Keizer Public Square

Public Square welcomes all points of view. Published submissions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Keizertimes

An open letter to Andrea Castañeda


Dear Superintendent Castañeda,

My name is Dr. Michael Merrill. I am a parent of a 1st grader and of another child who will be a kindergartner next year. I am writing to you in light of the Salem Keizer Education Association negotiations with the district.

It is impossible to put students first without putting their teachers first as well. They are a package deal. To imply otherwise is the equivalent of claiming that caring for your lawn is a top priority while not paying the water bill. To foster growth, one needs to nourish those that facilitate that growth.

The overwhelming consensus among academic and scientific studies has shown that small class sizes, high teacher retention rates, physical and emotional health specialists on site, and, in short, everything that SKEA is asking for, dramatically and unquestionably improves every metric by which schools and school districts are measured regarding their success.

I was more than a little disappointed when you released your response video after the Feb. 15 negotiations. Due to the evidence you have undoubtedly seen, we (meaning the general public of the Salem-Keizer School District) are well aware that this response was pre-recorded before the impasse was declared. Clearly, you can see how we find this disingenuous, and not at all in line with your rhetoric of valuing what the union is asking for. You need to do better.

In that response, you claim that granting the union’s petition “would do lasting harm to our schools.” Could that harm be more than what will happen if this current trajectory is followed? Record teacher resignations have occurred three or four years in a row, and all over the same issues that the district refuses to concede. What do you think is going to happen? If the district continues to be unyielding the teachers will collectively say “Oh darn, I guess I really don’t have any other options to make money in an environment where I’m not constantly abused by my leadership, villainized by my clientele, and expected to work an extra 25-50 hours minimum outside of salaried time just to keep up with my job description”? The lasting damage staring at you at this moment is yet another year of mass resignations; spiraling into larger class sizes, lower test scores, less healthy students on physical, mental, emotional and social levels; and an ever-growing mistrust and frustration of the public. You need to do better.

I am willing to believe your primary claim that the money just isn’t there, though I also find it hypocritical to have made that claim after such a large salary increase for administration just last year. You need to do better

If there really is nothing that you can do, no other money that can be switched around to ensure that the teachers are the first priority so that the studaents can also be the first priority, then you would do well not to antagonize SKEA with pithy barbs and entitled attacks, but to join with them to petition the state itself, which you claimed was the real problem (I must add that you made that claim while simultaneously blaming SKEA for the impasse, strongly suggesting they were the problem, not the state). You need to do better.

Madam Superintendent, I am not a member of the union. I am a small business owner and these negotiations will not affect my individual income. But my children go to school in Salem. They need teachers who are valued in both words and actions. Due to the nature of my business, I have the privilege of working with teachers around the state, and I have seen first-hand the catastrophes that occur when teachers are not given the respect and resources they both need and deserve. If you value your students, value their teachers. If you value their teachers, please act like it, work with them, and for goodness sake do not throw them under the bus when things don’t go your way.You absolutely must do better

(Michael Merrill, Ph.D. lives in Salem.)

A court-appointed monarchy?

By Gene H. McIntyre

Accepted to decide by the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 28, that body of nine justices will decide, likely later this year, whether any U.S. president will be free or immune from prosecution in a U.S. court of law for criminal actions committed during his time in office. If immunity is approved by the highest U.S. court it would in effect return this nation to colonial times or times before the country was established by the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1788, and amended over the past 236 years. 

The U.S. president then, with the highest court’s approval, would provide that person, while in the office of president (perhaps afterward also if so phrased and approved), to serve with the power and privilege of what were in former times given kings and queens, czars or czarinas, monarchs, emperors or empresses, sovereigns or rulers and other such titles conveying absolute and total control over their subjects.

There are other nations in the world today where the head person, sometimes elected, sometimes in power by coup or rebellion, who can do as he pleases, who rules by whim. They may have a title, such as president, but rule by total authority means an absolute dictatorship with a “head man” who may not consult with anyone to rule as he pleases.

Why might Americans, who’ve lived for over two centuries as voting citizens in a democracy, want an absolute ruler—with special entourage of family members and a chosen few—take the place of a constitution, rule by law, personal freedoms, and law-based protections? There are many possible reasons but two of them could explain reasons for moving away from democratic practices and principles: (1) Supporters see themselves under an absolute ruler being in a position where a special relationship with the ruler could empower them to dictate the conditions of life and living upon the lives of former citizens, become subjects, of the ruler, and (2) Those who approve view good prospects to accumulate great wealth through the ruler’s personal dispensations and/or redistribution of the nation’s wealth to them and their family members by which formerly they would have had to acquire through hard work as Americans mainly have had to do to achieve wealth in America.

Polls show that a considerable number of American citizens want an authoritarian or totalitarian form of government, meaning they seek a “strong man” without restrictions on his behavior and actions. World history is replete with examples of leaders in authoritarian mode whose levels of repression have often led to protests and been overthrown. However, the peoples of western Europe allowed and supported the kings and queens of Europe in former times—to rule as sovereigns without limitations- for hundreds of years before colonial Americans broke with England’s king in the late eighteenth century and began a craze, if you will, that has continued worldwide to this day.

