By GENE H. MCINTYRE
By what is not always apparent here in Oregon, we are beginning to resemble life for most of the populations of people south of the border. It’s not the fault of the populations in those nations; it is the way the wealthy and elite have rigged things (luxury high-rises alongside slums) so that while the average person lives in poverty, a distinct minority live the good life with all the perks of those places in their hands. And it’s not the fault of the people here, either, as they have been ruined by the greedy and the power hungry.
Here in Oregon, during my lifetime, there’s been a steady downward spiral of the economic lives of most Oregonians. The middle years of the 20th century, those of my youth, were years of prosperty for most Oregonians. Typically, they found work at a living wage while the standard of living brought favorable conditions to most everyone in the state. That has changed now. Today, we have a state of the unemployed in contrast with a wealthy minority. Meanwhile, our family structure, our schools, our unemployed and our public safety are in tatters, shreds and ruin.
I was inspired to think about our recent past by reading a column on Oregon’s latest appointee to the state chancellor of higher education position. We will pay this person a basic salary of nearly $300,000 a year, and that’s to start, an amount that does not include the costs of this public employee’s benefits, perks and living expenses for a lavish house, an upscale car, a spending allowance, and fine dining almost every day on the taxpayer dollar. This opulent living for one public employee while thousands of Oregon kids are going hungry every day, many of whom, too, without a home, who must try to acquire a formal education to better themselves and society in public school classrooms with one teacher (classroom aides have all but disappeared due to budget cuts) trying to educate 40-50 other students, is disgusting—even obscene.
Let me ask the reader this question: What has anyone among these excessively-paid public employees, like the newly-appointed chancellor and very costly Oregon chief education officer, done to make any difference whatsoever? It would appear from all news accounts of the new chief education officer, for example, that all he can claim for his cost (equal, it’s estimated, to the cost of buying something like a dozen certified Oregon classroom teachers for a year of work) is to tell teachers and administrators to “do more with less,” and to admonish them to come up with five ways to improve the state’s high schools, all part of his opaque-to-the-public “educational architecture” grand design. Oh, and, then, too, from him most recently, minority kids should take it upon themselves to behave more responsibly, a message that’s been repeated rather frequently since Amendment 13 was ratified in 1865.
Meanwhile, the question persists: What do super-expensive public employees like the chancellor and newly-created position of chief education officer do? What do they contribute? I have no idea other than to see them as highly-paid bureaucrats who talk a lot but make no substantive difference, or any that is ever seen, in the improvement of education activity at any level or the betterment, effectiveness outcomes for the education of our youth.
We must find ways to stop the ridiculous spending practice of paying in salary and benefits more than $500,000 in precious tax dollars to public employees like the state’s chancellor, the chief education officer, university presidents and some school district superintendents: No one in Oregon needs this kind of money to live comfortably and afford all that’s needed for an all-anyone-could-ever-want-in-purchasing-power life. If there are “great” people who want this kind of money and won’t work for less, advise them to seek careers in the private sector. Meanwhile, let’s wise up to invest what we have available in the state treasury for use by teachers for the benefit of our students in pre-school, elementary school, high school and college.
(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)