Sending Salem the wrong message

By Deborah Kafoury of Portland, Oregon. Deborah is a former Democratic state representative.

Last month, the Portland Tribune reported that some parents, the “likely suspects”, are not going to support the Portland Public Schools local option measure 26-84. They seem to think that if they vote “no” and the measure fails, that it will force the legislators in Salem to find a long term solution to the school funding scenario.

Julie Poust, another Southeast Portland parent and lifelong supporter of school tax measures, said she’ll vote no in the Nov. 7 election. “The more Portlanders pretend to bail out Salem, the less Salem will have any incentive to do the job they have to do,” she said.

As a former State Representative from Portland who is partly responsible for the local option legislation, I would like to tell those parents that they’re way off base. The majority of legislators in Salem could care less whether Portlanders “bail out Salem” or not. Legislators may use Portland’s latest fiscal stability in a floor speech, or as a quote for a reporter, but in reality, the success or failure of Measure 26-84 won’t change a thing next session.

There are several reasons for this, some sinister and some not so sinister.

1. The majority of legislators are not from the Portland region. Despite what folks here in Portland may think, the rest of the state could really care less what happens to public schools in Portland. They have their own constituents, their own school districts and their own financial issues to worry about.

2. There are many legislators, some in high ranking positions, who will never vote for more money for schools. They believe that public schools get enough money and need to learn to live with what they’ve got.

3. There isn’t enough money in the current budget to fund schools at the level that Portlanders want and need. This last point is very important. Portland Public Schools makes up 8-9% of the State’s budget for K-12 education. That’s huge. It takes an infusion of a lot of money in the budget to make a dent in PPS’s budget. For example, you would need to add $1 million to the state school budget for PPS to get $80,000.

The hard cold reality is that public school funding has changed. Local communities are no longer responsible for funding their local schools. That responsibility has shifted to the State. And as long as the State is responsible for funding Portland Public Schools, we’re going to need a local option. Those parents who are trying to send a message to Salem are merely sending the message that they are willing to sacrifice their children’s education for a pie in the sky.

Comments

  • Betsy Richter (unverified)
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    THANK YOU! I've been struggling with how to say something similar to those parents, but couldn't manage to do so in a graceful manner.

    One correction, though - the local option tax levy on the ballot is 26-84, not 26-81.

  • John Napolitano (unverified)
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    I don't live in Portland, so I have no position one way or the other on the current local option levy, but this reminds me a lot of Measure 30. Faced with school budget cuts, Portland voters passed a local option levy that helped them to take care of their own students. When a few months later the legislature came up with a compromise plan to fund schools and other public services (not an ideal plan, but a plan nonetheless), Portland voters did not support it enough to balance the anti-tax voters in the rest of the state. Some say that is was because too many people felt that they had already taxed themself, and they were not interested in a long term solution any more. And now, because of Measure 30, few people in Salem (or on the campaign trail) have the guts to even mention tax reform.

  • Eric (unverified)
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    School funding shouldn't come from taxes or the people, it should be done by cutting the adminitrators salaries in half. The problem is not with school district spending and such, the problem is too many Principals, middle management, and administrators with too high salaries and too many perks. We need to focus on eliminating administrative overhead compleatly, cutting administrative salaries in half, and eliminating all perks off the board. By doing this we can get the money needed for the teachers and students to use. It is not the union teachers fault nor the students fault where the problem lies - it is the administrators fault. They are the people that need to tighten their belts, not the public.

  • LT (unverified)
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    The problem is not with school district spending and such, the problem is too many Principals, middle management, and administrators with too high salaries and too many perks

    Good for you Eric!

    Thanks to a local newspaper link to a database, anyone living in the school district (or visiting the newspaper website and finding the link) can discover that there are 3 personnel type administrators in our district each earning around $100,000 per year--and who knows what their benefit package is. Tell that to someone who earns $10 per hour but values that job because it has health care coverage!

    But no one wants to talk about that, they want vague "put more money in the classroom" or talk about high taxes or why they don't like public employee unions.

    One incumbent in a local debate had the gall to say "don't tell the legislature, tell your local school board that you are upset at high salaries for administrators".

