Opinion: PPS endangers own bond by suing reporter


Jamie Bikales

Community members gather in the cafeteria on Feb. 8 to discuss the upcoming school bond.

Portland Public Schools is currently running a bond campaign with accountability and transparency as its main pillars. It is asking voters to trust that it can overcome the issues that led one disaster after another last year – most prominently, the discovery of health hazards in schools throughout the city and an attempted cover-up.

However, on April 4, in breach of that trust, the district did something both anti-accountable and anti-transparent.

It made the highly unusual decision to sue Portland reporter Beth Slovic to prevent the release of records regarding teacher leave. Slovic had filed the normally routine Freedom of Information Act request last year, and Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill agreed the records should be released.

According to the Portland Tribune, in 97 percent of instances in the past three years when the DA made a similar ruling, the agency involved released the records. PPS refused.

The district cites privacy concerns for teachers. But it seems to ignore the fact that the decision to keep the information secret – despite Underhill’s ruling – may make it appear to voters that PPS is headed down the same dark path that caused the lead crisis and fall of a superintendent.

As Slovic told the Cardinal Times, “I am [pursuing the records] because sunshine is the best antiseptic. They shouldn’t feel like they have anything they need to hide.”

This lawsuit may lead voters to conclude that PPS is out of chances to prove its accountability. It could be the last straw that prompts them to move their pen to the “No” box next month.

This was the view of some readers in the comments section of The Oregonian/Oregonlive after the newspaper came out with an editorial in support of Slovic.

“Another good reason to vote no on the $790 million bond this spring. We cannot trust PPS. They are as transparent as a stone wall,” wrote one commenter. “Voters will see a huge increase in property taxes for no guarantee of any accountability whatsoever,” said another.

Slovic agrees, saying, “The lawsuit is a waste of money and is detrimental to the district’s attempt to be transparent with the public.”

While she acknowledges that “voters can probably hold two different thoughts in their head and evaluate the bond separately,” the lawsuit will give fodder to “people looking for a reason not to vote for the bond.”

And with polling showing a close split, every vote will count.

The district should withdraw its lawsuit and release the records to Slovic, thereby re-affirming its commitment to accountability and giving the bond that its students so desperately need a better chance of success.