josephine and Jackson counties.

“We have had a couple of different summits where representatives from all the RACs come together, so we’ve gotten to know each other and hear each other’s stories and develop ways of communicating … so that we can ask questions of one another or gain ideas from one another,” said Gwen Soderberg-Chase, the RAC coordinator for Douglas County Partners for Student Success. “The issue for us in rural areas is we don’t have those natural points of opportunity for communication and crossing paths as one might in more of the metro area.”

The RAC representatives said their efforts existed in some form before the OEIB. And they said that even if the OEIB ended, their efforts would continue – but diminished.

“We would lose our staffing, which has been critical in providing an opportunity to hire a neutral, third-party leader who can bring together local schools, business leaders, community members and the community college,” said Abby Lee with Poverty to Prosperity, a RAC that encompasses counties Grant, Harney, Malheur and part of Baker in southeastern Oregon.

“We would feel a significant hit from the loss of financial and in kind resources afforded to Better Together Central Oregon,” said Higgins. “We need their continued support to maintain our momentum.”

The RACs have also received funding from other sources, including various foundations and grants from the Oregon Department of Education.

Mulvihill, the OEIB board member and superintendent of the InterMountain Education Service District, said he thinks the OEIB won’t survive.

“But what I do hope survives is Nancy Golden and her way of convening, bringing stakeholders together, and the ability to incentivize and put a few dollars into strategic spots on the continuum,” he said.

What about those two other initiatives?

According to Gimbel, the OEIB’s spokeswoman, the agency contracted with ECONorthwest to analyze data for “equity-focused summits” around the state to highlight best practices in building student reading skills. ECONorthwest also developed fact sheets for 11 regions around the state for education-related outcomes that included “kindergarten readiness, third grade reading, five-year graduation rate, and college enrollment rates.” And it looked at things like “socio-economic, health and infrastructure measures that are likely to explain or predict education outcomes.”

The OEIB paid ECONorthwest $14,712.50.

The OEIB also hired Metropolitan Group of Portland at a cost of $73,417.65 for “consulting and creative design services” for stORytime, a campaign to help children learn to read proficiently by the time they’re third graders.

“It showcases easy ways families can help their children build literacy skills every day, everywhere through play, talk, reading and singing,” said Gimbel.

According to state records, the single entity on which OEIB spent the most money was to rent office space from First Presbyterian Church, a short walk from the Capitol. Since July 2013, OEIB has leased the church’s Somerville Building for a total of $154,320.63. Its contract with the church expires June 30 and Gimbel said the OEIB is currently negotiating a lease extension through March 15, 2016, which incidentally, is the same day the OEIB will die if lawmakers don’t extend its life.

Read OEIB spokeswoman Kristin Gimbel’s emailed responses to KATU.

Learn more about the Regional Achievement Collaborative in your region:

RAC
Amount

Columbia Gorge Community College

Columbia Gorge Regional Center of Innovation

$45,000

Klamath Falls City Schools

The Klamath Promise Initiative

$20,000

Lane County Education Service District

Connected Lane County

 $25,000

Chemeketa Community College

Willamette Promise

 $40,000

Tillamook County School District 9

Career and College Ready

 $40,000

Southern Oregon Education Service District

Southern Oregon Success

 $25,000

Umpqua Community College

Douglas County Partners for Student Success

 $20,000

Portland Public Schools

The All Hands Raised Partnership

 $25,000

Oregon State University

Valley-Coast Partners for Student Success

 $25,000

Malheur Education Service District 14

Poverty to Prosperity

 $40,000

InterMountain Service District

Eastern Oregon Collaborative

 $50,000

High Desert Education Service District

Central Oregon Better Together

 $25,000
South Coast Connect for Success
N/A

Portland State University

Regional Achievement Collaborative state kickoff summit

$27,334.90

 Sources: DAS and individual recipients.

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