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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

You go, Super Vicki

When Portland schools chief "Super Vicki" Phillips fired human resources head Steve Goldschmidt (the teenie-boppin'-ex-guv's brother) earlier this year, the Official Goldschmidt Newspaper did a hatchet piece on her lack of sensitivity to Portlanders' need for process. It wasn't as bad as the more recent piece, where they asked Fireman Randy when he stopped beating his ex-wife, but it was hardly an unbiased news story, as it purported to be.

Today's coverage of the arbitator's award in Goldschmidt's case against the school district is right up there in the lack of objectivity department. First off, it's front page banner headline news. And then there's the lead editorial clucking the O's dry, withered editorial tongue and telling Super Vicki, "We told you so!"

According to the O, firing Goldschmidt and refusing to pay him his severance pay was a "gamble" -- and it's cost the district an extra $250,000 for losing, since the arbitrator decided that what Super Vicki did was actually actionable defamation. Bad, bad Super Vicki, you didn't know what you were doing.

When one of the Old Boys of Portland get cleared of wrongdoing, you can bet on The Oregonian being right there to cover it. When they do wrong, though, better look for the story elsewhere.

I will leave to others to discuss whether the $250,000 was money well spent. Sometimes you have to pay to do the right thing.

But to me, still a Super Vicki fan, here's what happened: Vicki decided that Goldschmidt was history. At that point, she could either pay him his cushy severance or not. If she paid it to him, the school district's many critics would jump up and down and shout: "Look! Look at the waste of money!" And it might forever appear that this was just another golden parachute that the district was gladly paying. So she decided not to pay it voluntarily, sending the clear message that she was in fact melting the wicked witch, and this was the messy outcome.

The craziest part of the whole deal? The arbitrator is married to a second cousin of those fun-loving Goldschmidt boys. Only in Portland.

Comments (25)

I'm a huge supporter of public schools, but wtf is up with the huge severance packages they pay these people? I suppose the reasoning is that a large severance package is an expected part of the benefits these days, and that w/o them they'd lose some good hires. This argument, though, is undercut by the fact that THEY KEEP FIRING these people. Argh.

The Goldschmidt saga. A tale of two Vicki's. Walker and Phillips. Hurrah for both of them!

An absolutely disheartening and -- from the perspective of this usually cheerful taxpayer -- incomprehensible action by the "arbitrator" in this instance. Certainly, this is not capital-J justice in any big-picture sense. Goldschmidt's reputation tarnished? If so, it's the self-inflicted result of his avarice.

Goldschmidt was hired by Ben Canada, of golden parachute fame - and by a different school board.

The blame for this lies with the past administration, not the present one.

Because I don't know the situation well enough, I'll stay Switzerland-neutral on the fairness of the arbitrator in the Goldschmidt case. In general, hwoever, the rapid growth of arbitration has created serious potential for abuse, especially in the "big company versus little guy" situation. Perhaps WW, P-Trib, or El "O" Grande could do a multi-part exploration of these issues ...

I've been an arbitator. Having seen how the system "works," though, I stopped doing it.

Jack, if you ever care to expand on that, that'd be a blog post I'd be interested in reading.

Vicki rolled the dice and lost. I actually admire her for firing the guy and making him go through due process.

Goldschmidt's severance package was obscene. I remember when it was signed - we got a copy of it and I spent a few days hammering on it on my radio show. My co-host Marc Abrams, as I recall, voted against it. Maybe just "garbage time" for him.

When Vicki fired him, I wondered if Goldschmidt would have the nerve to sue for $300K from a financially strapped district. I don't know why I wondered. He is a Goldschmidt, after all. There is no shame in Goldschmidt.

If Vicki is to be criticised at all it is for not assembling much of a "gross neglect of duty" case. Whatever case she did put together was obviously not compelling to the arbitrator.

Of course if the arbitrator is Goldschmidt's second cousin, it would have to be a good case indeed!

Her roll of the dice cost the district another quarter million above the obscene severance package. I'm sure she is steamed.

Although I admire her guts, she is about to make the same mistake her predecessors made with regards to the "strategic plan" process she just announced.

I've written about this farce on my blog so you can go there if you are interested.

The Double Dub has the full text of the arbitator's ruling here. Contrary to rumor, it does not refer to the claimant as "my wife's second cousin."

Seems like the PPS legal team is the Washington Generals of the Portland legal community.

They haven't won yet.

p.s. Goldy did millions of dollars in damage to this city's schools, so $600,000 (paid from an insurance fund for stupidity) is small potatoes to bury him.

The "insurance fund" is much more accurately described as a chunk of the district's *self-insurance reserves*. Not an insignificant difference.

It seems the Oregonian (conveniently)forgot that the real villain here is Goldschmidt. He seems to think the rules of corporate boardroom America apply in the school district. I hope he sleeps better at night with the kids' money under his pillow...

My two favorite parts of The O's article:

"In November 2004, Phillips and former school board co-chairwoman Julia Brim-Edwards asked Goldschmidt to renegotiate his contract to comply with the proposed guidelines. He didn't respond."

"The arbitrator rejected Phillips' reasoning, citing a positive evaluation and a $14,500 performance bonus Goldschmidt received two months before he was fired. Former Superintendent Jim Scherzinger conducted the evaluation.

"By no stretch of even the most fertile imagination can one find any hint that Mr. Scherzinger was concerned that (Goldschmidt) was neglecting his duties in this area, let alone grossly neglecting them," Barker wrote."

