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Nike tax break pushes our kids, schools aside

MyView: Is this a joke? International apparel company should support local schools


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Not everyone agrees with the discussions between Nike, the state and Washington County to maintain the apparel company's presence here via financial incentives. Protesters are questioning whether Nike tax breaks are merited while teachers and students are suffering from deep budget cuts as a result of plummeting school district operating revenues.While reading about Nike’s new deal with the state and possible deals under negotiation with Washington County, I find myself wondering if this is all some big joke.

I am a teacher. I am still technically under contract with the Beaverton School District, but I tell people I used to work in Beaverton. Late this summer I was laid off, along with 205 of my colleagues.

The Beaverton School District found itself in a tight spot: $45 million short. I think Superintendent Jeff Rose would agree now that the decision to cut 345 positions instead of an equally extreme amount of school days was a mistake. But either way Rose and his team sliced it, the district was in a financially tight spot, essentially between a rock and a hard place.

There really was no “right” decision.

So, three months into the school year what is the result?

Countless classrooms being led by transferred teachers who do not feel comfortable or qualified where they are. Class sizes close to 60 at the high school level. Entire programs slashed. Hundreds of teachers out of a job. Far fewer support staff. No librarians. A transfer and recall process that has left classrooms in flux, often with multiple teachers in a single class since September.

I would like to repeat, class sizes of close to 60 at the high school level.

Now, the Beaverton schools used to be some of the finest in the state and perhaps the nation. I graduated from a Beaverton school, so I know how things were. And now, as a teacher who has worked in a few districts, I feel qualified to assess the exceptional quality of the BSD of old.

What this summer’s drastic cuts have done is pull Beaverton down into the depths that many of our nation’s schools find themselves in. Overcrowded classrooms led by stressed, under-qualified teachers.

Mind you, the teachers in Beaverton are perfectly qualified for their subjects and grade levels. But when you are trained in science and have 10 years of experience with high school students and then suddenly find yourself in front of a sixth-grade history class, you feel like a fish out of water.

While I want the public to understand things are not good in Beaverton classrooms right now, that’s only half of the picture.

This is where Nike, the state of Oregon and Washington County come in.

It is unacceptable to read about Nike asking state and local agencies for “financial incentives” to expand here. As unacceptable as the request is given the financial context in Beaverton, the fact Oregon and Washington Country are obliging is even worse.

Nike is the largest apparel company in the world. Its advertising budget alone is over $4 billion. Nike’s utopian world headquarters sits smack dab in the center of Beaverton School District territory, yet that land itself is unincorporated. Nike and Intel have negotiated a waiver on property taxes, which is the major funding source for Oregon’s schools.

I feel the rage rise up inside me when I read an article about Nike dictating terms to our governor while working backdoor deals with the county and the city, because the first thing I think about is what Beaverton students are dealing with right now.

Uncle Phil says, “Give us a tax break or we won’t build here.”

Give me a break. I have a proposal for you, Nike.

How about you pay homage to the state that helped make you great? University of Oregon was the birthplace of your company, and the Beaverton schools produced many of your brilliant employees. Why don’t you try doing something good for a change?

Instead of asking a local government that cannot even properly support its schools to give you an incentive to expand here, why not come out and say you are going to expand here because of your longstanding partnership with Oregon? Because it’s a great place to live and work and raise kids. Because these are tough economic times and you want to give back and try to help. Because you have more money than God and can afford to build wherever you want.

This proposal stems from the same message I try to teach my students: Be part of the solution, not the problem.

How about not asking what kind of handout the government is going to give your silver-lined, double-stitched Jordan pockets, but what you can do for your government?

Really, what is the attraction to an employee of working and living and raising a family in a place where the class sizes are near 60?

Just because you’re wearing pretty shoes doesn’t mean you can walk all over the community.

Try being a company that does the right thing for once. Who knows, maybe you’ll even see a payoff.

Alex Close of Beaverton was laid off from Southridge High School in the summer and teaches English at West Linn High School.