MEDIA WATCH: The Oregonian Ed Board Chooses Tax Breaks Over Smaller Class Sizes

Once again, the Oregonian Editorial Board has revealed just how far removed they are from the priorities of Portland voters. Once again, they’ve gone on record as advocating for more tax breaks—particularly for large property owners—over the need to fund our schools and reduce class sizes.

Overcrowded ClassroomsOn Monday, and then again today, the Oregonian opinion honchos—led by Erik Lukens—called on the Portland School Board to put forward a plan that would cut the rate of the school levy that received wide support from voters in 2012. Why? The details are as wonky as they are ultimately unimportant, but the short version is because Lukens & Co. claim the school funding “crisis has abated” since the levy was passed.

I don’t know what town Erik Lukens and his employees are living in, but to claim the school funding crisis “has abated” is to completely ignore all obvious evidence. It seems clear that they haven’t been near a public school classroom in recent years—or even spoken with anyone who has. Talk to anyone connected to a public school (parent, teacher, student, etc.) and you’ll hear that classrooms are still overcrowded and that there are fewer educational opportunities than there were just a few years ago.

All Oregon schools—Portland Public Schools included—are still desperately underfunded, and our kids are getting shortchanged. While corporate profits and incomes for the top 1% may have fully recovered (and then some) since the end of the recession, our classrooms have not.

It is a basic fact that PPS has fewer teachers than it did just a few years ago. In fact, there were 199 fewer teachers in PPS schools in the 2012-13 school year than in 2007-08. There was an uptick in teachers following the passage of the levy, but the figures are still well below pre-recession levels.

Portland Teachers Since 07-08

And with fewer educators to teach students, class sizes go up. Remember, Oregon as a whole already has one of the highest class sizes in the nation, and one of the shortest school years. Statewide, we lost 3,574 teachers between 2007-08 and 2012-13, and that doesn’t even take into account all of the other education professionals who keep our schools running.

There’s also a new report that support staff are being laid off this year. Some 70 members of the Portland Federation of School Professionals—which represents educational assistants, library staff, and para-educators—have been “unassigned,” which means they could be headed for layoffs.

Oregon’s schools have been in a perpetual funding crisis since the ‘90s, when funding became primarily the responsibility of the state legislature. We’re at least $2 billion below what experts say we need in order to offer a “quality education,” and that gap isn’t narrowing to any substantial degree.

To suggest that the crisis “has abated” is to live in a fantasy world. In the real world, students are crammed into overcrowded classrooms, core subjects like art and PE have been slashed, and the school year is embarrassingly short.

It’s clear that the Oregonian Editorial Board is so enamored with the idea of tax cuts that they can’t see the obvious truth in front of them. Thankfully, the Portland School Board—for now, at least—doesn’t appear to be following their advice.

17 Responses to “MEDIA WATCH: The Oregonian Ed Board Chooses Tax Breaks Over Smaller Class Sizes”

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MEDIA WATCH: Basically, The Press Has Had It With The Wehby Campaign

The honeymoon, as they say, is over.

At one point not long ago, Monica Wehby was the apple of the Oregon media’s eye.

You'll notice no actual reporter is pictured.

You’ll notice no actual reporter is pictured.

Her handlers and campaign donors had cultivated an image of Wehby as a moderate Republican (at least relative to the right-wing eccentrics running the GOP, like Art Robinson), and she banked on her reputation as a pediatric neurosurgeon. She was exactly the kind of candidate the right-leaning press (and the national GOP bigwigs) wanted to take on Sen. Jeff Merkley. The Oregonian editorial board, for instance, was absolutely gushing with praise in their endorsement of Wehby.

That love affair, though, has since come to an acrimonious end.

It all began when Wehby decided to duck out of the only televised live debate between she and fellow GOP candidate Jason Conger. The debate—to have been hosted by KGW—would have been the only chance for Republican primary voters to see the candidates respond to questions in a live televised format.

