Strengthening the bond between Siuslaw schools and community

Feb. 16, 2019 — During the most recent meeting of the Siuslaw School District, teachers and staff showed they are proud of their connections with the community and businesses that provide athletic and scholastic support — a notion that the more than 75 people who attended Wednesday night’s meeting attested to. The monthly meeting was the second reading of Siuslaw School District’s Commercial Advertising and Public Solicitation in District Facilities policies. Concerned people from the community and the district came to the meeting to give public comment on new language handed down from the Oregon School Board Association’s (OSBA) recommendations based on changes to state law.

While the board ultimately voted on language that should not impede the schools’ ability to receive advertising, scholarship information or sponsorship from local businesses, the nine people who gave public statements wanted to ensure that wording included in the first draft did not stay in the final policy.

The language in question, read during the January meeting of the school board, was included in the first draft of the policies for Commercial Advertising and Materials Distribution: “The administration shall always prohibit material that: advertises or promotes any product or service not permitted to minors by law; or will take place at an organization that conducts business that is illegal or is inappropriate for minors.”

The district’s policy revision committee, consisting of Siuslaw School District Superintendent Andy Grzeskowiak, board members Suzanne Mann-Heintz and Bill McDougle and community member Pam Hickson, met twice after the initial meeting to remove the parts of the policy that were creating policy concern. These changes became public last week as Siuslaw School District posted the materials for the Feb. 13 meeting on the district website.


‘Incredibly vague and has huge teeth’

Community member Max Perry, who is also a district employee, was the first to address the board.

“Basically, the policy that was presented originally is incredibly vague and has huge teeth, and that’s my issue with it. If we’re going to have a policy to dictate what kinds of things we can advertise or take money from in our community, we should be very specific about what we mean with that — not leaving it open to interpretation to the board or the administration, because, like the wind, those things change,” he said.

Siuslaw Athletic Director Chris Johnson echoed this when he spoke.

“How are these policies going to be interpreted? … I think about how our local economy runs. I think about the number of employees who work at the casino … and how there are so many places that advertise for us for athletics, like restaurants and stores. That’s a ton of people in our community. One of the biggest concerns for me when I started hearing about this was just the perspective from the community,” he said. “It would be nice to clarify, and for you as board members to wrap your minds around, what this is going to look like. What does it really mean if this policy changes and we take this language?”

Johnson listed the Rotary Club of Florence’s annual auction, and the Siuslaw Interact Club students who often participate, and the Siuslaw Athletics Booster Club Auction. Both those events have beer and wine available for adults to purchase. Other community groups mentioned throughout the comment period were the Kiwanis Club of Florence and how it meets at Ocean Dunes Golf Links, Three Rivers Casino Resort’s golf course, and Three Rivers Casino Resort itself.

“It’s just scary to think that there might be funding that gets cut off from this,” Johnson said. “It would be great if you could tell us that that’s not the situation. … I don’t know that any of us understand how this is supposed to break down. If we knew all that stuff, there might not be the level of outrage that there is.”


Student opportunities

Stephanie Rogers, another district teacher, leads the school’s HOSA (Future Health Professionals, formerly known as Health Occupations Students of America) program. She said she will be attending Three Rivers Foundation’s gifting luncheon next week to receive a $1,000 grant to help send HOSA students to a state competition.

“Three Rivers supported us with $500 last year to be able to send some of the students and sponsor them to go to the international conference. I’m hoping they will be willing to do the same thing if we need them again,” Rogers said. “My biggest concern is if we start shutting down these areas, … I don’t know how I’m going to keep HOSA alive. There is no funding provided right now from the district to be able to run this program.”

One of her students, Kayla Robertson, said, “HOSA is really important. Last year we only had 11 kids. This year we have over 30 kids doing it and it’s really awesome, but we need more funding now since it’s more kids. The community is helping more now that word’s gotten out. Restaurants have been donating gift cards for us to do raffle baskets and all these different things. HOSA is really important to all of us.”

“I ask you to think of the different projects that are going on with the school district that we are trying to collaborate with and how making this decision might really impact our ability to do this anymore,” Rogers said.

Another aspect Rogers mentioned was the district’s collaboration with Elevate Lane County, which is working to add internships and opportunities for students at Three Rivers Casino Resort. Ten departments within the resort were willing to place students, and, according to Rogers, there were 200 applications for this spring.

