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June 29, 2007

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Your comments are right on target Terry. If anything, the school closures reduced the margin by which the local option levy passed. Portlanders are deeply committed to their public schools and voted for the tax DESPITE the closure shenanigans, not because of them. A number of people I know had to hold their nose while voting for the tax because they did not want their vote to be miscontrued as a show of support for the sorry deeds committed by PPS last spring. Morgan and Phillips' statements to the contrary are self-serving spin which stand the truth on its head. I'm sure Morgan and company are still smarting from the thrashing Morgan received at the polls. THAT is what the voters of Portland think of Phillips and the old Board majority. Their claim that the local option levy was a sign of approval for their actions is DIRECTLY REFUTED by the severe trouncing Morgan received at Adkins hands.

I will add that Mincberg et al need to be fired, not promoted. Hopefully that will happen after the new superintendent takes office. This hiring will be the first important test of the presumed new Board majority. We are watching!!

Let us not forget that VP then stole the levy $ we passed to hire teachers and used it for vice principals instead. And now there is talk of another levy to build new schools, after closing and selling off/leasing so many! Mincberg has even stated publicly that RCP will be the next to be sold.

I have lived in several regions of the USA and have NEVER seen a school board that treated its buildings like commodities to be sold to developers as soon as possible. Weird.

I will never, never vote for another PPS levy, no matter what anyone says the "need" is, because we can all be sure that it will end up spent on something else!

Morgan refers to 4 potential superintendents? If that came from anyone else, I would consider it a bad omen. And maybe it is. I still think that VP will be running PPS, even if it is from Seattle. And anyone who read my comment on the subject back on May 18 (on this blog) can see that I predicted then that she would hand-pick her own successor. Just remember where you heard it first, folks.

Mary, I generally agree with your point of view, but, once again, am not so pessimistic on VP's ability to continue meddling in our affairs. She's going to need majority support from the new Board to do that to any great degree and I see no reason to conclude that majority exists any longer. You have never commented on Ruth Adkins' election which causes me to think you underestimate the significance of that development.

I will also admit that, as a matter of principle, I voted against the levy. I'm not anti-tax; I voted for the Multnomah County income tax. Instead, I believed that the Board needed to get a message of repudiation. Others I know dislike Phillips and company every bit as much as I do, but couldn't bring themselves to vote against the tax because they didn't believe our children should pay for Phillips' transgressions. I, on the other hand, believe that these people are such bad actors that the best thing we could do for our kids was to put extreme pressure on the system to eject them. PPS could not get better as long as they were at the helm. Phillips and Morgan leaving are exactly what the doctor ordered!

I am not surprised that they are misusing the levy to pay for misbegotten curriculum reform (with unanimous Board support--again Ryan, Henning, Dilafruz, what were you thinking??) and AP salaries. In other words, they are wasting the money on things that we do not want or need. Once you know the players, this comes as no surprise. The only solution is to replace the players. Booting Morgan was a good start. Booting Mincberg, Ames and others will be a good follow-up.

"Wasting money on things that we do not want or need," is exactly right, at least concerning the elementary literacy adoption. Veteran teachers think that the elementary adoption money could have been used to address the needs of the lowest 15 or 20 percent of kids that need an extra push...a program such as Read Well...at a much lower cost.. Instead every classroom is getting loads of stuff (I for one have no idea where to even put it), and even if we already have a great program in place that is working, we are expected to use it. There is also the cost of unloading, sorting and delivering it to the classrooms. And schools will also have to scan each item into an electronic library system before using anything. (Our school has no such system...are we going to have to spend money to get one? Don't know.) I'm not excited. Can you tell? I am also just flabbergasted that PPS is "studying" how to pass a bond measure to pay for new buildings after shuttering or leasing out our existing neighborhood schools. Those folks on the school board, Ryan, Henning and Dilafruz appear to be intelligent. I am not sure what their problem is.

