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Oregon Licensing Board Slammed Over Delays, Backlogs

Despite recent improvements, the agency that handles teacher licensing in Oregon continues to face major delays in issuing certificates and investigating complaints, according to an audit from the Oregon Secretary of State.

Legislators in 2015 demanded a review of the state's Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, which manages teacher licensing, misconduct investigations, and teacher-preparation program oversight. The report, issued Jan. 12, details dozens of problems, beginning with an antiquated, paper-based system. At one point in 2012, the agency simply turned off its phones so as to process more applications, but that led to a slew of complaints from frustrated teachers who couldn't get through. Teachers also faced four-month delays in getting their licenses in 2015 and investigations into misconduct took, on average, longer than a year. 

Some of those problems were apparently caused by financial issues. The agency's revenue is almost totally based on fees paid by teachers seeking licenses, which fell off during the recession, the audit said. Other problems, including a lack of clear performance objectives, seem to have been due to poor management practices. The audit found a pattern of mistrust among managers and staff, culminating in the staff unionizing in 2011.

The audit recommends many changes, including an updated, electronic licensing system that would make it easier to process applications, a triage approach for responding to complaints about teachers, improved customer-service procedures, and clearer guidelines for staff.

In her response, the commission's Executive Director, Victoria Chamberlain, generally agreed with the findings. She noted that the commission has simplified certification requirements and is ready to launch an online application system. 

"The recent history of licensing and investigative backlogs will not be easy to undo or escape, but it will be one of the priorities for the commission to resolve," she said.

The state legislature approved fee hikes in 2015, which will be put toward new employees and the electronic licensing system.

Oregon is one of only 11 states that have teacher-licensing boards that operate independently of their state education departments. Others have wrestled in recent years with similar problems. Back in 2011, a state auditor described California's teaching board as among the "worst run" state agencies she had ever seen. And Minnesota's board has also been in the news over delays in issuing licenses to out-of-state teachers.

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