Meanwhile and always, it would seem, there’s the cyclical factor among humans, resulting from a seemingly natural desire to never be satisfied with ‘what you’ve got.’ That human condition is being expressed in the U.S. in 2024, taking issue with and contemplating drastic changes to and even disposal of our established democracy. Personally, I am not an advocate for jettisoning our Constitution and way of life as, having been born into a family of limited means and one without wealthy or powerful connections, the U.S. provided me the opportunity to succeed. Further, I’ve worked overseas for extended periods of time in autocratic nations, those experiences taught me the value, worth and benefits of being an American in an America that’s existed during my lifetime.

One additional thought on this subject—of anticipated and already arrived changes here—is the conclusion that our institutions have let us down. What’s meant is that the three branches of our federal government no longer act on their constitutional duties and responsibilities with the vigor, enthusiasm and absence of apparent political partisanship they once represented by them and have turned my head enough to believe we cannot now count on those institutions, only ourselves as voters in our elections. 

(Gene H. McIntyre shares his opinion regularly in the Keizertimes.)

Crybaby conservatives vs. democracy savers


Somewhere over the rainbow, happy little bluebirds fly and troubles melt like lemon drops. In morose America, however, frustration is accumulating like steam in a boiler.

Voters wonder: How did the nation saddle itself with a selection process for presidential candidates that has produced this? Here is how.

In tumultuous 1968—war, urban disorder, assassinations —two Democratic senators, Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy, competed in primaries for the nominatiaon that would be conferred at the convention in Chicago. But as rioters battled police in Grant Park, the nomination was won by Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who had entered no primaries. (There had been only 15.) He came, however, within a whisker of winning in November.

Determined that never again would nominations be decided by professional politicians in “smoke-filled rooms,” the Democratic Party (with the Republican Party following it) democratized the nominating process by the proliferation of primaries: “The people” would decide. So, in 1972, the reformed process nominated George McGovern, who in November lost 49 states, winning just 37.5 percent of the popular vote.

In 1920, the phrase “smoke-filled room” entered America’s political lexicon when Republican politicians in a Blackstone Hotel room two blocks from Grant Park bestowed the nomination on Ohio’s Sen. Warren G. Harding. His 26.2% margin of victory in the popular vote is the largest since widespread popular voting began in the 1820s. Evidently “the people” liked the candidacy hatched in the smoke.

This year, Republicans might, for the first time, give a third consecutive nomination to the same candidate. The GOP is a plucky party, undaunted by the fact that its hero has lost the popular vote twice, the second time by 7 million votes as he was losing six of seven swing states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—all but North Carolina, which he carried by 1.3 percent.

Time was, contested states were more numerous. Michael Barone, principal author of the Almanac of American Politics, has noted: “In 1960, 19 states went for one candidate or the other by less than 5 percenta of the popular vote and another 13 states by between 5 and 10 percent. The corresponding numbers in 2020 were 8 and 6 states.” In 1960, 19 states, with 248 electoral votes, were targeted by both candidates. In 2020, the eight targeted states had 123 electoral votes. If the immediate future resembles the recent past, this year in 42 states the presidential campaign will be of anesthetizing boredom. Lucky them.

The nation seems likely to have an excruciatingly long campaign that will turn on small vote differences in a small number of states. Political homogenization accompanies polarization: Only five sitting senators belong to the party whose nominee their state rejected in the 2020 presidential election.

Donald Trump is playing the Republican nominating electorate as skillfully, if not as melodiously, as Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello. With a chip on his shoulder the size of a cello, Trump has transformed the GOP from a party for optimistic strivers into a gloomy conglomeration of crybaby conservatives. It is wresting from Democrats the role as the woe-is-me party of victims who feel put upon by society’s big battalions (Big Tech, globalizing manufacturing corporations, manipulative media, the education establishment, etc.).

Today’s Democratic Party says it must save democracy from Trump in November. The party might, however, try to save democracy from him next January if, in November, democracy produces a result offensive to democracy’s Democratic saviors. Northwestern University law professor Steven Calabresi, blogging for the Volokh Conspiracy, wonders:

Suppose Trump again wins an electoral vote majority while losing the popular vote. Would a Democratic-controlled House count Trump’s electoral votes? Many of its members will consider today’s Supreme Court illegitimate and will regard the electoral college as an affront to democracy.

Although it is unknown which party will control the House on Jan. 6, it is probable that Kamala D. Harris will be Senate president. Would she do as the Senate president (Vice President Mike Pence) did on Jan. 6, 2021? Would she, against the passions of her party, count the electoral votes as they are certified by the states?

The Electoral Count Reform Act of 2022 clarifies that the Senate president performs a merely ministerial function. But is obeying the ECRA more important than “saving democracy”? Harris should be asked, now

(Washington Post)

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