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

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For more than a century, Oregon voters selected a superintendent of public instruction every four years. That came to an end after lawmakers voted in 2011 to make it a non-elected position chosen by the governor.

It was part of a package of legislation overhauling the state's education governance model that was championed by then-governor 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,” Roblan said.

Now Oregon lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow voters to choose the superintendent of public instruction again. Roblan is one of the bill's sponsors.

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. Right now the seven voting members of the board are appointed by the governor, subject to Senate confirmation.

Roblan said neither his nor Kruse's bill is 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.

Copyright 2017 Northwest News Network

Chris Lehman graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He landed his first job less than a month later, producing arts stories for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana. Three years later he headed north to DeKalb, Illinois, where he worked as a reporter and announcer for NPR–affiliate WNIJ–FM. In 2006 he headed west to become the Salem Correspondent for the Northwest News Network.