Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:
The Oregonian/OregonLive, May 16, on Portland teachers union needing to come to negotiating table for student safety:
Outrage, when channeled in the right ways, can be transformative. So, the silver lining of the gut-wrenching, infuriating and painful investigation detailing how Portland Public Schools failed to protect students from a longtime educator's alleged sexual misconduct may be that the district will have the motivation to fuel a genuine culture shift.
Already, the report examining how the district missed red flags about Mitchell Whitehurst's behavior over his three-decade long career has prompted deep soul-searching by school administrators and board members. In a tearful address last week, director Rita Moore channeled the fury and determination of the community as a whole, declaring that PPS owes "these students and their families not only an apology for our past failures, but also unshakeable commitment to action so that this systemic dereliction of duty never happens again."
One voice, however, is missing from the chorus of those committing to fix the flaws that allowed Whitehurst to hopscotch from one position to another, his alleged sexual harassment of students unchecked and undeterred: The teacher's union. As The Oregonian/OregonLive's Bethany Barnes reported, Portland Association of Teachers' president Suzanne Cohen glossed over the report's findings that the teachers' contract allows complaints to be purged from a teacher's record. Despite investigators' recommendation to change the contract to better protect students, Cohen defended the agreement, emphasizing that the blame rests with the district administration.
Undeniably, she has a point. District administrators, many of whom have since left PPS, bear a large portion of responsibility for not investigating multiple sexual misconduct and harassment complaints against Whitehurst over the years, as Barnes revealed in a 2017 series that prompted the district to commission its own investigation. District lawyers, human resources directors, principals and others often neglected to do the bare minimum to investigate students' complaints of being ogled, harassed and targeted with sexual comments or advances. Even a report, made years after the fact, that Whitehurst had demanded and received oral sex from a student wasn't investigated.
But the administration's failings don't excuse the indefensible policies baked into the teacher's union contract that make it difficult to track whether a teacher been the subject of multiple complaints or been told to improve their conduct in some fashion. For example, teachers have five different files, maintained in multiple locations, storing different information. That alone makes it difficult for supervisors to have a complete view of the teachers they oversee.
Then, consider contract provisions that require the district to purge any complaints stored in the teacher's file at his or her assigned school if the teacher or supervisor transfers to a different building. So a student's complaint that a teacher made sexual comments to her might seem like a first-time infraction, explained away as a misunderstanding, instead of being the third, fourth or 10th complaint over the teacher's career that it might really be. Another contract provision requires the district to remove "letters of expectation," which lay out district expectations for meeting policies or practices after an issue is identified, after three years as well.
As investigators noted, these requirements to purge records protect educators, not students. "If an issue is worth documenting in a building file, it is relevant to the educator's employment and a change of supervisors or a change of teaching assignment does not mitigate its relevance," the report states. A removal "cleans the slate for the educator, who may, over time, exhibit a pattern of inappropriate conduct that is serious."
Cohen told The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board that the union's bargaining team will review all the recommendations and that they are committed to student safety. But she insisted that the report's findings are an indictment of administrators who failed to investigate complaints - not the contract. It's as if Cohen has skipped the entire section devoted to detailing the many ways the contract hampers responsible supervision.
Students can't wait anymore for the union to develop its position. The union should come to the table before the contract's 2019 expiration date, and commit to new provisions that put student safety first.
This community has stood with Portland teachers time and again, in ways big and small. Portland voters have passed local option levies by overwhelming margins, agreeing to pay millions extra in taxes each year to protect hundreds of teachers' jobs and add hundreds more. Parents show up to volunteer in teachers' classrooms, raise money for supplies and otherwise try to ease the burden on teachers. They do this because they value the singular role that teachers play in children's lives as educators, mentors and role models.
But families also trust that teachers will stand with their children and put the safety and needs of students above the job security of a suspect colleague who may be harming them.
The school district is full of dedicated, professional teachers who make personal sacrifices every day because they believe so strongly in their mission and commitment to students. These same teachers need to make clear to their union leaders that contractual provisions protecting those who degrade and harass students contribute as much to the district's culture of dysfunction as administrators who turn a blind eye to students' complaints.
Albany Democrat-Herald, May 15, on lodging tax getting traction in counties:
Benton and Linn counties both continue to explore the idea of adding countywide taxes to the transient lodging taxes already paid by travelers staying in mid-valley hotel rooms and other short-term rental properties.
At a meeting Tuesday, the Benton County Board of Commissioners offered support for a staff proposal to add a 1 to 3 percent county transient lodging tax to the 9 percent room tax already charged by the city and the 1.8 percent tax levied by the state.
