March 4th, 2008 | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Schools

Only Four out of Seven PPS Board Members Have a Heart and a Brain

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Portland Public Schools Board of Education last night approved a new contract with SEIU Local 503, the union representing the district's custodians and food-service workers, but not before three members of the board engaged in some public spanking—of the union members and the state legislators who supported their contract negotiations.

Board Member Trudy Sargent, who is related to a cyberbully, went first and offered a disclaimer, noting that what she was about to say would not be "very popular." She then went on to describe how the salaries outlined in the new agreement were too high and how she would prefer to employ custodians who earn about $10 an hour. (A salary that would put their annual wage for full-time work at $20,000 if they were employed year-round.) "I really feel like the district has left money on the table here," Sargent says. "The district will spend more money for less clean schools."

Board Member Sonja Henning, once the president of the WNBA Player's Association union, said the agreement benefited adults. "I don't feel it is in the best interest of students," she said.

Then Bobbie Regan, the third board member to vote against the agreement (who said in October that the district's first proposal to drastically cut custodians' salaries was just an opening offer), chimed in. She called the union's campaign to focus the public's attention on ensuring that Portland had safe and healthy schools "highly misleading." She said the school district could pay its custodians vastly lower salaries and still have safe and healthy schools. She then had a message for state lawmakers. Holding a letter to the board signed by 14 of them, Regan appeared upset. For a moment there, the words leaving her mouth had to compete with the disdain for the legislators seemingly clogging her throat. "It wasn't about safe and healthy schools," she said.

Since three out of four of PPS's board members are very interested in saving the school district money, according to their public statements last night, here's a one-stop shopping center of additional options:

Increase oversight of the district's contracting practices, as suggested by a 2005 Multnomah County audit, lest anyone engage in Roguish behavior.

Re-negotiate lawyers' fees, which clearly benefit adults. Does that advantage come at the expense of teaching and learning? Following Henning's logic, it does.

• Stick with the plan and don't hire a new communications director.

Don't let administrators take trips to Washington, D.C., on the taxpayers' dime.

• Ditch the effort to create a textbook department at an annual cost of $500,000, and don't pick the textbooks you want teachers to use before you try to negotiate prices with the publisher. Hint: This second item drives up the cost.

• Finally, don't use $3,400 in grant money to buy insipid books and a penguin costume to teach adults a lesson about "leadership."
 
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