Wallowa County ESD superintendent Ed Jensen said it seems to come up every four years.

Oregon Department of Education Deputy Superintendent Vickie Fleming said "it comes up every legislative session."

The topic is the possible consolidation of education service districts in Oregon, and the Wallowa County ESD, one of 20 in the state, is consistently being challenged.

Fleming said that urban areas often question the need for ESDs, saying that "large school districts can often do better for themselves." She admits that the real need seems to arise in small rural areas where it is commonly more cost effective for ESDs to provide such services as special education testing, early intervention, head start, speech and language, and educational support. The federal government would require local school districts to provide the services if not provided by the ESD.

The laws governing large ESDs and small ESDs are the same.

Jensen admits that he does not know where the idea of consolidation stands at this time.

He did acknowledge that ESDs were discussed in an Oregon House Education subcommittee last week and Fleming said the idea of consolidations was mentioned.

Jensen has heard talk of merging with the Union/Baker ESD, now under investigation by the FBI for alleged fraud, and the Umatilla/Morrow ESD. Both would move control away from Wallowa County.

"Right now we have a seven person board elected by Wallowa County voters," Jensen said. "Who is going to want to drive to La Grande or Pendleton for an ESD meeting where we have minority representation?"

Fleming said that the argument favoring ESD consolidation is that it would save the state money. Jensen said "if we are merged it will cost the school districts some money." How much, he said, would depend to which ESD the district would be merged.

The local ESD has evolved beyond the special education role commonly associated with such agencies, providing technological support to schools, the hospital and the courthouse, and providing bookkeeping services for the four school districts in Wallowa County.

Judith Robb and Caprice Locke keep the books for county schools at a cost of $15,750 per year per major school. Jensen said that, if a merger were to take place, the bookkeeping services could either revert back to the schools or possibly be handled by the consolidated district.

Jensen said that under current Oregon law ESD mergers can only be realized through a voluntary basis and the Wallowa County ESD will not voluntarily consolidate.

Fleming said it is easier to "accomplish" mergers if they are voluntary, but added she knows of legislators who have expressed an interest in changing the law.

The Wallowa County ESD has a 2004-2005 general fund budget of about $2.5 million, most of it pass through money to the four school districts.

In addition to money received from the state, the ESD funds some of its many programs through grants.

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