The Oregonian and the Luxury of the Quibble

Kristin Teigen

The Oregonian will, one day and hopefully soon, realize that the needs of our kids are not like a bowl of soup you can return to the kitchen. Our kids -- their safety, their education and their community -- deserve far better.

The Oregonian published two editorials this morning, one to support the Portland Public Schools levy and another expressing a lack of support for District’s bond. While I’m pleased with their support of the levy, I was left shaking my head about their points about the bond. Yet again, our daily paper is showing how increasingly out of touch they are with Portland’s citizens, Portland’s values and how dramatically out of touch they are with the needs of Portland’s schools.

Sure, the buildings need help, the Oregonian acknowledges. But this measure, hmm, well, gee, not quite what they had in mind. Little too hot, little too cold. They ask the District to come back in the Fall with something, hmm, different. And who knows what they’ll say then – still not quite right? What a luxury to tinker around the edges until something fits a Goldilocks sensibility.

In the meantime, here’s the deal. My children come home talking about how it rained on them again in the cafeteria. There are 50 gallon drums in some schools that the custodian hauls out every time it rains. The furnaces in many schools are so old the maintenance department has to have parts made just to repair them, and are dependent on one guy, yes, just one guy, who knows how to fix them.

And there’s more. In a few years, my sons will trundle off to a high school that is simply a stack of bricks, and will collapse if we have any sort of significant earthquake. One school in Northeast Portland isn’t even that well-made – it is constructed of temporary materials, and kids can punch a hole through the wall (and kids being kids, well….). Another has a furnace over 100 feet away from the building, yes, in a city that prides itself on sustainability and energy-efficiency.

Reading this editorial, it would seem, the Oregonian has been too preoccupied with other issues such as complaining that Portland voters have approved measures for things like parks and fire safety to do their homework on the schools. They haven’t walked into the schools to see the asbestos pipes (“Caution” signs all over the place in some schools). They haven’t volunteered in overheated classrooms, watching first graders wilt when they’re trying to learn math. They haven’t seen principals taking time away from running the school to mop up puddles.

It would also seem that they also haven’t done their homework when it comes to their ideas about the measure’s effect on the economy. It will be a boon to our local industries, pumping up to 7,000 jobs into Portland. Most of those jobs will be in construction, a sector that is experiencing a whopping 65% unemployment rate. This is why the Portland Business Alliance has endorsed it.

It's such a good deal, here is a pretty good summary of the situation:

“Portland is long overdue to reinvest in its historic school buildings, and a rebuilding campaign could pay educational and economic dividends for decades to come… the need to protect Portland's capital investment is impossible to ignore. The district has built only two new schools in the past 40 years. Many schools date from the 1920s or earlier. Like the historic houses that surround them, these schools need a lot of work to preserve their value: new wiring, new pipes, better heating systems, new insulation, refinished wood, new flooring and fixtures.... The list is daunting, but the work is essential for a long-lasting building and a healthy school environment.

Speaking of work, a capital bond would create jobs for construction workers and other skilled trades people in the Portland area. That would provide a welcome boost in a city still struggling with high unemployment… If any kind of capital plan deserves a fair hearing, it's this one.”

Who wrote that? The Oregonian. Five months ago. About this exact bond measure.

That is a pretty shocking turnaround from reflecting the values of a community that supports public education to being dead wrong. And as they once again hack away at their own history of being “Portland’s” newspaper, The Oregonian will most likely feel a bit lonely in their rarified offices. The firefighters union, aware of how quickly the furnaces light on fire – and with the memory of the Marysville School fire fresh in their minds – has endorsed it. The American Heart Association, knowing how awful the air quality is in our schools, has endorsed it. VOIS, a sustainable business alliance, knows how the schools are bleeding energy every day, and has endorsed it. This is along with Stand for Children, Multnomah County Democrats, the Portland PTA, and many more.

The Oregonian will, one day and hopefully soon, realize that the needs of our kids are not like a bowl of soup you can return to the kitchen. Our kids -- their safety, their education and their community -- deserve far better. I’ve been volunteering already, but now, you can bet I’m going to try to make every phonebank I can. You, too?

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      "front office staff cannot plug in all their equipment at once because the electrical system can't handle it..."

      If it's that bad in the office space, how are the classrooms? Do they still use knob and tube? Upgrading the physical plant isn't a sufficient condition for a 21st century education, but it is a necessary one.

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    I agree. The Oregonian thinks the bond should be slimmed down, but the only things they can think of to take out are planning for a new Lincoln, athletic fields, and covered playgrounds. That's about 4 percent of the bond (9 cents for $1,000 assessed value if you're counting). That's about a buck or two a month for the average family.

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      It would seem that 96% right isn't good enough for the Oregonian.

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      I have had mixed feelings about this measure from the beginning and know others who will be voting against it. Personally I will probably end up voting for it, but I think that the Board has not been properly sensitive to the financial stress of the taxpayers on this and tossed in items that I do not want to pay for. My guess is the 4% is closer to 10%, but I cannot substantiate it. I absolutely support providing earthquake upgrades, replacing wasteful furnaces, and fixing leaky roofs. Athletic facilities absolutely not. Only a minority of students get to participate on the teams. Let Nike buy more stadiums.

      Unfortunately I do not believe there is a mechanism once the measure is passed to do the deletions or re-prioritizing that are called for.

