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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 13, 2004 12:59 PM. The previous post in this blog was Come back Wednesday. The next post in this blog is They 'R' Closing. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Monday, December 13, 2004

Skeletons in the closet

New Portland schools chief Vicki Phillips left behind some pretty shoddy business practices in her old job in Lancaster, Pennsylvania -- according to this report by the Pennsylvania State Auditor's office.

Another great day for Portland schools. (Via KGW.)

Comments (9)

I browsed through the report inlcuding Ms. Phillips' response and it just doesn't get me that excited. The big reason they came into audit was because of the subsequent superintendent's activities (that look like they rose to the level of criminal activity).

And lets balance this report with the one from the Big O that basically says Ms. Phillips is taking on Neil G's son:
http://www.oregonlive.com/search/index.ssf?/base/news/110276995269151.xml?oregonian?lced

I know a few teachers in the Portland Public School District and not a single one of them believes Neil's son is worth the $140,719 salary paid to him.

Jack - As bad as that may be, it's gotta be better than giving Ben Canada $300,000+ for his 9 months of "service".

I am still waiting for my copy of the Collective Bargain Agreement that was agreed to in October. State law requires that the CBA’s be reduced to writing. This requirement was battled over by PAT pertaining to side agreements on increases in step level of new hires so the parties can hardly claim ignorance to the mandate to write down their agreement. I just wonder what on earth it was then that the board agreed to when they agreed to the contract just before the election. As far as I am concerned there is no contract and the district is vulnerable to a challenge on any salary increase provisions that they might be acting upon but which seemingly cannot find their way into a final written record of just what it was that they all agreed to. Isn’t anarchy great?

The point about taking on Mr. G’s bro has more to do with Vicki being asked, shall I say compelled, by the PAT to do their dirty work so they do not have to actually consider striking. The value that Vicki could offer in terms of achieving genuine educational improvement has been fully consumed and overshadowed by the cynical and grotesque efforts of folks like the PAT and Stand For Children and Portland Schools Foundation to convince us that they represent children rather than folks that steal from children. Vicki could do good but cannot because she is held hostage to the politics of lies and deceit that are managed by the PR firms, and for which The Oregonian is at least complicit or is the main cheerleader.

The board plans on rubber-stamping the audit report for Portland tonight for the 2003-2004 school year (as I write this they have probably already approved it). The budget reserves 8 million dollars to cover the possibility of PERS court action favorable to public employees. Yet, it makes no mention of the PERS costs in today’s budgets resulting from salary decisions in that prior budget cycle; which necessarily must mean that a subsequent audit for this year’s activity can ignore the postponed recognition of the PERS effects of today’s salary decisions. Why talk about something today if you can put it off until tomorrow. The issue of whether the pension effect of public employer policy changes is a mandatory item for labor negotiations is the subject of an appeal, from a Beaverton case. If the unions get there way in that case it will come back to bite them in their effort to ignore the future pension effect of current salary decisions.

I do look forward to lots more juicy legal entertainment during the potentially short-term stay of Vicki. And it will really have nothing to do with Vicki other than she has been put forth as the person who we look to for both hope and as the excuse for failure to achieve success at improving achievement for the minorities. I do wish the greedy backroom pigs would step aside and let Vicki do her job. Forget her salary and forget whether her own contract is inconsistent with the proposed policy for contracts and let her do her job, get the PAT and others to stick to their proper narrow roles. Steve ain’t the problem.

If you know people in the PPS District, I am curious, why are they always looking for the Messiah outside of Portland? The two peaceful years seemed to be when they had the CFO (or whatever his title was) of PPS running the deal.

This has to be a real slam to employees in the schoold district (or library for that matter) that they are not good enough to be promoted and that someone with a hard-to-find history from out of town should be running the thing. We must have someone who has demonstrated loyalty to the school district with a history everyone knows to run the school district, right?

Why the high turnover?

I’m just an outside whiner, with transitory local residency, with a bone to pick and I selected the PPS as a viable achilles heel in my effort to attack a statewide (and nationwide) problem with pension stuff for macro-economic reasons.

The PPS superintendent position is a statewide political appointment in nearly every respect except that it does not require direct legislative consent. If you view public schools across the state as an oligopoly that acts like a monopoly then the largest school district, PPS, is the obvious market leader. It is the center of the battle – in Oregon.

