Stand up, walk out: how to deal with Trumpism

by Steve, May 24th, 2016

When I heard that students at Forest Grove High School walked out last week to protest a racist, Trumpist banner (“Build a Wall”) that was briefly hung in their halls, and that other suburban high schools joined the protest with their own walkouts, I was thrilled.

This is what democracy looks like. My daughter, who attends a high school that is 28% Hispanic, reported that teachers and administrators were generally supportive of students leaving class. I told my kids, if something like this is going on, and you feel strongly about it, get up and walk out no matter what the teachers say. You don’t ask permission to stand up for human rights.

The next day, there were more protests across the metro area, and the local middle school my son attends, which is 20% Hispanic, had some kind of preemptive “protest” led by the (white) administration. An email from the principal described it:

We did have a student walk-out on Friday, the students who participated listened to administrative direction, and were thoughtful and considerate of multiple different viewpoints. The students were allowed to walk around the property, and not leave campus. The students then entered the cafeteria to participate in a conversation about the proper way to use voice, work within a system, and be an active citizen in the democratic process.

(Emphasis mine.)

Bad grammar aside, this was not a walk-out. And “the proper way to use voice” is offensive bullshit. No oppressive system ever ended because oppressed people politely asked it to stop. There was an organic, spontaneous, metro-wide response to a direct, racist threat against a minority group that makes up a significant portion of my kids’ generation. And my son’s principal’s message is don’t break the rules.

My message to my kids: we, as privileged white people, have an obligation to stand up for and with our Hispanic friends and neighbors when they are faced with this kind of thing. We cannot allow Trumpism to stand unchallenged. And sometimes that means breaking the rules. Grownups have allowed Trumpism to get this far, and Portland’s suburban youth are standing up and walking out in response.

When high school students showed up at the middle school “protest,” somebody (ahem) called the cops. Again, from the middle school principal:

We did have roughly 50 students from another school attempt to gather our students and have them march off campus. None of our students participated and remained in class. The Beaverton Police Department called a lockout for roughly five minutes as the other school students were marching toward [a nearby elementary school], and when one of our schools goes into lock out, the other does, as we are so close. There was never any harm or danger targeted towards [redacted] Middle School or [nearby] Elementary School.

So the message is clear: it’s okay to “protest,” as long as you follow the rules. (Or, put another way: It’s not okay to protest.) According to my son, the principal was “really mad” when some students attempted to join the high school students and march off campus. Also according to my son, actually, we’re all immigrants.

The middle school “protest” debacle notwithstanding, seeing a spontaneous, widespread, multi-day protest erupt gives me hope for our future.

Check the #StandUpFG hash tag on Twitter.

Wait, listen carefully….

by Steve, February 6th, 2015

That’s the sound of Oregon’s Democratic Party faithful discussing the stench of corruption oozing out of Mahonia Hall.

It’s looking more and more like Oregon’s fourth-term governor John Kitzhaber has been up to his neck in his fiance Cylvia Hayes’s influence peddling, and the political hacks and bottom feeders at Blue Oregon have apparently circled the wagons.

Here’s the thing about being a one-party state… I mean… Ah fuck it, didn’t you guys read Animal Farm?

The Democratic Party in this state is a disgrace. A patronage machine that’s done nothing to reform a revenue system devastated by fleeting anti-tax, libertarian fringe in the 90s, and apparently more interested in holding power than funding schools. Sure they’re nominally pro-labor, but that’s all about the money at the end of the day. What does the Democratic Party of Oregon offer working families besides not being Republicans? Not a hell of a lot.

I argue that we need a moderate, viable GOP in this state just to keep the Democratic Party honest and at least nominally progressive. As it stands we have an allegedly corrupt governor and decades of Democratic control of state government with no progress on revenue reform. If state-level Democrats aren’t willing to take a stand for education funding, what good are they?

In other words, what’s the use of a Blue Oregon if we’re all just being played?

Update 2/9/2015:

Kitzhaber has asked his buddy Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon’s attorney general, to investigate. Pulitzer winner Nigel Jaquiss reports in Willamette Week that this might just be a move to delay releasing documents to the press. And of course Willamette Week is owned in part by…. wait for it…. Ellen Rosenblum’s husband Richard Meeker.

Jesus, way to make us look like a fetid little backwater, guys.