    Except we elected a majority of new members to the local school board and except for "the new supt. is examining that sort of thing" vague remarks, no one wants to talk about this. Is that because of COSA and OSBA campaign contributions? Or could it be there is no outcry because it ruins the "public employee unions are the source of all overspending" ideology? Obviously, public employee union members don't set the salaries for district administrators.

    When was the last time that the local school district HR Director, Director of Employee Relations and Director of Employee Staffing (or for that matter any such administrators anywhere) had performance reviews? Are their job descriptions public knowledge? Do they report to anyone other than the next highest administrator or the school board? Are they required to show progress towards certain benchmarks as many other employees are required to do? Or do Republicans believe anyone in a management position is infallible and all responsibility falls on frontline workers? Public sector administrators are paid with tax money, folks, and for $100,000, how many teachers (or classroom assistants) could be hired?

    Or do we have to have Democrats in office to even ask that question of public officials?

  • ian (unverified)
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    Eric and LT I just want you to know that admin salaries only account for 7% of the budget of the school district in my area. So you tell me how we can get the extra money to fund education by cutting the 7% for pay and health care cost for those people. I am all ears.

  • KISS (unverified)
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    While I agree with Eric and LT; I wonder why Portland is so sacred? The schools are supposed to be state run and financed as such. Why again, are the schools of Portland more needful than rural schools? Those that live in Portland are fools to impose another school tax on themselves. I wonder where that 7% figure came from? Now if corporations paid their fair share...oh I keep forgetting, they pay lobbyists for not paying their due.

  • Buckm an Res (unverified)
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    The school funding issue is one where I, and I suspect many other Oregonians, would have liked to have seen much more leadership from Guv K.

    Instead it becomes one more area of disappointment with his administration.

    In the meantime Portland area taxpayers are asked to approve yet another “temporary” stopgap, band-aid solution to this problem.

  • Bert Lowry (unverified)
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    For the last 10 years I've heard people claim that if we underfund schools, it will force them to be more efficient without harming the students. So we underfunded the schools.

    Now those same people tell me that for some reason the schools haven't become more efficient in the last 10 years. And they propose to continue underfunding them to make them more efficient.

    If it hasn't worked for the last 10 years, what makes anyone think another year or two will help?

    And, more importantly, why won't any give me any actual figures about where the inefficiency is and how much money can be saved?

  • Ross Williams (unverified)
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    If I understood Deborah, she is saying this is not temporary. There is a permanent gap between the funding the state can/will provide and what is needed to provide the kind of education Portland wants to for its kids. If Portland voters choose not to make up that gap, its Portland's kids who will suffer, not the legislature.

    People are always talking about waste, fraud and abuse. And no doubt there is some. One of the roles of good administrators is to root out waste and make sure every dollar is well spent.

    If they aren't doing that, and Portland is wasting money as a result, you need to talk to the members of school board who are elected to oversee the budget. They are the ones who have to figure out the balance between enough administration to make sure money is being spent effectively and not too much, so that it costs more than it saves.

  • liz Smith Currie (unverified)
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    Deborah is right.

    The idea that you will force the legislature to act when we don't pass local options is idiotic. In fact, I can see the editorials outside the Willamette Valley now: "They didn't want it for themselves and now they're asking us to pay for it?" This will NEVER work.

    As for Eric and the others...Administrators are constantly asked to do more with less, and then get the brunt of all criticism. No Child Left Behind, CIM, CAM and the rest have burned out great teachers and administrators. Still, Portland public schools are in many ways still amazing places. The creativity amongst the staff and administrators, who work 60 plus hours a week going to every activity, parent meeting and the like is laudable. There are so many trite sayings around education funding...the kids are our future, etc. But they are mostly true. We need to be able to keep up our schools, offer alternative and creative programs and electives. No tax support means fewer innovative programs, more kids leaving for private school and a downward spiral towards failure. This is not the option I want for my kids or for anyone else.

  • fedupwithadmins (unverified)
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    Aaah, so you want some podunk middle-management types making $15 an hour to determine the fate of the future of Oregon? Great!

    Have you any idea how much good administrators cost in the private sector? Do you have any idea how much a private sector CEO costs?!

    According to salary.com, the MEAN CEO income in the US is $650,000. And that figure doesn't even include BENEFITS! Those average another $308,000 on top of the base.

