Taxpayers value early childhood learning and support services but don't feel represented by elected education officials, Oregon Values & Beliefs Center's latest survey shows

PMG PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Parents hold signs in protest of planned changes to school boundaries in Southeast Portland during a December 2021 PPS school board meeting. Some of the proposed changes would prevent students from attending their neighborhood schools.Oregonians broadly support funding educational programs, yet recent statewide survey respondents generally lacked support for their local school boards.PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici interacts with children at a Head Start preschool center in Portland. Surveys show Oregonians largely support early learning programs and family support services, but fewer than 40% feel their local school board represents them and their interests.

Only 36% of those polled said they feel their school board represents their values and beliefs. Another 38% said they don't feel represented by their local school board and 26% said they were unsure.

Oregon Values & Beliefs Center's latest survey, which polled 1,563 Oregon residents ages 18 and older, found that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to voice support for the school board in their area. Respondents who are higher income — earning $100,000 or more annually — and those who are higher educated are more likely to feel represented by their school boards than those with less income and education.COURTESY PHOTO - Oregon City High School students walked out of classes on Feb. 7 to protest the administration's decision to air a video of a student during an assembly admitting to assaulting another student.

The 26% of respondents who said they were "unsure" about their local school board indicated a lack of familiarity with the work and decisions of elected education officials, but that isn't the case everywhere.

Last year saw a public rift between school leadership and residents in Newberg, where a school board voted to ban staff from displaying political or controversial flags, apparel and images, such as Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ pride flags, on district property. A few months after that vote, the school board fired its superintendent without cause.

Fallout from the controversial board decisions led to an unsuccessful but close recall effort against Newberg School Board members Dave Brown and Brian Shannon in January. The election revealed sharp public divide on whether the school board was representing its community, with 52% of voters opposed to the recall and 48% voting in favor.

A large number of respondents cite political influences in their disapproval of their local school board.

"School boards have become too political," one Yamhill County Republican noted. "They should focus on education, not social justice and political indoctrination."PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Protestors rally against a Newberg School District ban on Pride flags and BLM signage in August. The school board has made national news for its controversial decision.

In Clackamas County, Cris Waller said her local school board was "taken over by conservatives" in the last election.

"I've heard from people I know about what a disheartening time it is to be a school board because of the relentless pressure from right-wing groups," Waller said when reached by Pamplin Media Group. She said that the same groups that have been taking over school board meetings have been taking over Clackamas County's board of commissioners.

In Washington County, one woman said voters in her community "managed to keep crazy, fringe characters" off the school board. "However, they are banging at the door to get in with their white-pride, Christian-zealot fervor."

Kwee Heong Tan, also of Washington County, said his local school board "cares about admin and non-education areas like artificial grass, while textbooks are old, and emphasis on AP subjects are reduced due to lack of teachers."

Taxpayers value support services

While Oregonians are split on whether they are being served and represented by local school leadership, the survey shows broad support (70% or higher) for an array of taxpayer-funded family support services like tutoring, sports, after-school clubs, children's health care and youth mental health services.

Even those services that garnered the least support, like culturally inclusive learning materials and required cultural awareness and implicit-bias training for school staff, showed 70% of those polled felt they were valuable.

When it comes to supporting childcare and early learning programs, particularly for kids with special needs or disabilities, more than half (56%) of Oregonians say it's "very important" to offer childcare and learning programs. More than 86% of those polled said it's somewhat or very important to fund programs for special needs children.

Similarly, 79% said it was somewhat or very important to make childcare more affordable for families through additional government funding.

"Women are more likely than men to express strong support for using taxpayer funds to bolster early learning and childhood programs and services," the OVBC noted in its summary of survey results. "Lower-income residents are also more supportive."

Still, residents are mixed on how to pay for those services. In Multnomah County, which enacted new tax measures in 2020, and in Portland, specifically, which now has the highest state and local combined income-tax rate in the nation, higher-income earners are feeling the squeeze.

"I currently pay over $500 per month in property tax. I get a little over $1,000 from SS. I am raising my grandchildren. Do the math," one woman in Multnomah County, who identifies as a Democrat with a "somewhat liberal" social ideology, told surveyors. "I cringe at the thought of all these well-meaning projects being proposed, knowing full well it will be property taxes that pay for it. Then all the 20-30 year-olds voting it all in and then whining about high rent."

More than a penny for your thoughts

The Oregon Values and Beliefs Center is committed to the highest level of public opinion research. To help obtain that, the nonprofit is building a large research panel of Oregonians to ensure that all voices are represented in discussions of public policy in a valid and statistically reliable way.

Selected panelists earn points for their participation, which can be redeemed for cash or donated to a charity. To learn more, click here.

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