Residency not required.

Written for The Argus Observer on May 22, 2015.  This is a follow-up article to one written for The Argus Observer on March 20, 2015. To see the article on this blog, Click here. 

Being an educator in the Ontario School District doesn’t currently come with a residency mandate, and won’t be anytime soon.

“We want people to live in the district and we value their input into our community on and off the job,” said board member Paul Kraft, “but we know not everybody’s going to be able to do that, there are extenuating circumstances and we understand that.”

The decision was made by the Ontario School Board Thursday night not to create a policy requiring city residency for administration, and encouraging teachers, as well as classified staff to reside within its borders.

The board was approached by a group of Ontario residents in March of this year, requesting that they consider requiring residency for all district administrators and for an incentive for teachers to live within the district.

The group gave many reasons for their quest in a March school board meeting. Among them was the local economy and involvement in civic organizations. The theory is that educators contribute to the cultural vibrancy of the town, providing good role models for kids and becoming involved in civic groups.

“We have an imbalance in the number of educators that live here and those who don’t,” Ben Peterson, an Ontario dentist, said during the school board work session in March. “Our schools are a reflection of our community, and our schools are struggling.”

The other part to the group’s theory was to infuse the town’s voter base with educators.

“We’ve lost a lot of our educatedvoters,” Bob Komoto said in the March meeting. “If we continue to lose the voter base, it’s worse than not having good neighbors, and you don’t have the voter base that you think you do.”

The board gave the residency group’s request careful thought over the next month, according to board members, and decided they wouldn’t draft a policy, but would find ways to encourage future and current educators to move to Ontario.

“I listened to the group and heard their concerns,” board member Renee Corn said. “So I drafted up a policy and emailed it to the [Oregon School Board Association].”

In his reply to Corn’s email, Rick Stucky, policy specialist with the Oregon School Board Association recommended the school board not form a policy on the issue.

“OSBA doesn’t recommend a residency policy since it most likely will limit the district’s applicant field,” Stucky said in his email.

If the district were to decide to form a policy Stucky suggested it read something like this:

“The board encourages current and prospective employees of the district to reside within the district’s boundaries.”

He explained that requiring involvement in civic activities or requiring staff members to vote would also require the district to compensate staff for their involvement in those activities.

Stucky suggested, instead, to indicate a preference for residency on job applications and announcements.

“In the last meeting a comment was made that what we needed was voters for bonds,” Corn said. “Based on [Stucky’s email], it’s my opinion that it’s not our job as a board to ask that our staff be voting patrons.”

Board charwoman Ann Easly-DeBisschop said she had a different take on the topic.

“When we hire in the future, we should encourage them to be here,” Easly-DeBisschop said. “We want their kids to be here and for them to be excited about being here.”

The board decided not to draft a policy requiring residency and decided to focus on ways to invite and encourage potential Ontario residents into the city.

Board members liked the idea of placing a succinct phrase on all applications with the district, welcoming applicants to Ontario and encouraging them to move within boundaries.

Superintendent Nicole Albisu, who lives in New Plymouth,floated the idea of devoting a page on the district website to promoting Ontario, as well as the district. She, and said the district already provides housing information and other resources for new-hires moving into Ontario.

“As a family that moved to Ontario because of a job, I can say that they are very helpful,” said financial manager, Mary Jo Evers. “They gave me the name of every realtor in town and sent over pictures of houses.”

While they’re not going to require any of their employees to live within the boundaries of their district, board members and administration will be encouraging all of their co-workers to move to Ontario.

“We sell this community and we sell the Treasure Valley,” Albisu said. “It’s always been our vision to not only promote our schools, but to support our town.”

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