The education service districts (ESDs) from five rural counties in Oregon are considering the possibility of forming a consortium to add clout in their efforts to seek grant moneys to improve school district infrastructure. That information was reported by Wallowa County ESD Superintendent Ed Jensen when he addressed his board Monday evening.

ESD bosses from Grant, Lake, Harney, Wallowa and Wheeler counties met earlier to discuss the possibility of leveraging more state and federal dollars by making their grant applications for 5,000 students instead of the limited numbers in the respective counties.

Jensen said the superintendents plan to meet again Jan. 7 and will then take their proposals to ESD boards and individual school boards before any definitive action can be taken.

Jensen said the consortium would in no way resemble the proposed merger the district fought hard to avoid within the past year. The merger would take away the autonomous position of the Wallowa County ESD, while a consortium would not.

The local superintendent said that such a consortium could improve the district's long distance learning and technology capabilities.

In the last two weeks a wireless communication system has been installed connecting the Wallowa, Enterprise and Joseph schools with the ESD. Wallowa was the last link completed Dec. 11. The video segment of the wireless system has yet to be activated. Jensen said that some unexpected problems were presented in the form of fog, a wind storm and the incompatibility of older equipment in the schools, but expressed optimism in the system coordinated from the Sheep Ridge translator.

"We have lots of signal strength and should be OK for a long time to come," said Jensen.

After much discussion the board voted to join in with the Oregon School Board Association (OSBA) in a class action lawsuit against the Public Employment Retirement System. The consensus among the group was that their participation in the lawsuit would not impact the overall outcome of the suit, but could put them in a position to receive settlement moneys if the lawsuit is successful. As members of the OSBA, the district will pay its share of costs if the action is lost.

ESD curriculum specialist Linda Bauck was present at the meeting to inform the board of her duties for the district. In addition to being the primary grant writer for the district, Bauck gathers data for student progress, helps write improvement plans for the schools, and is striving to keep individual school districts in compliance with the far reaching federal No Child Left Behind program which is in its infancy stages.

Jensen informed the board that Bauck has written and been awarded $650,000 worth of grants since 1998.

The board approved the two year update of the professional development plan as written by Bauck and staff, and approved by Jensen. Teachers must perform their duties within the scope of the drafted plan to keep their individual teaching licenses.

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