The Linn County Board of Commissioners beat their Benton County counterparts to the punch: Last week, commissioners Roger Nyquist and John Lindsey gave the go-ahead to county staff to continue developing a 3 percent transient lodging tax. That would be in addition to the state tax, and a 9 percent rate levied by the cities of Albany and Lebanon and a 6 percent tax imposed by the city of Sweet Home.
If you're scratching your head trying to think of the last time the Linn County and the Benton County commissioners were in general agreement on a tax issue, you're not alone. If one comes to mind, let us know.
But the idea driving the two proposals is basically the same: The commissioners in both counties are trying to figure out ways to get some additional money for their fairgrounds. And these transient lodging taxes are ways to do that, without sticking local residents with the bill.
The Linn County Fair & Expo Center never has broken even in its 22 years of operation, and most years requires $250,000 or so from the county general fund to balance its operating budget.
In Benton County, the story is similar: The county's two-year budget calls for spending $343,000 each year for the fair fund. Of that annual amount, $120,000 per year is devoted to facility maintenance and $223,000 for operating support.
Now, before we continue, an important note: We are not among those people who believe that these county fairgrounds should be required to break even or even make a profit. That's an unrealistic expectation. And we think the benefits provided to county residents by the fairs and other events at the fairgrounds help to justify at least part of those deficits.
With that said, though, every dollar the fair doesn't take from the general fund frees up another dollar that can be spent on public safety or road maintenance or another important county function.
In Benton County, money collected from the transient lodging tax could help pay for a proposed $2.2 million renovation of the Benton Arena, an idea Lynne McKee, the fairgrounds manager, has proposed to raise revenues. The money could pay for other improvements as well.
The story is much the same in Linn County, where the tax money could be used to tackle deferred maintenance work and other renovations at the Expo Center.
The idea of a countywide transient lodging tax isn't a new one in the state: According to data compiled by McKee, 11 Oregon counties already impose similar taxes. And if either Linn and Benton counties impose a 3 percent tax, that would be on the low end of the rates other counties charge: Washington County, for example, has a 9 percent tax.
There's a lot of work ahead in both counties before these proposals move forward, and a number of affected parties deserve the opportunity to weigh in.
But consider this: Travel Oregon, the state's tourism agency, estimates that 30 million tourists visited Oregon in 2017, a 1 percent increase over the 2016. It marked the eighth straight year of tourism growth. You can't blame county officials for wanting to tap into that market — and if the money raised helps to renovate our fairgrounds, that could wind up making those facilities even more attractive to tourists. We're encouraged by these early steps forward.
The Register-Guard, May 15, on University of Oregon students turning frustration into action:
Kudos to some University of Oregon students who noticed that an organization classed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center is using a logo that is remarkably similar to the university's trademark trademarked "O'' and who responded wisely.
The students, who are members of M.E.Ch.A. (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán), crafted a letter to the UO's general counsel, explaining why they felt that Oregonians for Immigration Reform was violating a university trademark, why they were concerned, and what they hoped the UO would do.
The university is zealous when it comes to protecting its trademarks, which have not only significant financial value but also emotional, intellectual and philosophical value. They represent the university to the world. UO attorney Kevin Hayes responded to the students by firing off a letter to OFIR, noting the SPLC's reference to it as hate group — a designation that OFIR disputes — and saying that, while OFIR is free to espouse its opinions, "the University of Oregon neither supports your message, desires to be associated with your message, nor wishes to assist in your fundraising efforts." Hayes then threatened the group with legal action based on trademark infringement and dilution.
OFIR, which describes its mission as " to stop illegal immigration as well as reduce legal immigration" has had some successes in Oregon. These include leading a successful campaign to overturn the state's decision to give four-year driver's cards to people who can't prove they are in the United States legally. The group's leader, Cynthia Kendoll, described illegal immigration from Mexico in an interview with Willamette Week as "an organized assault on our culture."
These messages hit close to home for the members of M.E.Ch.A., whose membership is open to all and whose mission includes increasing the number of Oregon Chicanos who attend and graduate from college. They chose to channel their hurt and frustration into a constructive response, which bodes well for their potential as future leaders in the community and in Oregon.
East Oregonian, May 14, on 20 years after an Oregon tragedy:
Before Columbine, there was Thurston.
It seems like only yesterday that 15-year-old Kip Kinkel shocked the conscience of Oregon — indeed, the world — by gunning down classmates at Thurston High School in Springfield after ambushing his parents at home.
But it's been 20 years. Kinkel is 35 and imprisoned. Last week the Oregon Supreme Court upheld his prison sentence of nearly 112 years with no possibility of parole. Experts at his sentencing had testified that his extreme psychosis was treatable but incurable.
