No More Band Aids

Kristin Teigen

There are plenty of dire phrases and words floating around among parents these days: “Beyond frustrated,” “sickened,” “horrified,” “heartbroken,” and more. Many of these parents are like me – we volunteer for schools, we have worked on political campaigns that promise some part of a solution, and we have worked to figure out supplementary activities for our kids as schools face cuts. We’ve been doing this for years. And years. This latest round of budget cuts, however, has pushed us too far. We’re done. Over it. That’s it.

Part of my volunteer work has been serving as the president of the PTSA at my children’s school. It used to be that PTSA’s simply supported enrichment activities– field trips, more books for the library, perhaps some guest speakers or new sports equipment. The fun stuff. Now, however, I’m not the only PTSA president who is frantically shifting money and helping organize fundraising activities in their school simply to pay for the basics, the fundamentals of having, you know, a qualified teacher in a classroom with my children.

While I’m happy to do this, I certainly realize it’s not a true solution. We’re simply applying a band aid to a broken structure that is on the brink of failure. When I was in high school in Oregon, we ranked near the top in statewide funding for educational systems. Now, a couple of decades later, we rank 44th in funding, 49th in average classroom size, and have one of the shortest school years in the nation.

Many of us know why we’re here. In the 1990’s, Oregonians voted for a series of property tax measures that severely restricted the amount of money school districts could raise. At the same time, these measures plopped most of the responsibility for funding education into the State’s general fund, forcing schools to compete with social services, parks, public safety and more in a sort of “who is the most needy” celebrity death match. Not really the best way to serve our state, wouldn’t you agree?

Ironically, since then, many families have most likely paid more in school fundraisers, day care and supplementary activities than they ever would have in property taxes.

That isn’t, however, the whole story.

When times are bad, Oregon’s notoriously volatile tax system crashes, forcing budget cuts for all essential government services back to a bare bones level. But when the good times roll, it’s hard to reinvest in our state due to the kicker. We can’t pump money back where it belongs because the law requires that the “surplus” go to individual and corporate tax payers, meaning that while we each have a bit of money in our own pockets, we collectively never really get ahead.

But there’s more. In 1994, Oregonians also passed Measure 11, a mandatory minimum sentencing law, one of the results of which is that spending for prisons is going up more than spending for schools. At the same time, services that might provide for real criminal justice reform – mental health services, addiction interventions, job training, oh, and of course, schools, have been slashed, meaning that prisons will only grow. This is arguably the worst investment we can make in our future.

We need a real, true, lasting solution. We need property tax reform. We need reform to our criminal justice system. We need kicker reform.

Luckily, some folks are talking about it. Our Oregon is working to put a measure on the ballot reforming the corporate kicker. A few brave folks in the legislature (boy, do we need more of them) have taken on changing some of the ways the property tax laws have functioned. These are small but very important steps.

In the meantime, parents are taking action, starting a website, and organizing a rally.

The word from state legislators, however, is that they haven’t heard much from constituents and until they do, there’s no incentive to tackle fundamental tax reform. So we need more people talking and doing the hard work of engaging in change. Local jurisdictions and citizens need to let state decision makers know that the current funding system has brought public education to the breaking point. We all need to let them know that we have no more patience for conversations that don’t address the core problems. We all deserve more.

Comments

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    Well stated, Kristen. The kicker is a good place to start. But I have to say that not many parents and hardly any administrators or school boards share your values about education. This coming year Tigard-Tualatin School District will eliminate the last librarian/media specialist position in their district, and that's at the high school level where it's required for accreditation. It's required for certification of their much praised International Baccalaureate program too but administrators will find a way cover it over. The same is happening in the formerly proud Beaverton School District. All librarians (who teach academic research both online and hard copy) soon gone. How many coaches laid off? Not one. How many administrators laid off? not one. School administrators and school boards and legislators simply do not share the values of parents like yourself for classroom instruction. The very last thing to go in this state will be football teams and coaches. My fantasy is that high schools in Oregon will arrive at a point where the only thing left is the football team, and the rally squad. And for many that will be just fine, because the football team provides community entertainment. (Well, maybe they will keep the prom too.:-)

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    While I agree with a lot of what you say, let me make two points.

