The Citizen's View column by Mark Fearing last week ('Money for Schools is a Worthy Investment') deserves a response. I think everyone in this city would agree with Mr. Fearing that there is value in having a first class education system, competing in a free market and providing adequate resources.
Brain Bittke, whose letters to this newspaper have asked hard questions about this school district's fiscal responsibility and prompted Mr. Fearing's column, would probably agree also. What Mr. Fearing seems to have missed, however, is that parents and children in this district are not competing in a free market. The district prevents us from transferring to Lake Oswego schools, for example, without paying full tuition.
Private school fees are also out of reach of most parents. And one of the reasons many people move to West Linn, with its higher property taxes and property prices, is because they are attracted by the realtors' publicity about the 'excellent schools.' So yes, we do expect excellence, and we do pay for it.
Mr. Fearing also makes the assumption that the district already provides a 'first-class education system.' Yet what is the evidence for this?
The apparently high scores on the state tests? I have already written a column addressing this issue. To summarize, the tests can be interperated in different ways.
What happened this year? The Oregon Department of Education paid $20.4 million for a new system developed by the American Institutes of Research, called 'OAKS,' which is currently being implemented in all the district's schools. Will this fail also?
This newspaper reported last summer that Superintendent Roger Woehl was given a pay raise and a contract extension, authorized by the school board on two grounds: the success of his 'character education' program and the lack of complaints received by the board.
I wrote to the board chair asking what the endpoints were by which the success of the character education was measured. Has anyone seen any evidence of it? I got no response.
I also pointed out that I have raised a number of issues about curriculum with various school board members, none of whom have responded to these. I have also raised concerns at school and district level, and these have not been addressed. I have heard from several other parents who have tried expressing concerns but have been 'shut down' by the district administration, which makes sure that these 'troublesome' parents are not allowed on any committees and will not succeed in an attempt to run for a board position.
The board is ineffective and unresponsive and fails to address such issues as the appallingly misguided and ineffective math curriculum in elementary school and the widely expressed opinion that most children reach high school without essential skills in writing and research, leaving them poorly equipped for college.
This district has a responsibility to its patrons to listen to parental concerns and to use public money for the purpose for which it was intended. I maintain that it fails on both levels and I support Brian Bittke's letters that attempt to educate the district's patrons as to what is really being done with our money. Instead of the defensiveness that prevails as the district attempts to convince people that its methods are excellent, it's time for some real accountability.
Margaret Groves is a West Linn resident.