Hey Portland Public Schools!

by Steve, January 27th, 2013

schoolsHey PPS: You don’t “balance enrollment” by closing more schools in poor neighborhoods.

How about you start by sending kids to school in their neighborhood? Fucking duh.

It’s the transfer policy, stupid.

I started telling you this five years ago. Did you listen? Board member Ruth Adkins pretended to. In August 2007 she said the board was taking a comprehensive look at the adverse affects of the transfer policy. “Stay tuned!” she said.

Five years later, from outside the district, I’m still tuned in enough to see they haven’t deviated one iota from the Vicki Philips/Bill Gates/Eli Broad model of shafting poor and working class neighborhoods for the benefit of the “better” parts of town. Adkins has had the opportunity to lead, but has shown no inclination.

We know Pam Knowles, Bobbi Regan and Trudy Sargent will never willingly give back a red cent of the funding they’ve stolen from poor kids, but why hasn’t Adkins joined forces with Martin Gonzalez, Matt Morton and Greg Belisle to challenge this elitist, classist status quo? Adkins was one of the most vocal members of the Neighborhood Schools Alliance, the group that rose up in response to exactly this kind of school-closure-in-poor-neighborhoods bullshit. If ever there were a moment for her to show what she’s made of, that moment in now.

But instead it looks like Animal Farm, Portlandia Edition.

Never have I been so glad to have moved my family out of that racist motherfucking city and school district. But there are a whole lot of poor kids who don’t have that option. When I shut down PPS Equity I said “Itís time for…direct action. Itís time to get off the blogs and take to the streets.” That was 2010. Looks like it’s high time to get up in the school board’s face on this shit.

Portland’s “arts tax” smells fishy

by Steve, October 22nd, 2012

electionOn the ballot in Portland is measure 26-146, which supporters say would “restore arts education to Portland schools.” Hey, great idea (and full disclaimer, I don’t vote in Portland, but I’d probably vote for it if I did), but there are some significant questions to consider with this $35 head tax.

  • Why can’t Portland schools fund universal access to K-12 music education like Beaverton schools do (with the exact same funding per student from the state), and why should the city bail PPS out (again)?
  • Why does only a little over half of the money go to schools with the rest going to RACC’s friends?
  • Why a regressive (and possibly illegal) head tax to the city instead of an operating levy to the district?
  • Why does it spread equal resources to rich and poor schools instead of focusing on the schools that need it the most?

The answer to the first question is tightly linked to the last question. Portland Public Schools has for years shifted funding out of its poorest neighborhoods to its wealthiest neighborhoods. The result is wealthy, white students have largely maintained arts education while non-white, poverty-affected student have lost it. This is the direct result of attendance policies implemented over the years by the school board. They should be held to account for it.

The PPS school board should be ashamed that this flawed measure is even on the ballot. It shows their total lack of ability to run their district in an efficient and fair manner. Yes, the state does not provide enough funding, and that should be dealt with. But this is not the way to do it.

Why Beaverton should support BSD

by Steve, May 16th, 2012

schoolsWith the independent Beaverton School District facing cuts of 344 teachers and five school days, budget committee member Susan Greenberg suggested asking the City of Beaverton to help out.

It’s a tough time to be asking for money from anybody, but here’s why Beaverton should say yes.

Beaverton’s recently approved urban renewal district will siphon $150 million (plus interest) of property tax revenue away from schools, county services, parks and public safety. About 40% of that –$60 million — would otherwise go to education, but will instead go to benefit businesses in the downtown core of Beaverton.

(Through a complex quirk in Oregon’s broken school funding system, property tax revenue collected on behalf of local school districts is remitted to the state’s central education fund, then doled back to local districts on a per-student basis. This was the logic the school district used when approving the UR district; most of the revenue loss is spread out across the entire state. But this doesn’t change the fact that the city of Beaverton is diverting some $60 million of Oregon education money for the benefit of a small number of business owners.)

The city of Portland has used and abused urban renewal extensively over many years, but they have also helped out the school districts in Portland from time to time. Most recently, Portland struck a deal to pump some $5 million into Portland Public Schools to stave off cuts there.

Beaverton School District is facing much deeper cuts than Portland because they’ve used reserves to stave them off longer. Obviously the city of Beaverton isn’t going to pony up $37 million. But they could at least offer something — anything — to help lessen the blow to our children. Beaverton schools are, after all, the main reason families move to Beaverton (and not, say, Portland proper, or Gresham). They’re not moving here for the “downtown core,” I can assure you of that, and a $150 million facelift there isn’t going to change that.