Blueteeth,

The unanimous board vote you referred to is one example of why I don't attach as much significance to Ruth's election as you do. Believe me, I am grateful she is there now, but even so, she is still only one vote. Would it have made any real difference if the curriculum "reform" had been passed 6-1 instead of 7-0? Or if the budget had passed 5-2 instead of 6-1? And let's not forget Dan Ryan's remark about having a "best friend" at the Gates Foundation!

I am sorry, Blueteeth, but I have been around too long to get my hopes up too much. I wish I could join you in saying I voted against the levy, but I gullibly believed VP's promises of restoring music and art to the schools. Since then I have wised up, and every prediction I have made has come true; the only inaccuracies in my predictions have had to do with the timing of events, but not the events themselves. Call me Cassandra!

My guess has been that, being in the minority, the more enlightened board members have been picking their battles. They held tough on the series of 4-3 votes last spring. Now that they have a majority, I think we'll see them assert themselves more often. Dilafruz and Henning are generally superb. I was also impressed with Ryan but, for some reason, could see him falling into the swing vote position. The Superintendent hiring decision will be the first big test. We shall see.

Most money saved in closing schools comes from teacher layoffs. When they close one school and cram all the teachers and students into another school (e.g. Kenton/Chief Joseph), the savings just aren't that great.

So what they seem to be saying is they needed the appearance of taking drastic actions, even though the drastic actions didn't end up having significant budget impact. Yet they had devastating impact on learning communities and neighborhoods.

This is good policy? This is what we need to do to convince the business community to pay for a campaign to convince the people of Portland to support their public schools? This is not only shockingly cynical, it is dead wrong (as Terry points out). Is it PPS policy to destroy villages in order to save them?

The school board and its corporatist friends at the Portland Schools Foundation and the Portland Business Alliance significantly underestimate the progressive nature of Portland voters, and risk alienating them as a result.

The election of Ruth Adkins and comments on this entry by die-hard public schools supporters indicate a fraying patience with "business" as usual in our public schools. If the board still hasn't got that message, perhaps it's time for a recall campaign or two. Or Three.

On the topic of bonds for new construction, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I have a soft spot in my heart for historic buildings. On the other hand, many of our existing schools, such as Chief Joseph, are significantly beyond their design life—and it shows. In many cases it may actually be more cost effective in the long term to rebuild rather than rehab.

I would love to send my children to a facility in my neighborhood that isn't completely trashed, with water fountains that always work and without doubts of environmental health.

But at this point it's clear we can't trust PPS to issue a bond and then spend it as advertised.

Then why didn't they close Chief Joseph and keep Kenton open? That has always been a question in my mind. Beautiful, historic Kenton was in good enough shape for DeLaSalle to lease it for 20 years. Or possibly the powers that be might have thought ahead and made an actual plan before putting schools on the chopping block? I personally will not vote for any bond measure for building schools, and will work hard to convince everyone I know not to, also.

Marcia, please don't take these comments as defending the closing of Kenton.

The reason given to me by a PPS administrator is that the Kenton facility was in worse shape than Chief Joseph. Not ADA accessible, bathrooms in the basement (is that really true?), etc. Chief Joseph was also seen as a "stronger" school.

It certainly might have made better sense in the K-8 scheme to close Chief Joseph and merge into Kenton, but I suspect there are some other reasons that didn't happen.

The Kenton property has greater value, both as a lease to a private school and as a surplus subdivide with it's Lombard and Interstate frontages. Also, I suspect Chief Joseph is on a secret phase-out plan, with Ockley being targeted as the K-8 for the area.

I wouldn't mind the district pushing Ockley if they'd do something—anything—about the porn shop across the street. As it stands, who wants to send their little darlings to a failing school across from a sex shop, complete with red lights and shrubs for the pervs to lurk in?

Regarding the lease of Kenton to DeLaSalle, doesn't a private school have to comply with ADA regulations?

