Commission needs to make improvements, audit determines

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Commission needs to make improvements, audit determines

8:33 p.m. PST January 14, 2016

Oregon’s Teacher Standards and Practices Commission needs to improve its work environment and increase accountability to address substantial delays in its core services for educators, an audit released Thursday by Secretary of State Jeanne P. Atkins said.

The Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, an independent agency governed by a 17-member commission, licenses about 19,000 Oregon educators a year.

It also approves educator preparation programs at Oregon colleges and investigates about 300 complaints against educators annually.

“(The commission) is a small agency, but it plays a crucial role in Oregon’s K-12 education system,” Atkins said in a prepared statement. “Our auditors found that (the commission) lacks clear expectations and accountability for its performance at all levels.

“The commissioners, management and staff all need to work together to improve performance.”

The agency faces substantial backlogs in teacher licensing and investigations that have persisted for years. Applicants who filed for licenses in July 2015 faced a four-month wait.

Investigations of alleged educator misconduct averaged more than 14 months in 2015, weakening evidence and reducing investigative depth, according to the audit. Response times to emails from educators have improved, officials said, but still average more than a week.

Victoria Chamberlain, executive director of the commission, said the audit did not include many surprises as the commission had disclosed the information to the legislature in 2015. She said they have been tracking the issues and progress.

“We agree (with the audit),” she said. “We are committed to getting things back on track.”

The commission was able to hire six new staff members approximately six months ago, which Chamberlain said has already been a significant help.

In an official statement in the audit, Chamberlain wrote, “With the launch of the new online system, it is reasonable to expect the licensure backlog to be resolved in 2016.”

The agency has 26 employees, including the new staff members. Cuts to management and staff during the recession contributed to the problems, according to the release.

A complicated, paper-based licensing system also contributed, according to the release, as did an inadequate agency website that does not provide answers to basic licensing questions.

That evaluations, according to the release, are sporadic, including the Commission’s evaluation of the executive director, performance tracking is limited, and management’s focus on work process improvement is minimal. Tensions between management and staff were said to have also been substantial, affecting agency performance.

“The agency has to improve communication, develop performance standards, and provide timely feedback on employee progress,” Atkins said. “These are basic building blocks for a successful organization.

“I encourage the legislature to review this audit closely and work with the agency on follow-up, including continuing evaluation of the resources needed to get this job done.”

In 2015, the Oregon legislature approved license fee increases – the first in 10 years.

The increase allowed the commission to hire more staff and helped the agency replace the outdated licensing system, so applicants can file applications and pay online, according to the release. The commission also finished a three-year process of simplifying license requirements.

The auditors concluded that the commission’s more stable financial footing and improved staffing should allow it to focus on building a more productive workplace, something they said is one of its most significant tasks going forward.

Read the full audit at http://sos.oregon.gov/audits/Documents/2016-04.pdf.

npate@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6745 or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate or http://www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist 

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