By RICK METSGER
Special to the News
Like most of you I was deeply disappointed by the recent decision of the State Superintendent’s office to uphold the recommendation by the Oregon School Activities Association to move Hood River Valley High School into the Intermountain Conference.
The superintendent and the OSAA have abandoned our children and their best interests. Additionally, the OSAA’s decision is riddled with flaws and contradictions. During the process, the OSAA admitted that they had not followed their own rules for realignment. The hearings officer noted in his order that if the OSAA’s own criteria were followed, HRVHS may not have been moved to the IMC. The hearings officer also freely acknowledged the extreme burden this decision would place on students and families in Hood River, yet never justified this burden.
The entire decision making process was vague at best. I even had to get a legal opinion from the legislative counsel’s office to clarify for them who had the authority to make decisions on this matter. When the OSAA did attempt to justify their recommendation, they simply pointed to the lengthy process they followed, and ignored the substantive issues about the effect of this decision on students.
Frankly, I don’t care how many hours the OSAA deliberated to reach this decision. Their process was flawed and the outcome is damaging to our schools.
Throughout this fight, I have talked and worked with many parents, educators, and concerned citizens in the Hood River community. Like all of you, I am troubled by the thought of our students spending more time traveling to athletic and other interscholastic competitions.
When I heard the news about this decision, I was in Salem working with my legislative colleagues in an attempt to balance the state budget. As we work to protect K-12 education from budget cuts, I am unable to find a shred of logic that supports spending more money on student travel. As the Hood River County School District is facing budget cuts, protection of classroom instruction and programs should take precedent over unnecessary travel. In addition to the costs, students will be spending less time in the classroom focusing on their education, which is the number one priority of our schools.
While we may have lost this round, the match is not over. During the next legislative session, I plan to bring the OSAA before the appropriate legislative committee and move to codify their decision making process. The OSAA has been able to operate as a quasi-independent body with little oversight. Our schools have no real alternative but to participate in the OSAA, yet decisions like these seem to be made in a vacuum.
I believe there will be considerable support from my legislative colleagues on this issue. The OSAA never acknowledged the downward trend of our state finances and the impact of these increased travel costs on school districts that are already strapped for cash. No community should ever have to go through this type of experience again.
The mission of the OSAA states that they strive to “provide equitable participation opportunities, positive recognition and learning experiences to students, while enhancing the achievement of educational goals.” Clearly this realignment move by the OSAA is in contradiction with the most basic tenets of their mission. They have increased barriers for students to participate in athletics and other activities, while simultaneously decreasing the amount of time athletes spend in the classroom.
State Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, represents Hood River County as part of his 26th District.