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Friday, July 15, 2005

Feel free to mow the weeds

It's official -- Portland schools superintendent Vicki Phillips (who lives in a nice, normal Northeast Portland house, by the way, not a mansion) has given us all permission to mow the chest-high grass and weeds currently growing on school grounds all over town. But don't use herbicide, Super Vicki says. That's taboo around where the kiddies play.

Guess the clover's going to win, then. Anyway, here's the announcement that went out this afternoon:

To our Portland Public Schools friends and neighbors,

If you've passed a school recently, you may have noticed that our grass is awfully long and the weeds are thriving. With all the cool and wet weather we've had this year, growing conditions have been perfect, and our school grounds are looking awfully shaggy.

We're gearing up to take back our lawns * and we would love to have your help.

Over the last decade, Portland Public Schools has cut our maintenance costs to less than the state average, so that we can put every dollar possible into the classrooms. We now have only two year-round groundskeepers to maintain the lawns, trees and plantings on 753 acres at close to 100 locations. In the summer we hire additional seasonal groundskeepers.

Given current conditions, I have asked our maintenance staff to add two additional groundskeepers for the rest of the summer, and we will purchase another lawnmower. But even with the extra help, we can use some help from all of you in the community.

If you would like to take an hour or two to clean up your neighborhood school, please do! Pull some weeds in the beds, or mow the grass. We'll still swing by for our maintenance, but help from the community would give us a real head start on the backlog.

Individuals can just get out there and help. But if you'd like to organize a group effort, call Stacey Balenger, at 503-916-3401, who can help coordinate. Should you choose to help, please follow Portland Public Schools policy by not using pesticides or herbicides (we used to use well over 7,000 pounds of herbicide a year; now we use next to none). And please, don't tackle any major projects, such as pruning, without checking with Stacey.

Of course, we urge the utmost caution as you volunteer, as the school district can't be responsible for any accidents and we definitely don't want anyone to get hurt.

You are also invited to participate in our special effort to spruce things up for the state of the school year: Community Care Day. This fifth annual event will be on Saturday, August 27.

On Community Care Day, Portland area faith- and community-based organizations, along with business partners, clean up our local schools. A morning's worth of effort shows students that adults care about them, and helps them start school in an environment that shows community pride in their learning. We thank our sponsors, including Best Buy Landscape, Thriftway, Qmedtrix, the Palau Organization and others for their help. (Community Care Day, a Portland Public Schools innovation, has won national recognition, and now takes place in Beaverton and Hillsboro school districts, too.)

Already, more than 60 sites have been confirmed for this year's Community Care Day. If you are interested in participating, please call Kathy Birch at 503-916-3310.

I know many of you, like me, are frustrated when we see shaggy lawns and sprouting weeds. Together, let's do something about it.

Thank you,
Vicki Phillips

Comments (15)

Jack, I call B.S. on this 'poor'-hand-wringing from the PPS.

They've lost +20% of their students over the last 7 years - not counting last year's losses. And their budget (thanks to my 1.25% extra kiddie tax) has gone up, what, 8% in the same time-frame? Something doesn't add up and I don't think PERS quite covers it.

Who knows? "We bought another lawn mower" is, well, just sad, for whatever reason.

Beyond the incompetence from Philips (let's call it what it is) there's this logical gem:
"In the summer we hire additional seasonal groundskeepers."

If 2 guys can keep things under control before school's out in June - how come the additional staff can't do so during the summer? Portland grass doesn't grow *that* much faster after June 10th.

The >$1-million for 'advertising' the Vicki wants is just insane. Is there anyway to audit the books of the PPS? By a real accounting firm?

At least kill the pretend ad agency, Vicki, because $1-million would buy a nice lawnmower.

This year? Uh, the grass is definitely growing quickly, even after June 10th.

"Clover honey has a pleasing, mild taste. Clovers contribute more to honey production in the United States than any other group of plants."

The Oregon State Beekeepers Association might bee able to match bee hives to school grounds that have made the conversion, in the interest of Economic Development, to clover.

However, there are no studies yet to determine if the introduction of hives to the school grounds will actually increase or decrease the dollars "into the classroms" so perhaps PAT ought to weigh in first. PAT might like the city to ban the placement of hives on properties adjoining the school grounds that host honeybee hives and white clover. This could be critical to profitability (oops, classroom dollars).

Jack your skepticism is justified. You said, "But don't use herbicide, Super Vicki says. That's taboo around where the kiddies play."

That's just another urban superstition.

The herbicides and pesticides now allowed by the federal government have been intensively tested and regulated. The once currently on the market have all passed tests showing them to be safe for humans and animals. No one has ever shown that a human has been harmed by pesticides or other lawn chemicals.

"No one has ever shown that a human has been harmed by pesticides or other lawn chemicals."

We're not going to carry on a scientific argument on a blog. Think how long it took to establish a relationship between cigarettes and lung cancer. But the last time I looked into a possible connection between pesticides, herbicides and certain cancers, there was some fair evidence there was one. A brief allusion here:


Lots of research elsewhere. It will go on as the rates of lymphomas increase more than three times more than other cancers in the last couple of decades.