Coincidentally, Three Rivers is hosting its annual Community Job Fair on Thursday, March 7, in its event center. This event features dozens of businesses actively seeking applicants or giving information about their fields. In the past, students have been able to attend, but only with parent permission.

The school district’s participation this year has been in question since the January board meeting.

“We’re very hesitant to even put up fliers at this point because we don’t want to get the word out if it’s going to be shut down tonight,” Rogers said. “We’re basically cutting off another avenue for students to be able to further themselves by having to take them, during school hours, over to the casino. All of a sudden now we can’t use that collaboration tool.”

Policy review committee member Hickson, herself a Siuslaw alum, asked Siuslaw Counselor Steve Moser to read a letter on her behalf. In it, she wrote, “Will the district refuse to support the annual Community Job Fair, and not allow students to attend since it is held at the casino’s event center? …  I am deeply concerned about how this could affect the district and those local businesses that provide support and opportunities for our young people should you choose to adopt this stricter language (of the first draft). The board needs to ask itself, what is the goal with adopting strict interpretation? If it’s political to disallow attendance at one business and one event that is good for young people in our community (the annual community job fair at the casino), is it in our young people’s best interest, and the district?”

In his own address to the board, Moser stated that recent Siuslaw graduates found their current positions within the Three Rivers Casino Resort by attending the job fair in previous year.

“The school district sends representation to the very same event to solicit for new employees, so it would seem the district does find the fair beneficial to some degree,” he said. “… I’m not here to advocate on behalf of the casino, or feel the casino has a place in the district.

However, I do feel that Three Rivers Resort does offer opportunities that we should be utilizing,” he said. “Students are welcome in several areas within the organization. However, if policies are amended so we dismiss the entire entity of Three Rivers based off single elements of their operation, we must hold other organizations accountable using the same criteria.”

Moser listed some of the groups in town who primarily interact with the schools through scholarships, which the counseling office promotes through materials distributed to junior and high school students. This included a scholarship administered through Western Lane Community Foundation, the Dan Barnum Memorial Beachcomber Scholarship. Although the Beachcomber Pub donates the money, Western Lane ultimately handles the funds and awards. Would the strict interpretation of the policy prevent the scholarship?

“It’s tough to find where the line is drawn,” he said.

Moser also talked about the other scholarships provided by the community, and his work with the ASPIRE (Access to Student Assistance Programs in Reach of Everyone) program. Community member Bob Orr also talked about ASPIRE.

“One of our primary jobs in the program is to help connect students with scholarships. I’m sure all of you know how incredibly important those scholarships are to our students. It’s a phenomenal program, we have a tremendously generous community, and we just want to make sure that the language that’s adopted here is not too restrictive regarding organizations that are involved in the scholarship program. Of course, any decrease in scholarship money would mean students not being able to go to college. It’s that critical,” he said.

Orr is also involved in several school district committees as well as founder of the Students for a Better World nonprofit, which seeks to provide scholarships for Siuslaw and Mapleton high school seniors.

“Accordingly, I simply ask that you reject any policies that might restrict the school and student connection with the broader community,” he said. “The partnership we have now is vital and we need it to be even stronger.”

Moser added, “At the May board meeting, I will be presenting on the upcoming scholarship awards ceremony as a preview for the incredible support and generosity that’s present in our community. I sincerely hope I have the opportunity to share increased positive news on that. I need your help to make that possible. The students need your help making that possible. It all begins with your voting tonight.”

Several of the speakers acknowledged the updated language and thanked the board and policy committee for listening to public concern.

“Let me state that I fully support the policy review committee’s proposed revisions. Those modifications would not limit our community support to a degree other options might,” Moser said.

Similarly, Bob Sneddon, another Siuslaw alum, agreed. However, he asked for further clarity with the new policy

“I think it’s important that you guys talk specifically about what is in the draft and what the interpretation is,” he said. “You’re going to create the policy; staff is going to carry it out. It’s always helpful if they have a good, clear understanding not only of what the words are in the policy but what the intentions are. Intentions change ‘with the winds’ sometimes, but it’s a good idea to have that conversation I’ve found.”

Only two comments were completely against the policy, especially because the commercial advertising language comes across as new.

