Melrose parent Rachel Nielsen asked for a rebuttal or clarification from the Roseburg Public Schools’ board of directors on June 12 regarding a statement that the money some schools were raising was leading to an academic inequity and difference in technology and curriculum in the classrooms, that was made during the May 22 board meeting.
RPS interim Superintendent Lee Paterson went to talk with Melrose parents following the June 12 meeting and clarified that all elementary schools in the district have the same curriculum — the standards and expectations for achievements.
Nielsen’s concern was a quote from an elementary school principal that said the money some schools are able to raise is leading to technology and curriculum in classrooms that other schools cannot afford, which was printed in The News-Review’s May 28 article ”Roseburg school board has discussions on equity.” The article was a recap of a discussion on corporate sponsorship and equality in schools from that board meeting.
“I let them know that I didn’t see anything in the story that wasn’t factual,” Paterson said. “And I did acknowledge that the article seemed almost benign, but that was because I had listened to the actual live conversation which was not at all inflammatory. Nor did anyone in that discussion, in my opinion, cast aspersions.”
Board Chair Joe Garcia broke with protocol by addressing Nielsen. “I would encourage you to read our minutes on what actually our discussion was that occurred versus what was printed (in the newspaper). You were not alone in your disappointment in how that was phrased.”
According to the Oregon School Board Association, board members should not respond to public comments. In past meetings, Roseburg’s school board has followed this protocol.
The minutes of the May 22 meeting were not available until June 13, the day after the June 12 meeting. However, Garcia said that a draft of the minutes may have been released to the public by the district office if requested.
Besides telling Nielsen to read the minutes, Garcia explained, “Our conversation wasn’t about any one school against another. It was about how do we acknowledge and appreciate this fact what some schools are able to do and acknowledging the challenged and struggles that some other schools have? What is our role in that as a board and a district? To help make sure that we’re not creating imbalances or inequities.”
The school board is working on clarifying its role and ongoing responsibilities to projects in ways that are consistent. This includes a subcommittee on creating corporate sponsorship policy that was suggested by Director Rodney Cotton at the June 12 meeting. The subcommittee would include board members, administrators, business owners and community members.
Paterson said the shift from the agenda topic of “corporate sponsorship” to equal opportunities in schools was organic and acknowledged that Nielsen likely would not have known to look for those minutes.
Melrose was not specifically mentioned at the May 22 meeting, but Nielsen said it was very clear which school was talked about.
“(The Melrose Parent Teacher Action Network) does happen to purchase more technology, because that’s something we want to spend our money on,” said Nielsen, who is the vice president of the parent group. “We also spend money on extra instructional assistants, which we feel is a benefit for students in our schools, especially because enrollment has reached over 380 students at Melrose. ... I feel that’s not something that should be viewed upon as a negative thing.”
Garcia and Paterson both acknowledged that there’s a disparity in available funds at the schools. Garcia said on May 22 that not every building has people with the skill set, ability and connections to raise money.
“I believe that the comments were simply misunderstood. Having greater access to the technology is an advantage that we’d like all of our kids to have,” Paterson said. “The (Melrose) parents told me that they would be happy to help any school to increase their fundraising impact. Principals in our district work cooperatively on any number of projects and this would be no different.”
Garcia’s disappointment in the phrasing of the newspaper article centered on not having background information included, he explained Friday. He said he did not speak for the board when he expressed disappointment.
Garcia said he decided to respond to Nielsen to provide context that the conversation regarding schools, and resources available to schools, and funding opportunities, are important and valuable to the district and are part of a larger conversation.
Those conversations, he said, had been held in subcommittees including the building and sites subcommittee. No minutes for those meetings are published online and the May 22 meeting was the first time the conversation was held during a public meeting this school year.