During the holidays while meeting with a group of young people, I overheard one of them say, “I’m ready to overthrow the government.” And while in these trying times I didn’t disagree with her, I realized how little our youth know about the options open to them in influencing government decisions. Actually, many adults may not realize their are avenues for participation they haven’t considered. One is public testimony. This post is an attempt to explain how public testimony works and to encourage everyone to participate. I’ll begin by describing my recent experience with the Oregon State Board of Education (OSBE).
It’s no secret that public education in these United States is in trouble. Defunding our public schools has become a national pastime. In Oregon the corporate reformers who scheme to privatize our education system have latched on to the state’s perceived abysmal graduation rate as a vehicle to attack students, teachers, schools, districts, and the state as a whole. So, when several of my friends and colleagues realized the OSBE was meeting January 18th to discuss among other things graduation rates, we descended on Salem from Portland and Eugene to make our voices heard. We decided to give public testimony. Roughly, here’s how the process works for OSBE, the legislature, and other public meetings.
A calendar of regular board meeting can be found at the OSBE website.
An agenda is published detailing the events of the regular meeting. See a sample here.
A time is set for public comment, in this case 10:45 A.M. Anyone wishing address the board must sign in before the meeting begins, in this case before 10:00 A.M. Usually, you are asked to give your name; the organization you represent, if any; and the topic you are going to talk about.
At the designated time, “testifiers” are called to address the board. Sometimes they are called in the order in which they signed in, sometimes they are clustered according to topic, and sometimes, it seems, certain representatives are given priority over others.
Each speaker is given three minutes to speak. In most cases this time limit is strictly adhered to, so carefully choosing your words and timing your speech is highly recommended. You don’t want to be cut off in the middle of an important point.
You are there specifically to give information to the board members. There is no give and take. It can be an intimidating procedure since you are doing all the talking and board members are sitting stoically, listening. You can only hope each is grasping your intent.
Even if you are giving oral testimony, it is so important to provide written copies as well. It is much more likely that a board member will later turn to your document than look up your videotaped presentation. You can give electronic copies to the secretary upon your arrival to the meeting. A copy of your testimony will then be sent to each member.
If you can’t attend the meeting and want to send written public comment, you may send it to: StateBoard.PublicEmail@ode.state.or.us -- Clearly label the subject line as: “Public comment” or “Testimony” and include the topic. Example: “Public Comment: Assessment.” -- Public comments or testimony submitted the morning of the Board meeting or during the Board meeting will be posted within 48 business hours.
The post agenda includes links to all testimony and discussion occurring throughout the day and is available online as soon as possible. From reviewing the comments made later in the day, it seems that some of our testimony made an impact — especially in the area of “essential skills” review. YAY!
All testimony is video-recorded and made available to the public. Below is testimony from our group citing a topic and time stamp for each presenter. Also Included is testimony from a student who had the courage to accompany her mother to make her voice heard. Click on any photo to link to the video, then scroll to the time stamp to see individual testimony.
In order of appearance:
Deb Mayer 2:01:25
The fallacy of Oregon's abysmal graduation rates and the most effective interventions