    Of course, there are few CEO's in any organization (typically 1!) But for the upper management, they also typically make a boatload of money. For example, a 'human resources executive' - not even the highest paid job in a business, all things considered - national salary range?

    $94,000 - $347,000

    Obviously, the larger the organization, the more money they make. And I think running the state's education department would definitely be consdered a 'large organization.' I hardly think ANY administrators in the state of Oregon make anywhere CLOSE to these amounts.

    In fact, they even have information for that as well! (state of oregon, salary.com)

    School Principal: $89,000 School Superintendent: $134,000

    There's this little saying that goes: "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch" In other words, you get what you pay for.

  • Betsy Richter (unverified)
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    PPS' administrative costs are actually just 4% of the total budget - a figure that's actually lower than you'll find in comparable urban school districts around the nation/on the West Coast, and lower than you'll find in some of our suburban districts.

    PPS has also held their overall budget flat for at least the last 2-3 years (and perhaps longer), if I recall correctly.

  • Peter Noordijk (unverified)
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    There is no such thing as a free lunch! But that's what we've been told since the R's started funding CATO and the Heritage Foundation. That way you can get folks like Ron Saxton, Eric and LT who are either dumb and actually think that by slaying the mythological dragon of Waste Fraud and Abuse you can save more money than you spend on administration; or they don't actually care about education and are just looking for a way to hoodwink people who do care, so they disconnect the relationship between community services and community taxes. And I am tired of Saxton claiming we can save 10% by outsourcing government. It didn't work so well in Iraq, or Katrina, or in almost all cases of privatized schools. So what makes him think getting your DMV calls answered in Delhi, is going to satisfy the public's need for good service and accountability (two things that free-lunch republicans have been very good at avoiding)?

  • Sid Leader (unverified)
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    Heya Eric.

    If you think PPS school administrators have it SO EASY, then please sign up for the next "Principal For A Day" slot and shadow one of them for their usual 12+ hour day. And they get less bennies than teachers. Way less.

    BTW, the only people making 10 bucks an hour in Portland are the ones that forgot to listen to the teacher or are hippy dropouts. Or are deluded enough to think they are the very best webmaster in Portland... in a town where most 12-year-olds can write Java script better than I can.

    If you want to earn real money, Eric, stop b!tching and go back to school.

    Thanks.

  • Peter Noordijk (unverified)
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    There is no such thing as a free lunch! I am tired of the "Free Lunch" republican crowd. You don;t get something for nothing, but that's what we've been told since the R's started funding CATO and the Heritage Foundation. That way you can get folks like Ron Saxton, Eric and LT who are either dumb and actually think that by slaying the mythological dragon of Waste Fraud and Abuse you can save more money than you spend on administration; or they don't actually care about education and are just looking for a way to hoodwink people who do care, so they disconnect the relationship between community services and community taxes. And I am tired of Saxton claiming we can save 10% by outsourcing government. It didn't work so well in Iraq, or Katrina, or in almost all cases of privatized schools. So what makes him think getting your DMV calls answered in Delhi, is going to satisfy the public's need for good service and accountability (two things that free-lunch republicans have been very good at avoiding)?

  • Eric (unverified)
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    When I see administrators use distict cars to attend fuctions rather than use thier own car or use Tri-met, yet have the lesser known activites (like debate team) not attend the State campionship because of "no transportaion funding" - it really concenrs me about wasteful administrators and their wasteful salaries.

    and Sid - I make 40K a year and live well and happy with what I have and I have no buget problems. I don't need money to make me happy.

  • ian (unverified)
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    While reading these posts I have noticed one thing. Nobody is remembering that we also have to pay for unfunded or underfunded federal education mandates in our schools. These mandates have to be paid for by law so the burden is passed on to the local tax payer. If anyone wants to get some tax breaks two things have to be done. 1. make corperations pay taxes period!!! 2. have the feds pitch in more than what they are instead of giving tax breaks to the wealthy.

  • Morgan Allen (unverified)
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    LT,

    Shame on you for giving even an inkling of credence to the "waste, fraud, and abuse" argument. No doubt, all our problems with school funding would be solved if we cut a few administrative salaries.