    First, there is a misnamed “Education Urban Renewal Area” proposal working it way to the Portland City Council. Part of what it would do over 30 years through its tax abatement process is shift an estimated $74 from K-12 education around Oregon to buildings and infrastructure around Portland State University (and to the real estate developers who would do them). Portland Public School would get $10 million back for development of the Lincoln High School site. This is wrong. See my latest blog post “Portland Planning & Sustainability Commission supports shift of $74 million from K-12 to PSU.”

    Second, for some of us, the problems with K-12 education in Oregon run much deeper than a lack of adequate funding. We have an outdated, inadequate, and inefficient system. More funding is needed. But changes should come first, changes that some of the existing educational stakeholders oppose and had delayed. We live in a global economy: we need more foreign language immersion and high school study abroad programs. We live in a digital age: we need more online educational opportunities, especially at the high school level. Utah is rapid expanding immersion programs in Spanish, French, Mandarin, Japanese, German and Brazilian Portuguese. Our neighbors Washington and Idaho are ahead of us in online education.

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      Yes, the changes in education are needed. But the money is still needed. Some coursework can be become digital. But most parents and most of the public especially in high school want their kids to have the high school experience they had. The attempts to date to update education have been largely resisted by parents and the public. The measures passed by the legislature ended up being dismantled.We have an educational system that is controlled locally by uneducated school boards who have no concept of what you are talking about. And no one is speaking at all about what 99% of the problem is, a toxic youth culture that spends its life texting and on facebook, and a parental culture that resists any coherent disciplined environment or performance expectations in the schools. Exhibit A is the CIM and CAM and what happened to them. What happened to the individual portfolios? And now we have more graduation requirements that are going to be soon be tossed in short order as soon as parents find out their kids won't graduate. I'm not optimistic about the kind of education reform you are talking about because the culture we live in doesn't want it and won't support it. The only real change I see coming is the massive use of online courses because it saves money. Educational systems could be much more efficient if they got out of the business of providing sports entertainment, a social life, and focused on actual skill building.

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        Bill, I agree with everything you say. I agree we have a general culture, and a specific political culture among the educational establishment reflecting the general culture, that really does not want a 21st century educational system. They have other agendas. And further, I‘ve written about the anti-globalism, proud localism crippling both our education system and our future economic growth (here).

        Of course, education needs more funding. The dilemma for me, maybe for you, is whether to support more funding for a system that, even if it were given much more funding, would remain outdated, inadequate and inefficient. You have pointed out some of the cultural and governance structures that resist change. There are also significant educational stakeholders, like the teachers’ unions, which also resist some needed changes.

        I know there is a broad coalition ready to support more funding for the existing education system. Right now I’m not ready to join them and support more funding until there are more changes in the system. Perhaps the broad coalition can pass a proposal without my support. Maybe not. This discussion is only relevant to them if they want my support. That’s politics.

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          The process of creating the 21st century school system is a lengthy one which involves changing public consciousness. I'm not willing to consider the kids who are in school in the interim as expendable, as throw-aways. And right now as Salem-Keizer school system contemplates laying off over a hundred more teachers this coming year we have to talk about values. What is more important, sports teams for the elite or academics? And what is more important, the Chinese language program that is being eliminated in Tigard-Tualatin Dist. or coaches? The public has not been asked to face those questions. Mostly they care about sports programs. But they should at least make the conscious decision that they are against academics and for sports entertainment and stop fooling themselves that they really care about academic achievement.

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            "I'm not willing to consider the kids who are in school in the interim as expendable, as throw-aways."

            Exactly right Bill. David's position of ignoring funding until he gets what he wants effectively turns the kids in today's system into throw-aways. It's reprehensible.

