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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Portland school bond "accountability" would be funny

A reader who follows Portland politics, and is as bemused by it all as we are, writes:

It's silly season and things just keep getting sillier.

The latest is the "Citizen Accountability Committee" that Portland Public Schools is proposing to help grease the construction bond along with voters. The Oregonian story makes it sound OK, but read the committee's charter (here) and let the hilarity begin.

The introductory memo describes the committee as "a mix of individuals with a good reputation in the community for fairness and transparency and people with a combination of experience in building design; construction; construction financing; public contracting, budgeting and/or auditing."

The memo makes it seem like PPS is faced with an either/or choice of people with reputation for fairness and transparency, and people who know what they're doing. The draft charter itself says that the people who know what they are doing are supposed to comprise the majority of the committee. This is not a joke.

It seems a relatively toothless group. While they have a huge list of things they are to review, they have an equally large list of things they cannot review.

Their only output is "advice to the Board." I think we know what the Board will do with that advice: "Just put it up there on the shelf, next to the audits."

Oh, and it gets worse... The committee's charge is to "to monitor the planning and progress of the bond program relative to voter‐approved work scope, schedule and budget objectives."

Sounds good so far. But go down lower on the page and you'll see that they are not instructed to "provide advice to the Board" about scope, schedule, or budget.

Indeed, go a little further along and you'll see that the committee is forbidden from weighing in on key topics, including:

- Change orders (which is where most construction budgets are busted),

- Construction plans or schedules, or

- Selection of any contractors (seems odd that they cannot say, "We think the XYZ company is engaging in malfeasance.").

Here's the kicker: The committee cannot look into or "provide advice to the Board" on: "Activities, roles or responsibilities that have been designated by the Superintendent or her designee to staff or consultants, or any policy‐making responsibilities."

That seems like a pretty big loophole exempting just about any action taken by district staff. Even consultants hired by the district are exempt from scrutiny by the committee.

But what about all the jobs, reader? Sing along with me (to the tune of Monty Python's "Spam"): "Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs..." And it's for the children! Why do you hate children so much?

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