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OSBA to school boards: Hold off on those stipend votes

Five $100 bills.
Engin Akyurt
Under a new state law, Oregon school boards can approve up to $500 in stipends for their members.

Update: A 4J spokesperson has informed KLCC that its school board will likely table the stipend item from its Sept. 20 agenda until it receives further guidance on the matter.

Across Oregon, school boards are looking into providing stipends for their members. But an education organization is urging a pause on the matter.

Under a new state law that went into effect in July, school boards can opt to offer stipends of up to $500 a month for members. But the Oregon School Boards Association (OSBA) is calling for districts to hold off for now.

“What happened is, a school board member contacted the Oregon Government Ethics Commission to ask, ‘Hey, is there potentially a conflict of interest here in me voting to award myself a certain sum of money?’” OSBA spokesperson Alex Pulaski explained to KLCC.

“And at that point, the Ethics Commission determined that they’re going to look into it and what we're hearing from them is (that) they're going to develop some guidance, probably as soon as later this week, that allows for board members to vote on this but without coming into conflict with the law.”

Possible options might include some kind of workaround where school board members are not voting directly on stipends, themselves.

The 4J School Board in Eugene currently has stipends on its agenda for its Sept. 20 meeting. A 4J spokesperson has not responded to a KLCC inquiry about whether or not the stipend item would be kept in light of the OSBA's statement to its membership.

Pulaski added that even if such stipends are approved, individual members can opt out of them.

Since the law went into effect, OSBA has heard from members who are grappling with the issue.

“Does it make sense in their community?” said Pulaski. “We've heard around the state from some smaller school boards that with their budget, a stipend maybe doesn't make sense.

“We're hearing some saying that they liked the idea, but they want to incorporate it into next year's budgeting plan. So, we think that that is an issue that really should be decided at the local level, and that's one of the things that we're really about is letting local communities really chart a path for students in their area.”

The stipend bill was championed by Rep. Ben Bowman (D-Tigard), who is a former Tigard-Tualatin school board member. He saw it as a way to level the playing field for school board candidates of limited economic means.

Currently, the OSBA is recommending boards hold for guidance from the Oregon Government Ethics Commission on whether members can vote for stipends without running afoul of state ethics laws.

Brian Bull joined the KLCC News Team in June 2016. In his 25+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional), the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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