The role that is served by the typical superintendent is that of chief fundraiser for the Portland Association of Teachers, and by extension the Oregon Education Association, and serves at the pleasure of the Portland School Board. The NEA set out as policy a few years back to make nice with local school boards. Teachers make up nearly half of the PERS beneficiaries. Teachers make up nearly half of all the non-federal public employee pension beneficiaries across the country. The planting of the wife of our State Treasurer (the treasurer who is in on the Oregon Investment Council and seeks a national role with the NYSE) upon the Portland School Board is an obvious marriage of interests that transcend simply the task of teaching poor minorities in Portland.

The talent and history that are valuable are loyalty to the NEA, not the district or its students or its parents and certainly not the taxpayers. The nationwide search is the only way vet out non-loyalists. I think, however, this time, that Vicki could break the PAT monkey off the small of her back if someone with genuine clout would step forward and help me. The District Attorney has the power, if he would dare exercise it, in the public interest.

Loyalty to the district, or the residents of the district, is not currently part of the program. No superintendent can negotiate the political pitfalls associated with the full spectrum of conflicts for very long without getting their walking papers handed to them. Any goodwill that they may carry with them, or hope that they may hold to succeed notwithstanding the constraints, gets consumed in the churn of local politics. A naive local kid would not have any place to go but out of town after such an episode in their careers, which represents, ironically, the pool of folks from which superintendents are selected nationwide. Blame the NEA for the shuffle, and for any cuts in school days and for high student-to-teacher ratios and for making superintendents hapless pawns.

"Why the high turnover?"

With their inappropriate severance package, they have no reason to stay more than 9 months.

"If you view public schools across the state as an oligopoly that acts like a monopoly then the largest school district, PPS, is the obvious market leader. It is the center of the battle – in Oregon.

"The role that is served by the typical superintendent is that of chief fundraiser for the Portland Association of Teachers, and by extension the Oregon Education Association, and serves at the pleasure of the Portland School Board. The NEA set out as policy a few years back to make nice with local school boards. Teachers make up nearly half of the PERS beneficiaries. Teachers make up nearly half of all the non-federal public employee pension beneficiaries across the country. The planting of the wife of our State Treasurer (the treasurer who is in on the Oregon Investment Council and seeks a national role with the NYSE) upon the Portland School Board is an obvious marriage of interests that transcend simply the task of teaching poor minorities in Portland.

"The talent and history that are valuable are loyalty to the NEA, not the district or its students or its parents and certainly not the taxpayers."

Yowza. Would it be just too reductionist to boil this brilliant trumpeting down to the de facto national slogan, "Leave no teacher behind."

Looking forward to more -- anytime, anyplace.

Perhaps "leave no teacher, or former teacher, behind."

Can you find any rational reason for the 6 plus billion dollars of borrowing for PERS notwithstanding clear legal reasons to oppose it, or why those clear reasons were not even raised in court arguments? The employer rates are now projected to rise to 18.9 percent of salary. Brilliant trumpeting is a cute phrase, but really it takes a lot more work to hide unlawful gifts than to find them. Any dope should be able to figure out the scam, even me.

This is simple stuff here, like the local governments failed to obtain a full and final release from further liability to PERS in their settlement of threatened legal action. Portland Public Schools alone borrowed 500 million dollars to pay to PERS. If they refused then the PERS beneficiaries could not have overcome the obstacle of obtaining a final judicial remedy for future contingent events that may or may not come to pass. Even the Supreme Court of West Virginia of all places, and the original home state of Vicki, can figure this one out.

http://www.state.wv.us/wvsca/docs/fall04/31749.htm

Of course, the NEA filed their Amicus there, just as they have carried the battle to New Jersey and elsewhere . . .

"Can you find any rational reason for the 6 plus billion dollars of borrowing for PERS notwithstanding clear legal reasons to oppose it, or why those clear reasons were not even raised in court arguments?"

What I couldn't find are many people interested. You quite astutely note The Oregonian's role. The best newspaper coverage by far has been available, and archived, in the McMinnville News Register. (Though it does not focus on Portland schools per se.) Somewhere at least part of the answer to the general shrug, in my opinion, lies in those income differentiations Mr. Bog's latest post demarcates.

Sorry if you didn't like "brilliant trumpeting;" it was late and I didn't think of "clarion call" :) but good luck with that. Here's another useful term: nomenklatura. It has struck me for some time as an appropriate import for Portland government.


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