So they send a letter asking to renegotiate, and he ignores it, no harm no foul.

Plus a positive evaluation and a performance bonus two months before termination, nice.

Makes you wonder?!?

$250,000 for entertainment value?

Perhaps we should make the Human Resource director's position an elected one if it is so political.

It seems that the district must build-in a promise to PAT that exceeds the budgetary resources by a few million so as to then justify pleading to the legislature that the PPS cannot afford to keep schools open. Sheesh.

Again, the Goldschmidt show distracts from addressing real policy questions. We are so easily distracted -- but distracted from what?

We seem to treat tax money as if it were like tickets to the next Masquerade Ball. One must fight to get on the guest list and then fight not to get removed; and best of all to get control of the guest list itself.

I guess that the show is the public policy today.

Some would say that the contract with the Portland Association of Teachers is obscene, bad for kids,and not in the public's interest. Would it be okay if Vicki and the school board decided to break the PAT contract and then blame it on the old board?

There is no excuse for defamation and the actions she took that cost the district $$$. If Phillips were in the private sector she would have been escorted out of her office and out the door by the end of the day.

Okay, any bets on what newly-unemployed Goldy will do with the quarter-million windfall?

Hair transplant?

Tummy tuck?

A trip to SUPER HOT Thailand with his bro (sans wives?)

Or, will he give it ALL to the Portland Public Schools Foundation?


If the PAT contract is "bad for kids" how can the district fix it? Collective bargaining with PPS teachers on expiring contracts has become a joke since 1992 when I began following the process closely. The district and the teachers go through the motions in a few all-day sessions prior to contract expiration. The new school year begins without a contract. In the Winter the teachers start threatening or taking strike votes. City and county politicians step into the "crisis" to provide temporary funding for a wage and benefit fix and the district is "saved". Meanwhile costly and inflexible hiring, reassigning and other workplace rules stay in the PAT contract.

As long as the PAT has more incentive to delay and limit the collective bargaining process, PPS is going to continue as difficult to reform and as a budgetary basket case.

I actually thought the O's editorial was not so bad. It seemed to comment on the naivete of the former school board members who accepted Goldschmidt's cushy contract as well as the machine's ability to impress (fool) people. (Goldschmidt called 27 witnesses to Vicki's 15). IMO,the arbitration system-and the entire court system in this state tends to suck dead bass-and has had that tendency since before Oregon Statehood. A reporter who would get onto that would deserve every public service award there is.

Word is that the district couldn't find more witnesses to testify the case Phillips had was so bad. Those that they brought were pretty bad. A couple of fired employees and Wynde.

Read the arbitration. Didn't matter what the termination standard was, Phillips didn't have the evidence. Now her actions might consitute gross neglect of duty.

Wouldn't have mattered what his contract was, he would have gotten the defamation award. If Phillips can't figure out basic personnel management then maybe she needs to find something else today. Maybe public relations?

I loved the editorial's comment: "Goldschmidt's job contract is a spectacular relic from 2001, a time when the district's leadership and policies were in disarray. The district had no clear standards for administrator contracts. The school board was painfully naive."

Any guess which candidate for governor was on the school board then.

Does anyone remember that Neil Goldschmidt's wife, Diana Snowden Goldschmidt, was the Interim Superintendent of Portland Public Schools when Ben Canada was hired? Curiously and shortly thereafter, Ben Canada hired Steve Goldschmidt and approved the extraordinarily lucrative severance package Steve negotiated. I believe it is in the best interest of all Portland Pubic School District taxpayers that the Portland Public School District representative responsible for approving the use of the arbitrator in the Steve Goldschmidt v. Portland Public School District arbitration who is married to Neil and Steve Goldschmidt's second cousin be publicly identified and held accountable for not identifying the potential conflict of interest.

It's amazing to me how far people will go to try and come up with some rationale rather than Phillips is a vindictive, public relations hound superintendent who is leading board members around with a nose ring.

Get to anyone inside the school district and you will know that what was crumbling before Phillip's arrival is now disintegrating. Staff are flocking out of the district and applying everywhere then can. If a vote was take today of principals, it would be "no confidence" in her and her side-kicks from Pennsylvania.

This isn't some "relevation" or new behavior about Phillips. Same issues in Lancaster. Prediction is that she will spend every dime Scherzinger saved and then skip town by April.

I think this school board and this community is going to get stuck holding the bag from the Phillips' PR machine. Why not just admit you screwed up, fire her, and move on.

Hi Jack Roberts. I'll play NAME THAT PUB.

For $500, who was the Republican lawyer who gave away the store (millions in no-cut sweetheart contracts, including Steve Goldschmidt's) while on the Portland Public Schools Board in 2001?

Answer: Ron Saxton, who now has the nerve to want to be governor!

Thank you, thank you very much!

Ron Saxton was not the only member of the PPS board in 2001. There was also a district administration that included "Generous" Ben Canada and his finance director Jim Scherzinger. Long after Saxton left the PPS board; in anticipation of a new superintendent's hiring, Scherzinger tried to slip severance packages for himself and other top administrators past the PPS board. New board member Julia Brim Edwards shot down that attempt.


I only hope you are wrong. Why can't they just fire Phillips? Because firing her only a year into her term, after the previous interim just served a year, after the previous superintendent had to be booted out...

well let's just say that for many parents (counting me), the PPS is hanging by a thread. One more serious cut, and the fledgling middle class flight will turn into a tsunami.

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