Return to Primary Index
Oregon Politics Index Page
Public Education Index
Oregonian's Carter wants more teacher-bashing in 1998
Distorting public-employee union power in Oregon and nationwide

The Oregonian and Senator Gene Derfler want more teachers fired

As quoted in The Oregonian articleMost Oregon districts opt to rehire teachers (3/15/00), state Senator Gene Derfler (R-Salem) is described as "frustrated" that more teachers aren't being fired: "we gave them (school administrators) a tool...and they just don't use it." By "tool," Derfler is referring to ORS 342.805 - 342.937, passed by the 1997 Legislature as SB 880, which repealed the Fair Dismissal Law and replaced it with the Oregon Educational Act for the 21st Century.

How many fired teachers will it take to satisfy Senator Derfler? It would seem that the senator ought to feel obliged to report any incompetent teachers whom he has knowledge of to the appropriate school officials. Indeed, The Oregonian reporters should have asked the senator if he actually knows of particular teachers who deserve to be fired. They should also have asked Portland school board member Ron Saxon where he got his numbers when, defending dismissals, he said "I don't know of any private business where 99 percent of people succeed." In fact a lot of young teachers quit the profession - and it isn't hard to see why.

With the remark that the new law "did little to make it (firing teachers) easy," the current article echoes a similar statement in Steven Carter's Feb. 26, 1998, story, "Teacher tenure law packs weak punch." Nothing in either story describes clauses in the new law which allow district administrators to use loosely defined "merit" as a basis for ignoring seniority when laying off or recalling teachers from laid-off status. Nothing in the coverage indicates that the new law places the burden of proof upon the teacher appealing a dismissal. Worse, violation of district policy is grounds for dismissal -- even when the policy is one forbidding employees from blowing the whistle on district mistakes or publicly criticising district decisions.

In story after story about the so-called "teacher tenure" law, The Oregonian has ignored its own coverage of claims that the main reason for the passage of SB-880 was that leaders in the Republican-dominated 1997 Legislature were angry at the Oregon Education Association (the teacher's union) for having contributed exclusively to Democratic candidates' campaigns during the past election. The Republicans won control of the legislature anyway, and SB 880 was their revenge against the teachers. Quoting directly from a March 21, 1997, story by Steven Carter:

Some critics see the bill as a payback to the Oregon Education Association, the powerful state teachers union that last fall waged an independent and largely unsuccessful political campaign to oust 10 Republicans from the House and Senate.

And in the Oregonian on 7/1/97:

Rep. Tony Corcoran, D-Cottage Grove, called the bill a Republican payback to the teachers' union, which spent heavily in last year's elections to elect Democrats to the House.

In the 3/15/00 article, Barb Drennan, president of the Molalla River Education Assn, is quoted as saying, she "can't believe that teachers who've gotten satisfactory evaluations for 15 years or more suddenly are incompetent." The explanation for this was also stated at the very begining of the legislative debate over reducing teachers' job security: senior teachers cost more, ergo, firing them, or harrassing them out, allows budget-strapped districts to hire more inexperienced, novice teachers for less money.

The failure of the paper to present both sides of the struggle over teacher seniority and job security reflects a fundamental and long-standing bias against workers' unions, more specifically against public workers' unions. This bias is quite understandable considering the great majority of the paper's advertisers, the main source of its income, are non-union and would not welcome fairness toward unions in the paper's coverage.