Gov. John Kitzhaber and many lawmakers approached the 2011 legislative session seeking significant changes in the way Oregon schools operate. So far, many of the bills Kitzhaber and allies such as Senate Education Committee Chairman Mark Hass (D-Beaverton) hoped to pass remain mired in committee.

Among the reforms: Kitzhaber wants all state education boards for K-12, community colleges and higher ed combined into one "Education Investment Board." He wants the ability to appoint rather than elect the state superintendent of public instruction. He wants to make it easier for charter schools to operate, and he's hoping for a measure that would allow districts to opt out of education service districts.

ESDs are regional providers of specialized services and also act as co-ops, combining the purchasing power of smaller districts. After a couple of scandals involving ESDs, Hass has tried over the last couple of sessions to pass legislation that reduces their role. (They currently get 4.75 percent of K-12 funding.) Senate Bill 250, which Kitzhaber supports, would allow school districts to opt out of ESDs if they think they can buy the same services for less money. ESDs don't like the bill.

SB 250 has encountered trouble in the budget-writing Ways and Means process, as shown in the widely circulated email exchange below between Joint Ways and Means Co-Chairman Peter Buckley (D-Ashland) and Hass: 


---Original Message----- From: Rep Buckley Sent: Thursday, June 02, 2011 8:26 AM To: Rep Komp; Sen Hass Cc: Adamson Jessica Subject: Proposal for SB 250 Betty & Mark-- I can sign off on a hearing and work session for SB 250 with the pilot entities being the Salem-Kiezer School District, the Baker Consortium and the High Desert Mountain ESD, along with the changes Betty has already made in terms of governance and maintenance of funding. [ESD lobbyist Ozzie Rose] makes a vital point, in my view, in that Salem-Kiezer is such a huge part of the Willamette ESD that additional districts opting out would put special ed services to the large number of small school districts in question.  The bill will still provide for a process of targeted opt outs, followed by a study of the impact, and allow for an informed choice by the legislature following the SOS study on the best way to proceed with the remaining ESDs. I know this is a more cautious approach than either of you would prefer, and I know you care about kids just as much as I do. I could very well be erring on the side of caution.  But I do believe in inclusiveness.  We are doing the transformation in health care with all stakeholders as partners, not trying to force a re-structuring over the objections of the vast majority of stakeholders.  This more cautious approach to ESDs will have the support of the vast majority of stakeholders, and provides the opportunity to work in partnership for the goals we all share--efficient and effective delivery of services to our kids. I am having an amendment drafted to define the pilots as the three above. Please let me know if you would like me to move ahead with this compromise--my hope is that we could get it scheduled for Monday. With the bill we passed yesterday on auditing all ESDs, I think we are moving in a good direction. Thanks & Onward, PB Peter:Thanks for your note on ESDs.  You asked for feedback and here is mine.No, I don't think you should move ahead with those amendments offered by thelobbyist for the Educational Services District Association.  This would beputting the foxes in charge of the henhouse.  These amendments do nothing toaddress the structural deficiencies in this system and the lack ofaccountability that has resulted in two spectacular spending scandals inrecent years. Millions of tax dollars have been lost in these ESDs, dollarsthat should have been spent in classrooms. And currently the state isinvestigating serious accusations of malfeasance in the South Coast ESD.These accusations are being made by credible educators and superintendentswe've asked to run our schools in down there.And even in the ESDs that are running problem free -- the question is why wehave so much duplicity in our educational system?  Peter, a handful of republicans and democrats who have been serving on ourrespective education committees, have been working on this for four years.We understand these issues and we want nothing more than to spend taxdollars a little more efficiently and to restore financial integrity to theESD system. It's extremely discouraging to all of us for you to ignore this work andside with the lobbyist who is being paid to protect the status quo.Taxpayers are not arguing for caution here.  What's needed is a bold andresponsible approach that our constituents and school advocates expect fromus.  This is the approach currently embodied in SB 250, which has beenapproved by the Senate Education Committee as well as the Senate RevenueCommittee. I strongly urge you to reconsider your position and take a longlook at the research and files that have been accumulated in coming up withthis legislation. Sincerely, Mark Hass