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        I appreciate your comments. I would ask that you remember that the fields are used by a lot more than just the official school teams (and when you total the kids on football, soccer, track, baseball, softball, it may be more than you think)--there are a lot of recreational teams (both in school, pre-high school, adults) who use the fields, as well as pick-up games of all sorts.

        This past weekend, ALL fields in Portland parks were closed to use, because they are in such crappy condition.

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          Yes, good points, Scott. The fields are truly a neighborhood resource. They're where folks go to run, teach their kids to ride a bike, and throw a ball around with their teenager. The new fields will not be unusable because of weather conditions as they will be astroturf, and will be available year-round.

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          The argument that you and Kristen are making is making my case for me. What you are saying is that they are community parks being paid for in the guise of an emergency bond issue to protect schools from falling down. I support public parks too, but cheeze we need to set some priorities when we are asking taxpayers to pony up the largest hike in property taxes in my memory....and during a difficult economic time.

          Furthermore, astroturf will have to be replaced again in a few years and is harder on falling bodies. This is exactly what I think needs more public debate and discussion and should not have been tossed onto a measure focused on saving buildings and the children in them.

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            John, this doesn't make sense. Are you saying that Portland's high schools, alone among all other school districts, should not have functioning athletic fields? High school fields are the responsibility of PPS but they effectively function as community parks and often are adjacent to city parks (e.g. at Grant HS/Grant Park). Even if the City were to take over high school fields, they are still public assets that we, the public, need to pay to maintain.

            In any case, the bond would not fully fund athletic field upgrades- there will continue to be community fundraising to help pay for them.This fundraising effort has been going on for years and not all communities are equally able to raise money. We need an equitable investment in all our schools.

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    You say it like it is, Kristin!

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    The Oregonian's position isn't about our kids, or facts, or anything rational. It is instead a thinly veiled ode to the anti-tax, anti-public investment beliefs that have infected the paper. I think that's the most shameful thing of all.

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    I'm voting "no" on both levies because PPS needs to make significant changes before I support giving them more money. I do not think I or PPS students will get my moneys worth for the $3,000 in additional property taxes I'll pay over five years. We should not be enabling the educational status quo to continue. Yes votes do not get our children the educational futures they need. We should do better!

    I commented here on the Oregonian editorial.

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      Mr. Porter, if you don't want to pay for fixing school buildings now, that's fine, but the longer you wait, the more expensive it becomes, just like with a leaky roof at your house. And as someone who's worked on school quality issues for more than a dozen years, I can tell you that forcing a train wreck will not magically lead to better schools. Just the opposite. It will lead to higher class sizes, cuts in services, and will especially hurt our most vulnerable children from low-income households.

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        I did not neglect maintaining the buildings in the past. Irresponsible leadership did that. I am not preventing PPS from using currently available funds to pay for the most seriously need repairs and seismic upgrades. Irresponsible leaders are.

        For several years I’ve been advocating for expanding the Mandarin and Japanese immersion programs and creating a high school study abroad program. The PPS Board, administration, and teachers union have all refused to support such developments. Without such programs, our next generations will not be prepared for the serious. challenges they will face. These are decisive issues for me. I consider the political culture of education in Portland to be dysfunctional and irresponsible in not dealing with them.

        Beyond that, and without additional costs, PPS should provide laptop computers to upper grade students and increase substantially online education opportunities including the ability of students to take courses independently from the bricks-and-mortar classroom. I am also sympathetic to the arguments that we will not solve our quality (evaluations, tenure) and equity ( putting our best teachers in the worst schools) issues until we give school boards and administrators more control.

        I see a train wreck in our educational future whatever we do. I’ll support a different direction. I’ll not enable the continuation of the status quo with my votes.

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          "Beyond that, and without additional costs, PPS should provide laptop computers to upper grade students"

          Without additional costs?! How would that work exactly?

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            Kari, a North Carolina school district (here) provided laptops to students for $200 per student per year and then saved most of that on textbooks and paper supplies. Additional cost savings can come (and here's the obvious political struggle) by reducing teachers as students either taken online courses independently or with reduced teacher contact.

            Online education is a significant trend in education (here). Portland, and Oregon more generally, are in danger of getting left behind

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    Thanks Kristin - we need to remember that it is all about the kids who seemed to be neglected by the article in the Oregonian. I like to think how many of us parents would allow our children to sleep in a room with a leaking roof or be at risk by drinking tainted water and not feel that fixing those things are a priority that cannot be delayed. We are all parents to the students in Portland so rise up, join the team. Go to and find out you can help. We are canvassing Saturday, April 30th. Be there.

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    Thanks, Scott, for reminding folks about the opportunity to canvass for our schools this Sat, 4/30. I'll be there, with two PPS kids in tow (rising K and 2nd grade). It's an excellent way to get to know your school's neighborhood better, share your personal experiences with our school buildings and teacher cuts with the wider community, and show your kids that you're invested in their education. I canvassed on 4/2 and had some interesting conversations and many opportunities to share my unique perspective as a parent who wants the best for my kids, all PPS kids (our school is not 1st in line this go round), and the future of Portland, which is very much connected to the quality of our schools. www.portlandersforschools for more info and to help out.

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    Great article and hope these upgrades become a priority.


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    The U.S.A. ranks thirty-fourth out of thirty-four modern countries in social spending. 1% have more than 25% of income and pay no taxes and want bigger reductions.

    The solution? Eliminate Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and give the kids laptops. Gee. What a great Republican (Whig) idea and where will they build all the debtor prisons? Oh. And cancel food stamps and "Obamacare" and make sure to arm all the students.

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