The Oregonian editorial board–her biggest champion in the press–delivered a blistering rebuke of Wehby’s decision, calling it “wimping out.”

Wehby’s campaign masterminds must reason she has a lot more to lose from a live, widely televised debate than to gain. That doesn’t say much about the campaign’s confidence in its candidate. And if Team Wehby doesn’t consider her ready for the crucible of a live TV debate, why should Republican voters consider her ready for a race against incumbent Sen. Jeff Merkley? Or service in the Senate, for that matter? Is this what accountability will look like when Wehby is on the Hill?

And that’s from her biggest fans.

Things went from bad to worse as soon as the media started reporting—just days before primary ballots were due—about multiple stalking and harassment allegations against Wehby by her former boyfriend and an ex-husband.

Rather than address the charges head on, Wehby went into hiding, refusing to even talk to the media.

In fact, at the end of an appearance at the Portland City Club on May 16, Wehby and her handlers made a mad dash for the exits, refusing to take questions from the press. In the process, one of her aides actually pushed a news camera away:

Within days, it was apparent that Wehby’s campaign plan was to keep her as far away from the public as possible.

Wehby even refused to speak to the press on Election Night—when she beat Conger by 13 points—pledging to reporters that she’d talk to them that Thursday. Care to guess how that turned out?

And then for another two weeks, her campaign was completely silent, refusing to talk to Oregon reporters. Last week, she agreed to speak with Oregonian reporter Jeff Mapes, but only answered questions about her harassment allegations by attacking Sen. Jeff Merkley’s campaign as a “Band of Bullies.”

KGW reporters, shunned once again, don’t appear happy.

Since they couldn’t interview Wehby, they instead interviewed Mapes about interviewing Wehby:

Two weeks ago, Dr. Monica Wehby easily won the U.S. Senate Republican Primary.

What hasn’t been so easy is getting the first-time political candidate to answer questions about three separate times someone she knows called police because of what he considered harassment.

Now, for the first time, Wehby is talking to a journalist about those reports. We had to go to our news partner, The Oregonian, to see what she said, because the Wehby campaign has not yet granted KGW an interview.

“You know, it was interesting,” senior political reporter Jeff Mapes said. “She said, ‘No, I was not trying to avoid questions from reporters.’” (emphasis incredulously added)

The Eugene Register Guard has basically had it, heavily criticizing Wehby’s decision-making for the past several weeks:

Republican Senate nominee Monica Wehby is off to a stumbling start in her race against Democratic incumbent Jeff Merkley.

Since winning the GOP nomination, she has attacked Democrats, including Merkley and his “band of bullies,” for the release, shortly before the May 20 primary election, of a 2013 police report in which a former boyfriend accused Wehby of “stalking” him at home. In other police reports obtained by The Oregonian newspaper through a public records request, Wehby’s former husband called Portland police in 2007 and 2009 to complain about her behavior while the two were going through divorce and child custody issues.

With the exception of an interview with a conservative talk show host, Wehby refused to discuss the reports with reporters — until Tuesday, when she met with veteran Oregonian political reporter Jeff Mapes.

If Mapes was hoping for a candid explanation, he was disappointed. She accused the media of sensationalizing the reports and dismissed them as minor personal incidents that should never have been made public.

There’s still plenty of time for Wehby­ to get her campaign back on track. She should call a news conference and state that she is willing to fully answer every question, even if it takes until midnight. Then she should declare that she’s done talking about the police reports and is moving on to the critically important issues Oregonians are concerned about — starting with health care.

Making matters even worse, over the Memorial Day Weekend, Wehby held a handful of small public events in rural parts of the state, but didn’t announce them until an hour before, making it impossible for any political reporters to attend.

Wehby’s refusal to answer questions in public is now a bit of a joke with the press. If she plans on running a credible campaign in a way that engages voters on the key issues affecting their lives, she’s going to have to do more than issue soundbytes attacking her opponents.