So how about it, Denny Doyle and crew? A little help?

History Lesson

by Steve, April 25th, 2012

schoolsI’ve maintained a two-year public silence on Portland Public Schools, after devoting countless hours to speaking out and finally deciding to get my kids out of harm’s way. Not everybody has that option, of course, which is why recent events cause me such grief.

The school board’s decision to close two North Portland schools is deja vu all over again. Here’s a little history lesson for the board members who evidently don’t know — or don’t give a shit. (Dates are approximate; I don’t feel like looking them up. Feel free to leave corrections in comments.)

  • 1982: Harriet Tubman Middle School founded as part of a comprehensive desegregation plan pushed by the Black United Front. Middle schools, you see, draw from a wider population area than K-8s, reduce segregation, and allow for more curriculum with less money. Who knew it could be so easy?
  • 1990: Oregon voters pass Measure 5. Universal art, music and PE are cut in PPS. Schools with adequate enrollment and fundraising (i.e. rich schools) are able to maintain some of these “enrichments.”
  • 1996: Oregon voters pass Measure 47, further limiting school funding.
  • 1997: Oregon voters pass Measure 50, reiterating their desire to continue choking off school funding.
  • Early 2000s: A student transfer lottery is instituted. Superintendent Vicki Phillips embraces a free market enrollment policy and encourages schools to compete with one another for enrollment. As Portland’s black neighborhoods gentrify and get whiter, their schools are drained of enrollment and funding as white students transfer out. Phillips also decides to close most middle schools in poor neighborhoods, and revert to the K-8 model that was done away with by the 1982 desegregation plan (and which costs more while delivering less). Tubman middle school is closed, and the Jefferson cluster is left with no middle school. Facing budget cuts, the Phillips administration closes many schools, especially in poor and minority neighborhoods, and the Neighborhood Schools Alliance rises up to oppose her. Future school board member Ruth Adkins emerges as a strong voice in defense of neighborhood schools. Jefferson, Madison, Roosevelt and Marshall High Schools are sliced up into rigidly divided “small schools” pushed by corporate philanthropists (notably the Gates foundation).
  • 2007: As part of the Jefferson re-re-design into Gates “small schools,” Harriet Tubman is re-opened as the all-girls Young Women’s Leadership Academy.
  • Late 2000s: Vicki Phillips departs for a job with Gates and is replaced by Carole Smith. It’s become painfully obvious that the conversion from middle schools to K-8s has suffered a catastrophic lack of planning. Schools like Humboldt, already hurting for enrollment, are unable to offer anything resembling a comprehensive middle grade program. The district’s response: these schools must increase enrollment. But who wants to send their kid to a school that offers so much less than other schools? The district ignores the writing on the wall and refuses to re-examine its ill-fated decision to abandon middle schools in poor neighborhoods.
  • 2012: A majority on the school board, including erstwhile neighborhood schools advocate Ruth Adkins, votes to close Humboldt and Tubman due to low enrollment. Converting Tubman back to a comprehensive middle school and Jefferson K-8s back to K-5 is not even considered. Balancing enrollment (e.g. via reform of the transfer policy that drains enrollment from Humboldt) is also not considered. Rebuilding Whitaker Middle School (as was once promised, years ago) is definitely not considered. Apparently the current superintendent and school board are completely ignorant of the 1982 desegregation plan — not to mention completely unwilling to address the inequities wrought by their open transfer enrollment policy — and believe poor and minority students can learn better if we close their neighborhood schools.

This isn’t just about closing a couple more schools in North Portland. This is part and parcel of a continuing history of institutional racism in Portland Public Schools. Humboldt and the Young Women’s Leadership Academy were set up to fail several years ago. There was never a model in place to support a comprehensive middle grade program in K-8 schools, especially those with enrollment drained by the self-reinforcing death spiral of the open enrollment system (the majority of students in Humboldt’s catchment area — 57% — transfer out). And there was never a funding plan for the “small schools” model once the Gates grants ran out; the YWLA is the last one standing.

This week’s board vote was the inevitable outcome of bad leadership decisions over the past decade (ya can’t say we didn’t tell ya so), and official indifference to issues of race and poverty (even as the district makes much of its “equity” and racial sensitivity programs).

