Solidarity With the DCU—Call, E-mail or Write Your School Board Today

by Steve, July 9th, 2007

So I went to the Portland Public Schools board meeting tonight, and sat through such things as interim superintendent Ed Schmitt singing praises of all the corporate advertising swag Nike is unloading on our kindergarteners, and human resources big dog Richard Clarke sprinkling his PowerPoint presentation with big-dog words like “systematize”, “preliminarily”, “dialoguing” and “evaluative”. It was Ruth Adkins’ first board meeting, so that was exciting, but the most interesting thing came at the end of the meeting, during the public comment session.

Teacher contract negotiations always get a lot of press, but not so for the skilled blue-collar tradesmen and craftsmen that literally keep our schools running. A dozen members of the District Council of Unions—steam fitters, carpenters, electricians and plumbers—came to plead their case to the board. They spoke movingly about their plight, a plight you will not read about in the Oregonian, the Tribune, the Willamette Week or the Mercury.

Having worked without a contract for over three years, these guys have reached an impasse with the district, which is refusing even a cost of living raise. That’s an effective pay cut over those three years. Final offers were exchanged and rejected on both sides, and a cooling-off period expired in early June.

It’s clear from their testimony that they like their jobs (even though staffing has been cut so severely that the district no longer does preventive maintenance and they’ve basically been doing nothing but emergency repairs for years), and they don’t want to go on strike. But they’re out of options, hence the direct appeal to the school board. Hopefully the board has learned from the debacle of outsourcing custodians, and will lean on their labor relations team to throw these highly-trained, dedicated guys a bone.

They actually seemed to have some support on the board, and I would encourage everybody who gives a rip about working people and the often appalling physical condition of our schools to contact the members of the school board and encourage them to deal with the DCU, offer a stinkin’ cost of living raise, and avert a strike. Considering all the money the district blew buying off Steve Goldschmidt, I don’t think this is too much to ask.

Contact information for the board can be found here.

Renee Mitchell on Van Brunt: We Love You Already! (Shut Up Terry!)

by Steve, July 9th, 2007

Renee Mitchell’s column in thee O today bubbles over with enthusiasm for new Portland Schools Foundation executive director Connie Van Brunt.

Mitchell mentions that “blogger Terry Olson began an online debate about whether Van Brunt—described as a ‘high powered charter school proponent’—was the right fit,” and reprints Van Brunt’s comment from that blog to the effect that Terry‘s got it all wrong. Mitchell completely fails to check up on what Terry was saying—Van Brunt is a big-time charter schools advocate; she was chief education officer at the Chicago Charter School Foundation—and breezes through the rest of her hagiography of Van Brunt without giving his valid concerns another thought.

This is what irks me about public schools politics in Portland. Everybody wants to talk about personalities; nobody wants to talk about policy. This is very convenient for those with a corporate schools agenda, since they can bring in these smiling faces who spew platitudes about closing the achievement gap and supporting our public schools while peddling policy that hurts students, teachers… and neighborhood public schools. Vicki Phillips got a pass on this for three years, and now we’ve got Renee Mitchell greasing the skids for Van Brunt.

I don’t know if Mitchell is a stooge for this agenda, or if she’s just fooled by the happy talk. But make no mistake, what the Portland Schools Foundation is pushing is not in your interest if you want strong neighborhood public schools in Portland.

Welcome to Portland, Connie.