Meanwhile, Wehby’s absence has given Sen. Merkley a great opportunity—he’s the only one out there on the campaign trail talking about standing up for the middle-class and fixing the economy.

4 Responses to “MEDIA WATCH: Basically, The Press Has Had It With The Wehby Campaign”

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Gov. Kitzhaber Puts On The Boxing Gloves to Face Down Oracle

Get ready for a fight. If past incidents are any indication, Oregon’s fight against tech giant Oracle—to retrieve taxpayer dollars lost on the Cover Oregon debacle—is about to get serious.

Last week, Gov. John Kitzhaber asked Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to move forward on a lawsuit to get back the money Oregon paid to Oracle to develop the Cover Oregon health care exchange website. In case you somehow missed it, Oracle spectacularly failed to deliver, despite getting $134 million from the state. Oregon is now ditching Oracle’s unusable mess of zeroes and ones and turning to the federal exchange instead.

Oracle is a gigantic company. How gigantic? The company had $29.6 BILLION in software sales in 2013. It had $37 BILLION in cash reserves in the final quarter of 2013. CEO Larry Ellison made $76.9 million last year, making him one of the highest paid CEOs in corporate America. He also owns about 25% of the company’s stock, worth more than $46 billion.

Déjà Vu

Quick –- what first comes to mind when you read the words “healthcare.gov” and “Cover Oregon”? You probably whispered something to yourself along the lines of “complete mess” (but perhaps in more colorful language). But the word that SHOULD have come to mind was “Oracle.” Unfortunately, the press has been so obsessed with the politics behind the disastrous launch of the federal and state web sites that they have missed the financial scandal that unites the two high-profile failures: each was brought to you by Oracle, who in the end made off with a huge pile of our tax money.

And it turns out that this pattern seems to repeat itself at Oracle. Thanks to a surprisingly good investigative piece by KATU News (the exception that proves the rule), Oracle was sued for breach of contract by Montclair State University in New Jersey in 2011 for failing to build a usable online portal for the school’s Bell Tower Initiative.

The details in the case are staggeringly similar to what Oracle did to Cover Oregon. First, the company claimed that its various “out-of-the-box” software products could be combined in order to meet the school’s tech needs, rather than building something new from scratch. That’s the same thing they told Oregon.

From KATU:

“Oracle represented that 95% of the University’s more than 3,200 business requirements were satisfied by its base system,” the 2011 lawsuit stated. But according to MSU’s legal team, the statement was “intentionally false … in reliance on these misrepresentations, the University chose Oracle over another competitive bidder.”

Oracle would later quote the same 95% compatibility rating to land the Cover Oregon contract.

“A key reason Oracle was selected in 2011 was because it estimated it would need to customize only 5% of its product,” Kitzhaber said, when in reality “the actual customization turned out to be 40%,” which was MSU’s customization ratio as well.

When Oracle failed to actually deliver anything that worked, and MSU sued for breach of contract, the company went on the offense, claiming the school was “motivated by their own agenda and fearful of being blamed for delays.” Last week, after Gov. Kitzhaber announced the state’s intent to sue, Oracle accused him of playing politics: “We understand the political nature of the announcement (he) just made and that the Governor wants to shift blame from where it belongs.”

We’re Sensing A Pattern Here

Two things you can take away from Oracle’s initial response:

1. Oracle has a massive war chest that will enable it to aggressively fight any lawsuit filed against the company for failure to deliver—just as it did to Montclair State University in New Jersey. After MSU sued for breach of contract, Oracle countersued. Both parties reportedly settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

2. Oracle and Larry Ellison didn’t get to where they are now by prioritizing corporate ethics or the public interest. This highly recommended post by Bill Snyder on InfoWorld dives into the Cover Oregon situation, but places it in the context of other bullying Oracle has reportedly engaged in.

