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Avoid a boondoggle, get experts

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Boondoggle? That’s the question this writer asked himself at learning about a soon-to-be-launched 13-member, special Oregon legislative committee to tour the state after the 2018 legislative session.  Around Oregon they plan to hear from multiple groups of parents, students, teachers, administrators school board members and business leaders, exploring best practices used in Oregon’s “most successful schools” and thereby address gaps that limit student success at other schools. The touring group will meet monthly and plan to finish its work by January, 2019, or before the convening of the legislature next year.

Senate President Peter Courtney says Oregonians “need to educate the state’s children the best we possibly can” and that means state leaders need to understand what works and what does not work in our schools.  Further, from Courtney, “we need to connect state priorities and funding to local spending.”

Not only will this tour group of legislators look into the 1-in-4 who fail to graduate from high school in Oregon.  They will also examine early childhood education, fundamental costs and instructional time relative to what community members believe are today’s best strategies for a successful education. We’re told they recognize how important an education is in determining future social service needs with implications for Medicare, tax revenue and incarceration numbers.

The answer to the boondoggle question should be self-evident.  Yes, this is another boondoggle because these thirteen legislators and colleagues get little done now, when they have the convenience of meeting in one place for several weeks every year. They get little done because each one almost always sides in all matters with his and her political party affiliation which adds up to partisanship, factionalism and ideologue.  Tradition and practice forecast that the Democrats on tour will listen attentively to the interests of teachers and labor unions while the Republicans only have ears for business and management concerns.

Of course, there are best examples throughout the state but they are most often “best” in relative terms and will be argued to death on behalf of those with a vested interest in keeping their jobs and staying alive where they live and work. Further, anyone who thinks any district in eastern Oregon or on the Oregon coast can compete with a certain district immediately west of Portland or in Lake Oswego should seek sobriety before advertising Oregon as a level playing field.

Leaders who believe they can march out into the hinterlands a few times and return to the Capitol with a sure-fire plan to do anything that must cost a whole lot more money to achieve success—which is what’s really needed where so many of the state’s youth receive an inferior education due to the absence of modern-day technology, up-to-date facilities, and  21st century equipment—live in a pigs-can-fly world. Incidentally, these same leaders and their predecessors have had years to do what was needed and have chosen to argue to asinity.

The Oregon Legislature cannot even get the businesses of this state (those that reap huge profits in the millions upon millions of dollars every year) to pay their fair share in taxes while Democrats  and Republicans, for fear of losing their campaign bucks, protect big business here.  Then there’s that sizable collection of our legislators, steered by the state’s special interests, wealthy families and corporate executives, that can only scream, PERS is the problem. That problem will be solved when cats go willingly to bathe, unless legislators come up with a new tax law that requires every entity to share appropriately in the costs of government.

Boondoggle avoidance: Vet carefully and hire a proven evaluation team—beyond the influence of special interests—to deliver accurate, appropriately comprehensive results and findings. Bring the findings and recommendations to the Oregon Legislature and determine its acceptability and salability, along with accuracy in cost, to a majority of Oregonians.  Select a group of ten Oregon legislators to take the reformation proposal out for show and tell. Let Oregon’s citizens vote on it by a special ballot election. If “yes,” hire the best and brightest Oregon educators to see to it that it is implemented with care and consideration for the difficulties associated with dramatic overhaul.   See improvements in Oregon’s public education at all levels and secondary school graduation rates.

(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)