    I guess things like the double majority, measure 5, measures 47/50, Republican control of the Legislature, an unstable revenue system, no true rainy day fund, a horribly crippling recession, et. al aren't really the problem.

    I also surmise that you don't have any friends who were a school principal and worked on the campaign of FDR. Or a dear old friend you were chatting up the other day who once had tea with so and so.

    You now hold two titles in my mind: 1. Most annoying poster on Blue Oregon and 2. Dumbest post on Blue Oregon that didn't come from a troll.

    Morgan Allen

  • Deborah Kafoury (unverified)
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    1. The "cut the administration" crowd has been spending too much time listening to Lars Larson. You could cut the entire central office of PPS and still not have enough money to forgo cuts to next year's budget without M 26-84. Please actually LOOK at PPS's budget before throwing out that red herring. I don't think it's a good use of taxpayer dollars to have my school principal spending her time doing payroll.

    2. Yes, there is no such thing as a free lunch. And Salem is not going to come to our rescue. As Ross pointed out, even if state funding for K-12 is increased next year, we will still need to pass a local option in Portland.

    3. Tax reform? I'm not going to hold my breath on that one. And it's not because of failed M 30 nor is it because Portland keeps passing local option measures. It's because tax reform means 10 different things to 10 different people. You can't even find 10 people in the same family/political party/block to agree on what a tax reform package would look like.

    4. I'm not claiming that rural schools don't have it rough, but I do know that legislators have been more willing to help them out. It is much cheaper to fix a problem in a small rural school district than in one of the largest school districts in Oregon. I voted for several "fixes" to small, remote, rural schools when I was in the legislature. I want them to succeed too.

    5. Yes, corporations should pay their fare share. And raising the corporate minimum tax from $10 should be first and foremost on everyone's agenda next session. However, Governor-wanna-be Saxton doesn't agree.

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    Rep. Kafoury is spot on with her comments. As a parent and a voter, I'll follow her advice.

  • LT (unverified)
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    LT, Shame on you for giving even an inkling of credence to the "waste, fraud, and abuse" argument. No doubt, all our problems with school funding would be solved if we cut a few administrative salaries.

    Perhaps this is why nothing gets done. No one is supposed to bring up details from an actual school district's administrative pay scale because either that makes them some part of a conspiracy, or if it isn't Portland it doesn't matter.

    Because I am angry that my local district can't just have an HR Director and lay off the other 2 personnel administrators, I am a friend of Sizemore and McIntire?

    I opposed Measure 5, Measure 47/50 (the legislature did a lousy job of re-writing that, and maybe it should have gone to court instead). But if I don't say the correct things here then all that doesn't matter?

    I am campaigning for my state rep. and state sen. candidates (both Democratic challengers, both more intelligent than some of what I read on BO).

    I support Jim Hill's idea from the primary about outside audits of school district budgets. If that makes me some kind of subversive, fine. I happen to be the child of an auditor, a former substitute teacher, the friend of a school administrator, someone who saw as a substitute that the quality of school administrators varies widely from school to school--from absolutely excellent to "how does that person still have a job?".

    And no, as a Salem resident, I don't think all school funding should be decided on the basis of PPS. But if this topic was to be exclusively for the comments of those living in the PPS district, excuse me for butting in. I thought the name of this blog was Blue OREGON.

  • Michael (unverified)
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    If Portland City Hall wasn't giving away all that tax relief to developers how much more would there be for the schools? I have asked this question before of the politicians and never had an answer. So why should I vote for something with all these tax give aways going for their pet projects? Michael

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    Deborah is wrong about one thing, i think: people outside of Portland do care about their schools. it would be stupid and self-defeating not to. the Portland schools represent a huge chunk of Oregon's schools, teachers & pupils. why would any responsible citizen not care about the state of Portland's schools? will some good come to the rest of the state if Portland does poorly?

    more importantly, we're not talking about budgets or administrative strategies here -- we're talking about children! yes, the money is important (as i've said repeatedly) but the reason the money is vital is because it's the resource we need to take care of our children. get pissed off at politicians, stupid voters and bad administrators to your hearts content. just don't take it out on the kids. that's not just dumb, it's bad faith. it makes you the bad guy.

  • Sarah Carlin Ames (unverified)
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    Hi -- glad that some of you have already responded with solid information on some of these claims.