I realize it’s none of my damn business now, having moved out of the district two years ago in disgust. Except it’s everybody’s business how we educate our children, and it’s everybody’s responsibility to speak up about injustice when they see it taking place.

And this, my friends, is some serious injustice being dropped on the heads of North Portland’s children.

Starbase Portland: The Big Picture

by Steve, November 20th, 2011

A video I made about Starbase Portland, a partnership of the US Department of Defense and Portland Public Schools aimed at 4th and 5th graders.

YES for Beaverton Schools

by Steve, October 26th, 2011

Just so nobody’s confused (!) I support Beaverton School District’s local option levy on the ballot as measure 34-193.

I’ve written at great length about Oregon’s inadequate and unstable school funding, and urged our old district, Portland Public Schools, to turn to local funding. They renewed their local option levy at a higher rate. Now it’s Beaverton’s turn.

If you are in BSD, please vote yes on 34-193.

For the children.

(And the local, professional, living-wage, full-benefits jobs, and the economic development inherent in funding quality education.)

Vote “NO” on Beaverton’s urban renewal measure (if you can)

by Steve, October 25th, 2011

election08I don’t get to vote on Beaverton’s urban renewal ballot measure, 34-192, which is part of the reason I think it should be defeated.

The City of Beaverton, which comprises only a small part of greater Beaverton, wants to siphon off 30 years worth of incremental tax revenue growth, to the tune of $150 million (plus interest) to pay for transportation projects and unspecified direct investment in commercial real estate development.

To understand why this is wrong, you have to understand the rather complex structure of government in Washington County. We have overlaid tax districts here, which provide many of the basic services you might normally expect from a municipal government. Since a large portion of greater Beaverton is unincorporated, most of these overlaid districts provide services to both Beaverton residents and non-residents alike.

The overlaid tax districts include the Beaverton School District (BSD), Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District (THPRD), and Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue (TVF&R). And of course, there’s Washington County, too, which provides human services, courts, elections, public health, etc.

Since most municipal services are provided by independent government bodies, the City of Beaverton’s services are limited to police, transportation and land use planning.

On a typical tax bill for a piece of property within the City of Beaverton, the city’s portion of the total tax only comes to about 22%. Education, including BSD and Portland Community College, is the biggest chunk, at 40%. The county takes 16%, TVF&R 10% and THPRD 9%.

So when the City of Beaverton proposes an urban renewal district — which, by the way, would encompass fully eight percent of all land within Beaverton city limits — diverting $150 million from future revenue increases, what they’re talking about is taking money from education ($60 million), from the county ($24 million), from fire and rescue ($15 million) and from parks ($13.5 million). Of that $150 million, only $33 million would otherwise go to the City of Beaverton without the urban renewal area.

Now, I realize they’ve somehow gotten buy-in from BSD, THPRD and TVF&R, and all these agencies have endorsed the ballot measure. But it still doesn’t wash for me.

Beaverton officials are more than happy to lie about urban renewal and its impact on overlaid tax districts. In the July/August 2011 Your City newsletter (PDF), City Council member Ian King does some disingenuous hand waving about the diversion of funds from schools.

Will Urban Renewal take money away from Beaverton schools?

The short answer to this is also: No. Schools are funded by income taxes from the State School Fund and not local school funds.

Anybody who can read their property tax bill knows this is pure bullshit. BSD, THPRD and TVF&R have all acknowledged this will cost them money (how they were convinced to hold their noses and support this would be a good topic for another day).

Diversion of funds from critical services aside, there are other reasons to argue against this one.

  • Beaverton’s only other URA, in 1972, was used entirely for transportation improvements. In the current proposal, only 48% ($72 million) would go to transportation, and another 4% ($6 million) would go to streetscape and creek improvements. A very troubling 33% ($49.5 million) would go to “Joint Investment Programs,” which involve direct investment in commercial real estate development. If you think Beaverton has the expertise to be successful in commercial real estate development, I invite you to look up the “Beaverton Round.” I rest my case.
  • It’s nice that Beaverton residents get to vote on whether to take funding away from other Washington County residents, but it seems like all affected citizens ought to be able to vote on this. Maybe those of us in unincorporated Washington County should vote on whether to raid the Beaverton Planning Commission’s budget in order to pay for our street lights (yes, I have a line item on my tax bill for street lights).
  • The head of Beaverton’s Urban Redevelopment Agency, which would be in charge of spending the loot, is none other than Don Mazziotti, who had his way with the funds at Portland’s urban renewal agency, PDC. His tenure there was pock-marked with the usual give-aways to big condo developers (like Homer Williams), as well as questionable use of the company credit card (over three years, he billed PDC nearly $13,000 for meals — nice work if you can get it).