Perry, who was the first to comment, urged the board to think about this community, and not just make changes “because somebody from another area told us we need to,” he said.

The final speaker, a man named David, advised against changing the policies at all.

“All I can do is tell you that starting this process and trying to find a middle road is not the way to go. Just don’t implement. It’s nonsense for us to sit here and come as a group and have to fight this and stand here for something that really makes little to no sense. It really doesn’t — because we didn’t have it before, and we don’t need it now. We do need the money and we do need the support for the school. You guys are asking for over $100 million and didn’t get it. And now we’re over trying to limit what funds we get here. It’s just common sense,” he said.


Board discussion and decision

 At the start of the meeting, the school board decided to wait to make a decision until the public comment period was complete. In fact, a second agenda was prepared to move the policy discussion of KI – Public Solicitation in District Facilities and KJ – Commercial Advertising and its accompanying administrative rules to the front of the meeting.

The text for the policies is available at under “2018-19 Board Meeting Information.”

The discussion centered around past practices and how the first, controversial draft came about.

“We mostly get directives from OSBA because of changes in the law,” said Mann-Heintz, who chairs the school board. “Sometimes it’s a language change and sometimes it’s a new policy. The issue that’s before us now is that commercial advertising is a new policy recommended from the OSBA. When it was recommended that we adopt this policy, we looked at it and said, ‘Well, our commercial advertising language and our materials distribution language should be the same. They should match in order to consistently apply policy.’”

Board member Tammy Butler asked several clarifying questions, including on how the previous policy on commercial advertising had been interpreted.

“Has it always been up to the administration to decide where they drew the line on things?” she asked. “Because as a board we don’t decide what businesses are advertised.”

 “Right. We do not decide that, but we do decide policy,” Mann-Heintz agreed.

Butler continued, “My point is we’re not the only school district that has this policy. Most every school district already has a version of this policy on the books. I’m sure other school districts don’t interpret it as it has been worried that it might be interpreted.”

Board member Paul Burns said that the board has approved the administration’s interpretation of the advertising policy in the past.

The board also brought up the issue of Florence’s businesses, such as local stores, that could be affected with two strict an interpretation of the new policies.

“I don’t think the action from administration has ever been to exclude family-oriented businesses,” said board member John Barnett. “The idea is to have family-friendly, age-appropriate advertising. … Safeway, Bi-Mart and Fred Meyer and those who happen to provide alcohol, all those are still family-oriented businesses or restaurants or places that families would go.”

Mann-Heintz agreed.

“Certainly, no one on this board wants in any way to alienate our local businesses. That’s one of our board goals — we want to establish better and better relationships with all the businesses and members of our community,” she said. “We certainly don’t want to turn down any scholarship money or anything like that.”

After the first reading of Resolution No. 21319-8(i)(i) and the subsequent public comments, the board continued its discussion.

First, board member Guy Rosinbaum explained that the board’s decision had nothing to do with the casino or any specific business, or whether or not any of those businesses advertise with the schools.

“I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page, that all we’re saying is, we’re not going to distribute or promote material that’s illegal for children in this district to be a part of,” he said.

The board agreed, as per the new language included in the policies: “The administration shall always prohibit distribution of material that advertises or promotes any product not permitted to minors by law or for any other purpose inconsistent with board policies and administrative regulations.”

The board also talked about the policies themselves, and how having consistency across multiple policies would help both the administration and staff as they work with community members and area partners.

“We’re streamlining it to be like policy from other districts,” Barnett said. “By adopting the revised policy, we’re not actually restricting opportunity, we’re actually potentially increasing it. What I’m hearing is, this isn’t going to affect scholarships, it isn’t going to affect advertising, it isn’t going to affect anything other than streamlining some other factors that we had. Potentially this could increase opportunity for our students.”

After the second reading, the school board voted unanimously to pass the resolution.

Burns acknowledged the policy process and the importance of public input.

“We do our first draft, then it goes out to public for review, then we’re supposed to get input. Then we talk about it before we make our decision,” he said. “Having all of you here is how it’s supposed to be designed to happen, and we appreciate your input. … So thank you for coming and sharing your opinions.”

As per an email sent by Grzeskowiak on Feb. 14, Siuslaw High School seniors and juniors will be allowed to attend the Community Job Fair at Three Rivers on March 7, suggesting that the district would provide transportation and supervision for district students.

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