July 15, 2014

Portland Public Schools Draws Criticism for Alignment of New Ombuds

The largest school district in the Pacific Northwest recently announced it would appoint a Community Ombudsman to help parents navigate the bureaucracy and resolve grievances. However, because the Ombuds will report to the district’s chief of community involvement and public affairs, parents are objecting. An article in Oregon Live also points out that the reporting arrangement does not follow IOA Best Practices:

A growing number of ombudsmen are being placed in school districts, according to Lisa Witzler, the vice president of The International Ombudsman Association, which has more than 770 members across the globe.

While Witzler said every organization should be able to determine the best place for the ombudsman, she agreed that an ombudsman would ideally have a direct line to the highest level of an organization, such as the chief executive officer.

“It’s important for an ombudsman not to be reporting to anyone who could potentially be a part of any office that could be subject to a complaint or inquiry,” she said. “They’re an inside-outsider. They’re in the organization, but really, structurally, they are ideally independent from any formal hierarchy.”

Mindy Eaves, the ombudsman for the Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky, said she reports directly to the superintendent. She calls it the “ideal situation.” The further down the position is in the chain of command, the less effective it will be, she said.

“If the ombudsman has to go through the communications person, it’s another layer,” she said. “Not that they have any ill intent, but it is an additional layer and it makes it more difficult to spur change and really provide upward feedback.” Eaves also believes a communications office and an ombudsman’s office could even be perceived as being in conflict with one another.

“Communications is very much about crafting a message and minimizing damage to the school district,” she said. “That’s just their job, and that’s important. But when it comes to the ombudsman program, it’s always going to be about big concerns.”
For several months in 2011, PPS had an Ombuds who reported directly to the Superintendent.  That position was ended due to budget cuts.  (Oregon Live.)

Related posts: Guide to Oregon Ombuds Programs; Jefferson County, KY Public Schools Opens Ombuds Office; IOA Announces Officers for 2014-15.

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