The Corvallis School Board took a step last week toward possibly hiring a sustainability coordinator for the school district at some point in the future.

The board voted to create a salary schedule for the position, so district staff members could include funding for the position in a future budget. The vote does not mean the district will now go out and hire a sustainability coordinator. But it does smooth the way for the district to make such a hire.  

The discussion over the position was interesting in part because it revealed divisions on the board over whether the position is worth funding. The eventual vote to create the salary schedule for the job was 4-2, but at least one of the trustees who voted for it, Sarah Finger McDonald, said she did so reluctantly.

Materials for the board's meeting last week described the sustainability coordinator position as a contract, nonunion position with a salary range of $54,000 to $59,000. 

Board members and others advocating for the position say that it would allow the district to audit and coordinate the various sustainability efforts underway throughout the district. And the truth is that there might very well be some merit to that.

But let us offer some criteria that the board could use to assess not just this proposal, but any proposal that gets pitched to the board. Trustees might want to keep these criteria handy, especially in the months leading up to the May election at which taxpayers will be asked to pass judgment on a proposed $199 million bond to replace and upgrade district facilities.

Here are the criteria we think the board should keep in mind when evaluating any proposal:

• First, will this proposal do anything to improve the district's performance in key education areas, such as its graduation rate? Don't misunderstand: The district is making progress in its graduation rate. But will spending taxpayer money on the proposal help improve that number?

• Would a similar amount of money, spent in another area, do a better job of improving those key metrics? (To be fair, these opportunity costs can be trickier to measure.)

• Does this position have the potential to pay for itself? How so? When will the district see the payoff?

That's it. If trustees can determine that they like the answers to those questions, then they can go ahead and approve the proposal. If there are doubts on any of those, that could lead the board to conclude that maybe now is not the right time for the proposal.

By the way, the fact that other districts have launched similar programs can be useful in answering those questions. But it is not by itself sufficient reason to approve a proposal. (mm)

Fighting scams

An elderly Linn County man recently lost $29,000 in a scam that involved the purchase of iTunes cards. According to the Sheriff's Office, the man received a message on his computer telling him to buy the gift cards at local stores and to send them to an address; in return, the message said, the man would receive money. As you can imagine, it didn't work out that way.

But here's a question we have about this: If an elderly man is purchasing thousands of dollars worth of iTunes cards, one clerk at any one of those stores could have suggested that perhaps the man was being victimized. (In fact, we know of cases in which a savvy clerk was able to stop a scam with just a question or two.)

Would it be worth it to launch more formalized training efforts for store clerks so they can keep an eye out for customers who might be on the verge of being victimized? It doesn't seem as if that would be too difficult — and what better way to build loyalty among customers than to save them literally thousands of dollars? (mm)