I'm also curious about the term "stronger" school. What do you suppose the unnamed administrator meant by using "stronger" as justification for closing one school and not another? Test scores? Parental involvement? Whatever it means, divvying up the Kenton kids and sending them to so called better schools is no remedy for chronically poor test scores or poor parenting. Studies have shown that shuffling kids from school to school doesn't raise test scores. In fact, it may have the opposite efect.

I would wager that it doesn't improve parent involvement, either.

Seriously speaking, everybody knows that using demographically driven variables like the two above is an idiotic way to go about determining the performance of schools. Students, maybe, but not schools.

Terry, the "stronger" thing was implied, not directly stated by the administrator. Chief Joseph did have better test scores, fewer special ed, more TAG, fewer English learners, less poverty, etc., etc. Basically, fewer people at Kenton would make a stink than at Chief Joseph. They definitely picked the "easier" school to close.

I assume DeLaSalle will be bringing the building up to code. I noticed today when I drove by, there's some kind of construction happening on the east side of the building.

"The Kenton property has greater value." I think that is the key statement right there.

Himself wrote:

The election of Ruth Adkins and comments on this entry by die-hard public schools supporters indicate a fraying patience with "business" as usual in our public schools. If the board still hasn't got that message, perhaps it's time for a recall campaign or two. Or Three.
===========

Himself, do you know the criteria for a recall election? Is it restricted to matters such as malfeasance in office, or gross dereliction of duty? Or, can a recall be initiated by collecting a sufficient number of signatures? The next lightning rod issue may be selection of the new superintendent. In my view, any attempt to promote a Phillips insider like Mincberg would provide ample provocation to initiate appropriate community action, providing there is some reasonably accessible public remedy. Promoting a Mincberg would constitute an express declaration by the Board that they refuse to get the message and will stay the course in the face of widespread public opposition. There are many parallels with the Bush administration. PPS attempts to control, manipulate and suppress information. They actively distribute misinformation. And they declare their intention to "stay the course" despite its obvious rejection by the voters.

According to Article II, Section 18 of the Oregon Constitution, recall drives merely have to "set forth in the petition the reasons for the demand." You need to gather signatures totaling 15% of voters in the last regular governor's election. See also ORS Chapter 249.

The closure of school buildings has no relationship whatsoever to the condition of the buildings. In fact, some have noted that the buildings in the best shape are being closed because they are more valuable real estate. The ratings of building conditions are manipulated for school closures.

PPS is putting very little into maintenance of existing buildings. Within months of busting the custodian's union a boiler at Fernwood blew up. Besides endangering lives, it cost a lot of money and could have been prevented because PPS custodians were properly trained to run the boilers. Right now they are cutting the salaries of maintenance workers drastically. Simple things like regular lubrication of hot water pumps in buildings with hot water heat systems has been neglected because there "is no money". This is akin to neglecting to put oil in your car because you do not have the money for an oil change. Maintenance is cheaper than no maintenance.

In the bigger picture, as long as PPS is run by people who think corporations are more important than all our children, insane decisions that benefit only the corporations and their lackeys will continue to rule. For that matter as long as our country is run by corporate interests, public education will be devalued, our children will be looked at as cannon fodder, and workers' rights will continue to be eroded.
No single board member or even 4 board members can turn this around. The only thing that will turn this around is a united movement of parents, teachers and other workers, students and community members who will demand nothing less than an excellent education in well maintained neighborhood schools for our children. And when I say united, I mean that the movement has to go beyond our city. We have to make connections to people across the nation who are facing the same degradation of their school systems. I believe we can do it, but we have to make those connections both ideologically and organizationally. I am heartened by thinkers like those on this blog who have dared to criticze the neoliberals and point out their strategies.


Anne says:

The ratings of building conditions are manipulated for school closures.

