Merle Comfort, a member of both the La Grande School District and InterMountain ESD boards, has been named the 2019 Oregon School Board Member of the Year. Comfort was recognized Saturday at the Oregon School Boards Association’s 73rd Annual Convention in downtown Portland. OSBA launched the Oregon School Board Member of the Year award in 2018 to recognize outstanding volunteers who make a difference in their communities.

“Here is a person who gives a huge amount of time and energy and is totally dedicated to the welfare of his districts’ kids,” said OSBA Executive Director Jim Green.

Comfort served La Grande schools from 1991 to 1999 and again from 2007 to the present. He has been on the InterMountain Education Service District board since the ESD was created in 2011.

“Merle epitomizes what a strong education leader is for rural Oregon,” said InterMountain ESD Superintendent Mark Mulvihill.

Comfort started school board service before his only child, Denise Comfort, was born in 1994. Comfort planned to have children, and he wanted to make sure the schools were as good as they could be. Comfort’s daughter graduated from high school in 2013, but he has kept going. He said he stayed on to help the district pass its first bond in decades in 2014. Colleagues credit Comfort for his leadership during the bond process, and he called it one of his proudest accomplishments.

“Until it passed, you have hopes and dreams,” he said. “When it passes, you see some of those hopes and dreams come to fruition.”

Comfort said the Student Success Act, passed in 2019, offers a chance to reverse the effects of three decades of property tax cuts. The act will raise about $1 billion annually for schools through a new business tax.

Nominees for the statewide award were considered for their advocacy efforts, leadership and support for student achievement. Comfort’s name will be placed on the OSBA website and engraved on a plaque in OSBA’s Salem office. He also will be able to register for OSBA events free for a year.

Green reminded school board members to keep an eye out for fellow members’ accomplishments and begin considering nominations when they open in January 2020. OSBA is a non-profit member services agency for more than 200 locally elected boards serving school districts, education service districts and community colleges.