Investing site The Motley Fool, however, wonders if the bad press coming Oracle’s way will hurt its bottom line:

The money spent, and received, is staggering to be sure. But what’s even more staggering is that after all the time, cost, and headaches, the state of Oregon still has nothing to show for its efforts. Oracle, on the other hand, has pocketed over $100 million in fees from the state, despite not delivering a working website. And that’s why Oregon’s governor, John Kitzhaber, is ready to take the dispute with Oracle to the next level.

It all looked so good just a couple of months ago, and frankly, Oracle’s not likely to suffer much in the mid-to-long term because of the Oregon debacle. But don’t be surprised to hear a lot more mud-slinging, from both the state of Oregon and Oracle, in the near future.

Contractor Accountability

The question is, how could the Cover Oregon contract have gone so wrong? In part, it’s because Oracle is apparently really, really good at negotiating terms that give them great leeway to do very little, collect a paycheck, and then go on the offensive if sued for breach of contract.

One big problem is that the Cover Oregon contract paid Oracle for hours worked—not the delivery of product. That meant that the firm could keep billing for hours their developers allegedly worked, despite having nothing to show for it.

Since news of the Cover Oregon debacle broke, Oregon legislators have begun moving forward on reforms to the state’s contractor laws in order to prevent a repeat performance. There’s still clearly more that needs to be done, including a very close look at all of the public services the state has contracted out to private vendors.

While it may be unlikely for another scandal the size of Cover Oregon to come along anytime soon, dozens of smaller infractions from other vendors could end up costing taxpayers even more over time. This massive Oracle mess highlights the need for a system to prevent private vendors from taking advantage of the state and to ensure that taxpayers are getting their money’s worth.

3 Responses to “Gov. Kitzhaber Puts On The Boxing Gloves to Face Down Oracle”

  1. Michael M.

    I would be delighted to see an actual ‘billing statement’ showing exactly what Oracle DID for $100 million. Hardware? Gold-plated servers? Hours billed for “developers”? 100 developers working a full year (2,000 hours each) at $20/hr (which would be $400K, not a bad salary and certainly triple what they probably paid), would be $40 million. And 100 developers working full time for a year couldn’t produce a website? What did they DO for that much money?

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    • Michael M.

      Sorry, it should have been $200/hr, of course, to get an annual salary of $400K.

      Reply
  2. MikeB

    Their are two types of contracts in the IT world, a fixed fee or milestone contract that is based on objectives reached, and a T&M contract that may or may not include milestone objectives.

    The benefit of the first is the customer will have a lower total financial risk, since the contractor is responsible for managing the project. But, the cost often is higher than a well managed Time & Material contract. The benefit of a T&M contract is it often will be delivered at a lower total cost, since the contractor won’t have to budget an error margin into the bid. However, the responsibility is on the customer to manage the contractor and project milestones.

    Cover OR chose the later. Then, CO chose not to manage the contractor. In addition, when the project was completely derailed, CO panicked and wasted MILLIONS in consulting fees in an effort to get the project “back on track” by approving an increase in the # of consultants by 300%.

    The best analogy I can use is, if I estimate that it will take 100 man hours to clean up and remodel a 20×20 room, then I can conclude if I hire 100 laborers it will take 1 hour to complete the project. I hope everyone can see the fallacy in that thinking. It is likely that half the consultants were sitting on their hands getting paid to watch others work, simply because the logistics of the project would not allow that many people on the project at one time. However, this is exactly what CO management approved Oracle to do. In fact, they demanded Oracle to increase the labor resources! Incompetent as CO’s management was, Oracle was equally unethical. Any seasoned IT contractor knows full well that getting a project “back on track” with unplanned additional labor resources is a myth. Oracle knew up front that the additional consulting labor would provide results with diminishing returns and mostly just line their pockets with more revenue.

    This was a joint cluster that will be settled out of court and the State will have to waste another couple of million in legal fees to get a settlement. Incompetence at its best!

    Oh, and here is more good news! Our State has a Department of Revenue IT project equally as large coming up in the near future. I wonder if our brilliant leadership will learn from this last debacle!

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