Blueteeth comments:

Incredibly, this is absolutely correct. Our group has tracked overall building ratings, earthquake ratings, etc. as reported on the PPS web site over time and is able to document these types of manipulations. We have hard copy print outs of the "before" and "after." Ratings of buildings closed or targeted for closure have been dramatically lowered without explanation or support. PPS knows that few people will watch closely enough to spot these dishonest manipulations of information. However, we are watching; we see what they have done and continue to do, and we will not tolerate this type of behavior from public servants. It is time to drop the curtain on this clown show.

CARLIN-AMES AND MINCBERG MUST GO.

If there is a legitimate objective for an organized group of public school supporters, it is to spearhead the firing of Sarah Carlin Ames and Cathy Mincberg with the installation of a new Superintendent. Though I have believed this to be true for some time, today's W Week article solidifies the feeling. The attitude from PPS for parents and teachers with alternate points of view has been one of complete disdain. W Week reporter Beth Slovic posed some very reasonable questions to Phillips: What did Phillips mean when she spoke of "a very small few who [ ] continue to destroy Jefferson's image." Is Tony Hopson running Jefferson?

The next day, at a different PR event, Slovic is subjected to Carlin-Ames MOCKING the previous day's questions in the hallway.

Why should concerned citizens have to put up with the puerile attitude emanating from Blanchard? Again, the parallels with the Bush administration are striking. PPS intend to forge ahead with its ill-considered and unpopular strategies regardless what anyone else thinks. Those who oppose will be mocked and marginalized.

The answer to Slovic's question is that Phillips is referring to those who object to being steamrolled by Phillips racist approach to rehabilitating Jefferson. I don't know if Phillips truly is a racist, or not, but suggesting that only one group of students in the city should be required to wear uniforms and attend single-sex "academies" is racist where the affected group is predominantly African-American. I don't care if it worked in other cities. This is as tone-deaf as last year's attempt to sell "reconfiguration" by setting up Beaverton as the shining example of how to do it right. I'm sorry, this is not "neoliberalism." Its good old-fashioned right wing republican politics in-the-face of a predominantly progressive electorate. We do not have to accept this. It is time to organize and use whatever means available--political, legal, PR--to give these reactionaries the boot.

FIRE MINCBERG AND CARLIN-AMES. They need to go.

I just read the WW article. If this doesn't show VP's true colors, then nothing will. Clearly VP, like many of her ilk, holds grudges, and she is obviously still smarting from the "Hurricane Vicki" article published last winter. Like every politician that ever lived, events are thoroughly orchestrated to make her come off peaches 'n' cream on TV (or in the papers). Disgusting, when you think about the fact that her first priority was supposed to be our children.

Let's hope that the new Super will be allowed to bring along his or her own team, as VP and Canada did (only better, we hope). As I recall, there was quite a sweeping-out over at the BESC just before Canada arrived. His team turned out to be a disaster, but so did he. And then the same with VP. The worst of it is that those are our tax dollars going to buy those people off. But I suppose it's money well spent if it gets them out of our shcool system, a place where they never should have been in the first place.

Carlin Ames' behavior is especially disgraceful in view of the fact that she is also a PPS parent. What was Vicki saying about criticism being fine if it is done "respectfully" because we are modelling for children, or something like that? Obviously that never applied to her or her groupies. Carlin Ames is also a convenient connection between PPS and the Oregonian because her husband is one of their columnists. Quite right, Blueteeth, she needs to go.

Mary, Phillips' comment regarding respectful criticism is ironic given that the salient characteristic of PPS's handling of reconfiguration and curriculum reform has been the blatant LACK of respect for parents, students and teachers. Just as with Carlin Ames mockery of the WWeek reporter's questions, PPS and Phillips have been deeply disrespectful of dissenting stakeholders.

Also under the "irony" column, did you see Mr. Ames Carlin's column in the O on Monday? A lengthy piece deploring how the corporate drive for profits has corrupted the integrity of the local television newsroom. The parallels between what he wrote and what has been happening in our local school system (where his wife works, no less!) slapped me like a wet towel in the face.

BTW, check out my post over on More Hockey Less War about "Phillipspeak."

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