    Anyone who wants to may examine the ins and outs of the school district budget -- check www.pps.k12.or.us and find the "budget" link on the right. The budget documents include the pay scales for employees, among many other details.

    There is a lot of misinformation floating around, including this: "When I see administrators use district cars to attend functions rather than use thier own car or use Tri-met . . ." Administrators use their own cars. There's no school district fleet of cars.

    Although we're not cutting salaries in half, central office employees took four days of unpaid leave this summer, and haven't gotten cost of living increases. . . . just for the record.

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    Betsy wrote, One correction, though - the local option tax levy on the ballot is 26-84, not 26-81.

    Fixed that, thanks!

  • Ross Williams (unverified)
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    Because I am angry that my local district can't just have an HR Director and lay off the other 2 personnel administrators, I am a friend of Sizemore and McIntire?

    In short, yes. In fact you are their best friends when you raise those issues in the context of paying for schools. If you raise them with the elected school board who runs your district you would be addressing the problem instead of throwing raw meat to the wolves.

    people outside of Portland do care about their schools. it would be stupid and self-defeating not to.

    I don't see why one follows from the other. The voters have been in a stupid and self-defeating mode for a long time. What else do you call cutting resources for education to deal with waste fraud and abuse?

    But I also think this is urban politics. Rural politics isn't about serving abstract public policy. Its about serving the people and kids in your community, not people or kids in Portland. If they care about Portland at all, its in a vague abstract, slightly resentful way. A rural legislator can spend all day and never see or talk to anyone who isn't a constituent. They aren't vague and abstract at all.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)
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    Former Rep. Kafoury -

    Perhaps you could explain how an appeal to provincialism --- the local option --- which, in my experience when I lived in Portland, I found that smug Portlanders were even more notorious and egregious about than some of their rural neighbors, in a time when we on the liberal side have in fact been fighting the malignant consequences of provincialism for the last six years at the state and national level?

    What would you proffer as evidence against a possible belief that the problems you cite speak more about the relative quality of the leadership skills of those the people in the Portland area chose to represent them at the city, state, and national level?

  • Stan Pdgorny (unverified)
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    Wasn't gonna respond to this thread. Aft'r all, what goes on in Portland SHOULD stay in Portland. But I figgure that this is the typical 'xample of city slickers tellin' us country folk what it is.

    Rep Kafoury speaks well 'bout the 'lection and our gov'mt in Salem. Knows her stuff. But she was there once and she had her chance to fix the probl'm. Probl'ms still there.

    Folk like Eric and LT have a point. Admin' costs are out of control. So's books. So's bussin'. An' those who know better aren't educatin' folk on why that is. So most folk say no to more money 'cause they see nothin' happenin to fix the probl'm. All that does is give some slimy eleph'nt an 'xcuse to go aft'r our kids and gut our publ'c schools.

    Country folk aren't stupid, Mr Williams. They're fed up with nobody fixin' the probl'm and tired of you Portland folk tellin us we're stupid and you ain't. That city-slicker smugness is what's got us into this mess in the first place. Bang-up job Dems have had runnin' the party and 'lections out of the city. Portland folk got us nothin' last session 'sept bitchin' and 'xcuses. No answers. No leadership. Just finger-pointin' and lame 'xcuses.

    In this blog I see Portland snobs slappin' down rural folk. Gotta be one of those city-slicker genius plans you'all are so good at? Good job bringin' folks together.

    Workin' together doesn't mean doin' it yer way. It means workin' together. It means listenin'. It means talkin with folk outside of the big city. It means growin' a spine. And nothin's gonna happen till you city-sliker folk quit hoggin' all the seats and check yer smug att'tude at the door.

  • Jonathan (unverified)
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    I think that Eric's examples are from his own childhood (principals, debate team, etc.), and that that involved North Clackamas School District, not Portland Public Schools. but on that subject, look at the educational and athletic gains made by Clackamas High School since building a new school -- investment has returns, and trying to scrimp by cutting the very small portion of the budget devoted to administrators is a foolish disinvestment.

  • Nada para ti (unverified)
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    One word: TOSA (Teacher on Special Assignment)

    <h2>If you are looking at the figures for PPS, and aren't finding a reference to that, ask. You won't like what you find.</h2>
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