Cheri Helt, newly elected to represent Bend in the state House, may not step down from her position on the Bend-La Pine School Board when she takes her new office in January.
Helt, who co-owns two local restaurants, handily won the election Tuesday to become the representative for House District 54. She said Thursday that although she hasn’t decided whether to leave the school board, on which she’s served since 2010, she wants to stay in touch with local students’ needs while serving them in Salem.
“The reason I ran for the legislative position was to make some of the decisions that affect the schools and the students,” she said. “I want to make sure that I don’t lose that connection and the ability to move that entire system for the state forward.”
Helt added that she believes the Legislature is “not as in-tune inside school districts as they need to be,” and keeping her school board position would help.
One factor the incoming Republican lawmaker said would affect her decision is the workload she’ll have in Salem.
She’ll learn more about what committees she’ll be on and the position’s time commitment at Legislative Days in mid-December or when she’s sworn into office Jan.7.
It would be legal for Helt to serve in both groups. Oregon law only prohibits someone from holding multiple government offices if more than one position is paid, which school board members are not. Legislators are paid $24,216 annually with a per diem for days they work.
Fellow school board member Carrie Douglass said although she “hasn’t thought deeply” about the possibility of Helt as a state representative and board member, having Helt in Salem could benefit schools throughout Oregon.
“I want education to be a bigger priority at the state level,” she said.
“Just knowing there’s someone at the state House who has education as a priority, and knowing it would stay a priority if she’s on the school board, is pretty compelling.”
However, Douglass worried if Helt would be able to handle both positions.
“It is one thing just to sit on a board or in the state House and do the bare minimum,” she wrote in an email.
“It is another thing to try to lead real change — in order to do that you need to put a lot of time in. So I would be concerned about the impact on Cheri and her family and business trying to balance everything, and I would also be concerned about her ability to do both jobs well.”
Douglass called Helt a “go-getter” and said as long as there were no conflicts of interest, she would support her fellow board member.
Former House District 54 Rep. Judy Stiegler said Helt holding both positions would be challenging and called it “basically a 24/7 job” when the Legislature is in session.
“Being a legislator is a very, very time-intensive, time-consuming position, particularly when you’re in session,” Stiegler said. “If she feels she has the energy to do it, more power to her.”
If Helt chooses to keep her school board position while serving in Salem, she wouldn’t be alone in holding both roles.
Two Democratic state representatives in east Multnomah County serve on local school boards: Carla Piluso at the Gresham-Barlow School District and Diego Hernandez at the Reynolds School District.
Hernandez, who was just elected to his second term in the Legislature and has served on Reynolds’ school board for five years, said holding both positions is doable, although it becomes more time-consuming during legislative sessions.
“During session, it’s obviously a little bit more intense,” he said.
Hernandez said having legislators who are informed about Oregon’s schools is crucial to creating education policy.
“Somebody who has that level of service really is bringing additional expertise around education to the Legislature, which is what we need, especially in this upcoming Legislature, when we’re talking about education reform,” he said.
“It would be great to have someone else who’s on a school board.”
Helt’s school board term expires in June 2021.
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