Monday, October 8, 2012

The School Bond

I was quite bemused by an op-ed in today's Oregonian against the school bond measure.  It is both typical and confused:
When the Big One hits Portland Public Schools, it won't be an earthquake. It will be the realization that a half-billion dollar school bond can't buy a good education in Portland Public Schools.


Because money can't buy parental involvement -- one of the most important influences on every child's education.

That half-billion dollar bond will not be used to hire more and better teachers.

Nor will it add more classroom days. In 2012-13, Portland school students have almost 170 days. The national norm is 180 days.

And the bond will not lengthen the school day.

Instead, school bond supporters have seized on seismic safety. This is an emotional ploy, just as they have resorted to the kind of empty proclamations -- "a great city deserves great schools" -- that is associated with advertising, not education.
Typical in that the authors talk about instructional issues as missing from the bond.  Yes, the bond does not address the day-to-day operations of the schools and yes class size, contact hours and rewarding and promoting effective teachers is important and not part of the bond.

Confused in that these are all recurring budgetary items that are quite distinct than the one time expenditure the bond is proposing.  This bond is not about fixing the recurring budgetary woes of PPS but about addressing infrastructure.  Mashing the two together is misguided and misleading.  And then trowing in parental involvement, which has nothing to do about either, as the lead?  Bizarre.

And to belittle seismic safety as an emotional ploy is alarming and offensive.  If you know anything about PPS buildings and are not absolutely terrified of an earthquake then you are not paying close enough attention.

Here is a typically confused line:
What will the students gain? Upgraded middle-school science labs, some roofs, and disability access, which we thoroughly support. But a half-billion dollars, spent on buildings, cannot be spent on operating costs. The operating levy passed last year will not be enough to save teacher positions next year nor the next three years after.
Ummm...first of how about gaining buildings that will not collapse upon them and crush them to death in the inevitable earthquake.  Second, once again, the levy is not about operating costs - that is a recurring budgetary item that is mainly handled at the state level, this is about infrastructure.

The authors go on to state that PPS did not learn enough from last year's no vote.  I think they did.  My biggest concern last year was the lack of attention to seismic safety which I thought should be the number one priority.  I know, as do the authors of the op-ed that fancy facilities matter little in student achievement, but this has nothing to do with seismic safety. The bond is not about 'fancifying' facilities, but making sure they are minimally structurally sound.

Yes, they should have made a better proposal last year and I am frankly glad it failed, because we finally have a bond measure that addresses the elephant in the room: the threat of a big earthquake and the devastation it will reap on PPS schools.

[Full disclosure: I have two kids who attend a PPS school in one of the most seismically vulnerable buildings.  But I believe that in ten years, when they are out of PPS, I will still feel the same way about the vulnerability of our kids to the big earthquake and support expenditures to rectify the situation.]


Mary Sue said...

Shoot. I have no kids and just bought a house and I'm still voting yes. Leaky, dangerous schools are not awesome.

BJCefola said...

The op-ed would make more sense if they were calling for a bigger operating levy in lieu of the capital bond, but nowhere do they suggest such a thing.

It seems to be a common mistake, conflating the exercise of a veto (which by definition keeps everything the same) with the kind of positive action needed to create change.