Thank you, Sally. That was a very useful and informative link the the site about possible causes of non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL) from the Lymphoma Research Foundation.

I noticed the following interesting points:
a. AIDS accounts for about 40% of the increase in NHL.
b. After a long, detailed discussion of the likely immune dysfunction-related causes of NHL, the site noted:
c. "Over the course of many years of scientific investigation an increasing number of microbes, both bacteria and viruses, have been associated with NHL." The named viruses include herpes virus 8, hepatitis C and G, and simian virus 40 (SV-40), a monkey virus know to infect human beings and cause cancer in laboratory animals.
d. The report noted: "Given the recently reported high prevalence of SV-40 in NHL, the number of lymphoma cases attributable to this virus is remarkable."
e. The next potential risk factor is ultraviolet radiation, or sunlight.
f. Finally, just above the notes about a very weak link to hair dyes, the report said several studies had shown a relationship between NHL and exposure to pesticides and herbicides... in particular the herbicide 2,4-D, which has been associated with a doubling of lymphoma risk.
g. It also stated that wearing protective clothing during application can reduce the risk. Federal regulations currently require ag workers and others to wear this protective clothing.

My final note on this is that the ag population is shrinking as their kids move to the cities and those staying behind on the farms are aging. Also, ag work is primarily in the sun.


Some of the ag kids got ag econ degrees and such and some even pretended to be smart enough to think they might become lawyers. Just seems pointless to push paper or push words when one could instead be toting a backback filled with the 2,4-D stuff to kill thistles and tansy. Makes one smell all sweet and nice, like dog poo . . . from head to toe and inside the lungs too. Gosh? Is that my problem?

If that plant or bug don't just roll over and die the instant that fancy chemical stuff hits it then it must not be dangerous now; see, I am livin' proof too, I think that's how poo brains work.

"That's just another urban superstition."

I thought I was the one who gets to play jester here. . . chester. But that one was good. And affirms that the background of Ms. Phillips is not too hicky to recognize the threats from chemicals, and to state it plainly.

I personally prefer the sound of

Get your honey, get your honey, get your organically grown honey from a PPS kid for a good casue . . . for the cause of putting dollars "into the classroom."

If we PPS teachers weren't so dang busy taking 800 level college classes, going to NCLB seminars and closing schools (Bye, Edwards!), we'd have LOTS of time to mow the lawn too.


The book explaining

"The Theory of the Leisure Class"

Has already been written by Thorstein Veblen.

Chapter 14 points out some views about the pecuniary value of higher learning . . . and, well, its' relation to leisure.

What? Me mow the lawn . . . I'm too busy. Ha. The classes are designed to make it appear that teachers are less exchangeable, in the marketplace for labor, with ordinary folks who may have just a routine education and a bunch of work experience in areas other than teaching. A little interdisciplinary study might be more beneficial than 800 level courses, or you might just specialize yourself into irrelevance.

Thanks, RL, but I think I'll wait for the movie.

Sid, so as not to offend teachers in particular I'd say that lawyers also need to taste a little humble pie now and then. Members of the bar, and public attorneys too, could grab a lawn mower just as easily as a teacher.

Now that might make a good movie . . . public attorneys doing community service as a sort of a self-imposed penance. I want to see them wearing orange jump suits, but this movie might be heart warming nevertheless.

If you, RL, really think teachers need to be humbled, then you have never taught a class in your life.

I tell my school kids I make about 1437 decisions a day, on a slow day, and many are wrong. Oops.

My lawyer neighbor, who clears about $200,000 a year downtown (not including five-figure bonus), says she makes two or three big decisions a day. I make that many walking from the school office to my classroom in the morning.

Humbled? We're there. Thanks.


I have my education (to my satisfaction) but do not practice, due to peculiar rituals within the field. An association, any association, can confuse self-interest with public interest. Arguing on that very distinction is my forte. My challenge is to out-public-interest an organization that owes its’ existence to the claim that it serves the “public interest.” Let's talk humble pie and public service, for free. Whatever wisdom may or may not come from my words my credibility is uniquely untainted by financial self-interest. I can take on the biggest dogs in town precisely because I have nothing left to lose, nor do I have anything that anyone can threaten other than my liberty to travel freely. My opportunity cost, lost opportunity cost, is roughly that of your neighbor’s income.

Check out pdxape.us and see if there is a set of younger teachers that are not being fairly represented. That should provide a useful apples-to-apples comparison to isolate out notions of teachers versus everyone else. Would you take a vigilant stance for the benefit of the younger teachers, who must surely make as many important decisions as yourself?

Your reference to the lawyer neighbor proves only that the self interest notions of an educated class can become quite confused with achieving public interest goals. A worker in a cannery that picks out rotten berries or other debris makes even more decisions than you, a couple screw-ups and they could lose their job, and place their immediate family in peril of homelessness. I am not going to match that family’s stake as lesser than yours merely because they might have less education. One set of decision makers might make decisions that affect “others” more significantly than another set of decision makers, but that itself does not equate to a justification for more money. Lest the President would likely be the richest person in America, regardless of education or wisdom.

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