And just to keep the UR cheerleaders at bay, yes I do understand how tax increment financing works.

Here’s the nutshell, for those who aren’t as nerdy as me: Oregon law allows cities to declare an area “blighted” (which is rather loosely defined), and create an urban renewal area. The city then sells municipal bonds and uses the proceeds to make infrastructure improvements which (ideally) spur private development, which (hopefully) causes the assessed value of property to rise. For the sake of the general property tax, assessments within the blighted area are frozen at the levels they start with, and revenues from taxes on incremental increases in property value pay off the bonds issued for the infrastructure improvements. (This is why it’s called tax increment financing.)

Once the bonds are paid off, the additional valuation of the property reverts to the general assessment, which, presumably, would then be higher than if urban renewal had never happened, and everybody’s happy.

This sounds great, but it’s based on at least one glaring, faulty assumption: that without the URA, property tax assessments would fall or stay flat. Given that assessments in Oregon typically lag significantly behind real property values (due largely to 1997′s Measure 47, which limited assessment increases to 3% per year), it is virtually inconceivable that over 30 years the net assessment within any significant part of town would stay level or drop.

Adding to this flaw is the fact that cities typically draw URAs to include properties that can’t be considered blighted by any stretch of the imagination, and that URAs have typically come to include shady development subsidies (including direct investment), and you’ve got a recipe for diverting large volumes of tax revenue from vital services and into the pockets of private real estate magnates.

Beaverton’s proposal doesn’t look anywhere close to as shady as a typical URA in Portland, where PDC acts more like an insular commercial real estate developer than a fully-accountable public agency. But this still looks like a bad deal for Beaverton and the rest of Washington County.

Please vote “No” on 34-192. If you can.

Some answers to questions you may have

by Steve, August 7th, 2011

Looking at the server logs, I see you have some questions… and I got answers!

Is Portland passive aggressive?

Why yes, it is.

What do you love about Portland?

Many things.

Do you have any cartoons about gay marriage?

I linked to a bunch of cartoons back in 2007, when Oregon passed its domestic partner law. (This has been a long-standing prime driver of traffic to this site, believe it or not.)

Are there hockey stores in Portland?

Northwest Skate Authority has a pro shop at Sherwood Ice Arena and one at the Winterhawks Skating Center. Decent selection (for a small shop), good prices and great service.

Are there hockey bars in Portland?

Claudia’s Sports Pub is rumored to be a decent place to catch a game. I’ve never been there, though.

Is Portland mayoral candidate Eileen Brady anti-union?

I don’t know, but her hubby sure was back in the 90s. And so far, Portland’s credulous scrivener corps hasn’t bothered to ask her about it much.

Are employees at Brady’s New Seasons stores union?

Nope.

Did Paul Newman do his own skating in Slapshot?

Yes he did, at least according to the commentary by the Hansen brothers on the DVD.

Where are good seats at Portland’s Memorial Coliseum?

I’ve always liked section 69, row H for hockey. It’s second tier, center ice. I’ve also enjoyed sitting in the Hosers’ section in the end above the goal where the Hawks shoot twice. But the place has great sight lines all around.

Is Oregonian reporter Bryan Denson a stupid fucking credulous hack?

Dan Savage sure thinks so, and I couldn’t resist putting a link to his criticism on the front page of the Oregonian Web site. (I don’t see any queries in the logs like “Is the Oregonian a useless dinosaur of an establishment rag that can’t figure out how to operate in the new media world?” but the answer is, of course, an emphatic “Yes!!”)

And finally, the number one search that brings people to this site lately:

Do you have a Portland ZIP code map?

Well, sort of. I’ve got one I scanned out of a phone book several years back, then color coded to show the shameful maldistribution of educational investment in Portland. You’ll have better luck finding a ZIP at the US Postal Service site. Funny that this post still brings visitors, as it was the post that launched my brief but intense career as a pundit, citizen journalist, and community activist in Portland Public Schools.