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      "More funding is needed. But changes should come first,"

      We can work on implementing new ideas, programs, etc., and address the funding crisis at the same time. Refusing to address the funding crisis until you've gotten what you want seems incredibly irresponsible.

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        Joshua, I view it the other way around: It's "incredibly irresponsible" to put money into an outdated, inadequate and inefficient educational system. Why tax ourselves more for a second rate system when we could change it first?

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          And by advocating such a position you play right into the hands of those who want to keep the system as it is with regard to the poor and disabled who can't make it into the elite private systems.

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            Joyce, I'm not sure what elite private system you are referring to?

            Respectfully, and specifically, I think students who are not fluent in a second language by high school graduation have received a second class education. I've criticized Portland Public Schools for not offering Mandarin immersion programs to poor African-American students (here). And I've argue for equity in high school study abroad. It should not be just the rich students who get to spend a high school year abroad.

            I do not think I am playing into anyone hands. It's the defender of the educational status quo who are holding poor students back.

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          Sure David, let's just keep packing them into classrooms, cutting school days, art, music, teacher's pay and benefits....let's just keep slashing and burning until you get more language immersion programs and whatever else you want. As for the quality of the kids education that are in the current system...too fu#*ing bad. Great plan! This position makes for a convenient excuse to ignore the funding crisis.

          Just maybe, we ought to keep the system from crumbling AND work on implementing ideas like the ones you've discussed. Call me crazy.

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            Joshua, it's is not so simple from my perspective. Teachers' unions oppose paying for high school study abroad and any form of online learning that substitutes for teachers (because both divert some funding from teachers). Funding for more teachers, which I agree is needed, does not make it any easier politically to get high school study abroad programs or more expansive and efficient online offerings. Expanding foreign language immersion programs also faces political opposition. Politically you are asking me to give opponents of these programs what they want without me getting anything in return. Politics doesn't work that way.

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              Study abroad programs for high schoolers are not only NOT a panacea, it's frankly not even realistic to consider when other basic things are being cut.

              Online learning is not appropriate for most students. And we should not be advocating for it as if it is. Right now, we have a whole bunch of kids who need to be in a classroom setting with other students. They need to have arts & music programs reinstalled. They need to have creative thinking and accelerated learning classes brought back in. Physical education must also be in this mix.

              Then we can start talking about study abrosd.

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                Carla, clearly, if you do not value educational programs I value, I will not be a part of a coalition to get more funding for education. We do have different priorities. In a different political culture, maybe we could work together.

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    Bill Ryan wrote:

    "We have and educational system that is controlled locally by uneducated school boards who have no concept of what you are talking about."

    "No one is speaking at all about the 99% of the problem is, a toxic youth culture that spends it's life texting and on facebook, and a parental culture that resists any coherent disciplined environment or performance expectations in the schools."

    Where to begin? The South Medford Girl's basketball champs, with the highest G.P.A. of all the teams. Two girls on the team earned full scholarships, one to Standford and one to Bates. Did I mention that 50% of the girls on the team are Hispanic?

    How about the young man who was just named a Gates scholar with a full ride to Reed.

    Try attending a school play, watch the orchestra or band, or visit a school to get first hand what is happening in the schools.

    Walk into the commons of an elementary school of one of the most economically depressed neighborhoods and notice that nine older citizens are Smart Readers working individually with student after student.

    I personally invite Bill Ryan to vist anyone one of the 19 Medford Public Schools. I'll escort him myself.

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      You're not mentioning all the resources that go into the sports programs and their facilities to benefit the few. The leading school systems in the world have no sports programs, public funding goes into academics, not sports entertainment. Athletics should be channeled through private non-profit clubs as it is in the top tier countries in the world.

      Yes, you're on the school board, and what percentage of students actually participate in HS team sports. It's an elitist program for a small percentage of students, and not for them but for the benefit of communities who want their entertainment provided courtesy of the public dollar. What you're citing is a perfect example of the mindset of perpetuating the school of the 20th century as it has been.