It was May 21, 1998, when Kipland Philip Kinkel fatally shot two students, wounded 25 others and later tried to stab a police officer. The previous day at Thurston High, he had bought a stolen pistol from a friend, been arrested and — supposedly worried about what his parents would think about his arrest — shot and killed them.
Twenty years. Columbine and Virginia Tech. Sandy Hook and Fort Hood. Clackamas Town Center and Umpqua Community College. Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas.
As a state and as a nation, we have suffered much and learned some.
"Active shooter" is now ingrained in our vocabulary. Schools, law enforcement and medical units conduct drills. Protocols have been rewritten so first responders — thank God for their courage and training — confront the shooter as quickly as possible instead of awaiting SWAT's arrival.
Threats and indicators of potential violence are taken seriously . much of the time. SafeOregon.com has been created specifically for schoolchildren to report threats, replacing the Oregon State Police tip line launched after Thurston and then dropped for lack of funding.
Laws — including Oregon's new extreme-risk protection order — have been passed allowing courts and law enforcement to intervene if someone is deemed psychologically at risk of harming self or others.
Yet in many ways, we seemingly have made little progress.
Access to mental health care is the No. 1 concern of Oregon high school students in a recent survey. Deadly violence, whether by firearms or other means, still plagues American society at levels far above those of most industrialized countries. We still don't know what drives one irrational person to kill, but many more not to.
We have squandered an incalculable number of dollars, days and brain cells arguing over whom to blame — mental illness, firearms, our culture — instead of finding common ground and community solutions. The resulting "opportunity cost" — what we could have achieved if we had pursued a different course — is profound.
Kip Kinkel came from a good home. His parents did their best, seeking both accountability and treatment for Kip.
We owe it to them, to the Thurston students — and to all the other families — to find that common ground and those collaborative solutions.
The Daily Astorian, May 14, on nuns daring to go where others will not on guns:
A couple of years ago, when a group strongly supported by the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary started buying shares in Smith & Wesson, Sturm Ruger and Dick's Sporting Goods, an observer might have raised an eyebrow.
All became apparent when a representative of the umbrella group — whose members include the Marylhurst nuns — appeared at the annual shareholders meeting of one of the nation's largest gun manufacturers.
The shareholder advocacy organization is called Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. It successfully pressured Ruger's leaders to compile a report assessing how it tracks gun violence associated with its products.
This demand was backed by a majority of shareholders, including BlackRock, an asset manager and Ruger's largest investor.
Colleen Scanlon, senior vice president of Catholic Health Initiatives, one of the coalition's members, summed up the strategy to the New York Times. "The American public will continue to seek solutions to gun violence from all stakeholders, but they will look first to hold gun manufacturers accountable for the safety of their products," she said.
The action won't stop the company producing lethal AR-15-style rifles, the type legally available and used in several recent mass shootings. But it will force Ruger to evaluate its operations and open them up to broader public scrutiny.
Along with this effort, some are calling on companies like Ruger to develop safer products, such as smart gun technology using thumbprint readers, like those used on some cellphones.
Last week's confrontation caused a stir.
The Times described Christopher J. Killoy, Ruger's chief executive, as defiant after the vote against him. He was quoted saying that Ruger would not "adopt misguided principles by groups that do not own guns and do not understand guns."
The notion that people who don't own guns somehow have a less-valuable opinion than gun owners is absurd. Many people who support our veterans have never served in uniform. Many people who support the right to choose have never had an abortion.
The simple but sad fact is that Americans are being massacred because of the availability of dangerous weapons. Under any definition, the unacceptable prevalence of gun violence in today's America is a public health emergency.
To its credit, Dick's Sporting Goods has stopped selling AR-15s after the Florida school shooting. Another company, Vista Outdoor, is selling its gun-making business.
Pressure is mounting.
The courageous Parkwood survivors have translated grief for their dead classmates into a nationwide drive encouraging young people to register to vote. The 2018 midterms will see change.
We've noted before that responsible gun owners hold the key to finding an acceptable compromise to this sickening issue. They have a shrinking time window to come to the negotiating table or suggest their own compromises.
So much has been made of the excessive influence of special interest groups on our elected representatives that calls for change continue to escalate from all shades of the political spectrum.
The stranglehold that the National Rifle Association has on any potential right-of-center candidate perpetuates one of the biggest problems facing modern American society. A moderate Republican who supports the Second Amendment but wants to do something about the carnage in our schools must still pass an NRA litmus test — otherwise he or she will face a well-funded opponent in the GOP primary.
In recent years, the Times reported, Ruger has donated $9 million to the NRA.
It is not difficult to connect these dots.
Strategies for making the United States safer come in many forms, sometimes from surprising quarters. Pressure on arrogant gun manufacturers from the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary is one we welcome.