Who Funded Pam Knowles’ Election?

9:33 pm

This article is reprinted with permission. It originally appeared on the author’s blog Global Ideologies in Education –Ed.

Portland Business Alliance COO Pam Knowles recently won a seat on the PPS school board. She ran against Scott Bailey in a high-price race for the zone 5 seat. Knowles spent $34,030 on her campaign and Bailey spent $33,561 to publicize his candidacy. This begs a few questions: does this de facto “pay to play” policy lock out particular communities, viewpoints, or opinions? Who can raise $30,000 for a high-involvement volunteer position while maintaining a job and raising a family? These questions become even more relevant when considering the election process in Portland: anyone can vote in any zone’s election. (See also this open thread for previous discussion of these issues. –Ed.)

The election process has turned into a media campaign complete with campaign managers, corporate donations, media budgets, and the presentation of false statistics (more on this later; let’s just say Knowles either has no idea what she is talking about or is knowingly misleading the public).

Location of Pam Knowles’ campaign donations larger than $100

The map above shows the sources of 57 donations to Knowles’ campaign. Several of them are in her district, but the vast majority aren’t even on her side of the river. All of this information is available here through OreStar, Oregon’s election reporting website. These 57 donations account for around $15,000 of Knowles’ $34,030 campaign; the other donations were less than $100 apiece and do not require documentation. I have no doubt that Knowles had the support of some people in her district — some of those sub-$100 donations were from voters in her district — but she certainly pulled in her biggest chunks of funding from the West side (and Portland businesses).

What is Knowles saying that makes the business sphere take note? First, Knowles claims we have a 42% dropout rate. She pushes for “stabilizing funding” for the schools without calling for taxes on businesses (she’s also the COO of the Portland Business Alliance; do you think they like the new tax hikes?). She practically screams efficiency and accountability in the voters’ pamphlet — all while suggesting the K-8 model is here to stay because “research” says it’s better. Added insult: part of that “research” is an overt attack on teachers (they’re more “accountable” in the K-8 model). Question for Pam: why do we have the K-8 model only in one part of town while another part of town (the wealthier side) gets a 6th grade academy and then a 7/8 grade school for middle school?

The claim of a 42% dropout rate isn’t unique to Pam; the Mayor has made the same claim as well (although I informed the Mayor’s office of their error and it sounds like Sam understands the issue). I’ll elaborate on the dropout statistic soon — but I can tell you that Knowles is intentionally misleading the public or completely misinterpreted educational studies (or she never bothered to read them).

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Kenneth Libby is an independent education researcher and a recent graduate of Lewis and Clark's Graduate School of Education and Counseling. He writes about national education issues, testing and philanthropy on Schools Matter and Global Ideologies in Education.

filed under: Data Crunch, Elections, K-8 Transistion, School Board, Tax policy

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6 Responses

  1. Comment from Stephanie:

    Great post! On a policy level for school board election reform what is the process? Who is in charge of listening to people who want this to change? I want to be fully informed before I speak on the issue but I enjoy writing and giving testimony. I will follow this story and if anyone wants to start working towards policy change on this issue count me in and when do we get started!!!

  2. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Pam Knowles also said the following: PPS needs to “even out the disparities in the district including the classes offered, the availability of libraries, the arts, foreign language, AP classes, PE, etc.”

    “The district (PPS) should include the arts in its core curriculum”

    If she really means the first statement it goes directly against the actions (not the words) of her core supporters.

    The second statement reflects her core supporters stated views.

    The point is that she was not so much supported for what she said as for who she is. I can raise some nice contributions from my family to run for the school board, yet many don’t even live in Portland.

    Portland is still small enough that the movers and shakers know each other. They are not supporting candidates based on their platforms but on the relationships and “safeness” (did I just make that word up?) of their past actions. Will they go along with the program? Will they allow their organization or a person to retain his or her power? Do they know people who are involved with school politics who know this person? Etc. Etc.
    Then the word goes out.

    Interestingly Dan Ryan raised more than both Knowles and Bailey put together when he ran for the board. What the money allows you to do is reach the people who don’t pay any attention in mailings. I got one each from Knowles and Bailey. I got 3 or 4 from Ryan. Since their mailings were about equal the race was about who knows them, not who was voting for their platform or vision. Put either against a Dan Saltzman say, or a Nick Fish, and see the result. Wouldn’t make a bit of difference what either had to say.

    The task for people in the community on this blog is to hold Pam Knowles to the statements I listed. It is a key to getting the job done.

  3. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    I think Buel’s got it right. Pam’s list of big-name endorsers is hardly a who’s who of business figures: Barbara Roberts, Les AuCoin, SEIU, Rex Burkholder, Deborah Kafoury, Dan Saltzman, Vera Katz, Randy Leonard, etc.

    But it is a who’s who of Portland (and greater Oregon) movers and shakers, and thus trumps Bailey’s list of ed establishment supporters: PAT, Stand for Children, etc.

    I’m certainly willing to work with Pam to “even out the disparities in the district,” but I think Ken’s research here gives us reason to look into reforming the system of electing our school board.

  4. Comment from Sheila Warren:

    Thanks Steve R. for posting this.

  5. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Sheila, I meant to acknowledge you for tipping me off to this article in the first place! Thank you!

  6. Comment from Steve Buel:

    The system of voting we have now was put forth as a reform to replace the old running by position and district-wide voting.

    Options for running: by district, by position, or all together and the top 3 or 4 win.

    Options for who can run: Anyone district-wide or only by district.

    That’s about it. As I have said earlier the ESD has a combination of district and district-wide.

    There’s pros and cons in each. If you run by district you can do grass roots campaigning, but the money raised is more saturating. Also, it is hard to get someone who gets entrenched out the next time around since you need someone to run against him or her. (i.e. Trudy)

    You need a vote to change the system but how many people will vote to limit their vote? Now you can vote for the whole board — in districts you can only vote for one person, thereby limiting your vote. Not a very feasible solution for most people — less democracy.

    I still prefer the ESD combination, mostly because I think it is doable.