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      Yes, it is collapsing. When school systems lay off all their librarian/media specialists,no longer qualifying for accreditation, the ones responsible for educational media, for instruction in academic research, and access to information, things are collapsing. When class sizes go to over 30 or 40, entire language programs are being eliminated, then it's collapsing. But what I am saying is that the public judges a school system by its sports programs so that's what gets funded. Can parents or communities really be proud about schools that lose their accreditation?

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    Consider renaming public schools prisons and collecting the $24K per prisoner. Send the $6K spent per student to the state prisons.

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    Kristin,

    Thanks for this and for the organizing you are doing.

    One thing that has been increasingly troubling to me in local and regional politics is the degree to which elected and appointed officials (e.g. TriMet board) seem to think their job is to voice and manage declining expectations of quality, rather than advocate for us and provide leadership in bringing about the change necessary to achieve what we need.

    Do you know if any of the mayoral candidates have spoken up on any of these issues? Have any of them said "I will take leadership to organize my fellow local officials to demand change and support at the state and federal levels"?

    I am sure Mary Fetsch (TriMet spokesperson) is a perfectly nice person, indeed that probably is why she is hired to do what she does, but I'm thinking of taking TriMet to small claims court to get them to pay for a dental appliance to combat the teeth-grinding that watching her make excuses on the t.v. news for TriMet's rotten management and management decisions causes.

    David Porter is right about the robbing Peter to pay Paul and inequitable character of the PSU urban renewal district proposal he mentions above. This is a symptom of "business as usual" silo'ing and turf defense.

    Thanks again for working to demand no more cuts and demand leadership for us, not management against us, from our officials.

    Are you in touch with Portland Jobs with Justice at all?

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      "One thing that has been increasingly troubling to me in local and regional politics is the degree to which elected and appointed officials (e.g. TriMet board) seem to think their job is to voice and manage declining expectations of quality, rather than advocate for us and provide leadership in bringing about the change necessary to achieve what we need."

      This is poetry for wonks like me. Pure poetry.

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    Please consider joining Smart Schools PDX in calling for PPS to cut top-heavy bureaucracy before 110 teachers on May 14. http://smartschoolspdx.com/ This is an immediate and constructive solution to the devastating cuts facing our classrooms, as we work toward revenue reform. Both the Oregonian and Tribune have confirmed that PPS has a thicker tier of managers earning $100k plus, while it is out of compliance on instructional hours, ESL, Special Ed, etc. A KPMG audit recommended that PPS reduce management layers, but it has added layers of chiefs, regional administrators, directors, executive directors who oversee departments that do not serve students: Communications, Public Affairs, System Planning & Peformance, Workforce Diversity & Development, HR, Equity & Partnerships. http://​www.portlandtribune.com/​news/​story_2nd.php?story_id=1334​79339159801600 Not to mention expensive outside contracts with unproven programs like Courageous Conversations, Self Enhancement Inc, Open Meadows, while students are warehoused in cafeteria study halls without core curriculum. PPS can and should take 100% of the cuts out of Central Admin and outside contracts. Revenue reform will come too late for our students, and PPS has a terrible track record of mismanaging scarce resources. This is a district that frittered $10M of stimulus money on outside contracts, while cutting music programs and librarians. This year, PPS prioritized a new equity policy while gouging Special Ed, ESL, and dismantling Benson's vo-tech program that has successfully served disadvantaged communities and given students job-ready skills in Computer Engineering, Health Technology, etc. Join with Smart Schools PDX to ask PPS to cut bureaucracy before cutting 110 teachers on May 14.

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    I just wish PPS would stick to supporting strong neighborhood schools and promote equity. Make all schools equal. I for one am really ticked off that decisions such as the recent Humboldt/Tubman debacle are made without chances for parent input. Now my local school Grout may be next if Brooklyn area parents are allowed to move en masse to Winterhaven Science & Math, as SACET is now considering - http://www.pps.k12.or.us/schools/grout/files/dparker1/5-3.pdf

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