Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I want to go to school here

During this past week I attended the Americana Project CD release concert at The Barn and the SALI tournament on Sisters athletic fields. In both cases, there was an abundance of young people pursuing a passion with joy, teamwork and commitment.

I also attended the Ten Friends fundraiser at Aspen Hall. There I heard stories of the life-changing experiences Sisters youth have had trekking in Nepal with the charity, founded by two Sisters teachers. Interviewed Student of the Month Sam Bearzi, whose extraordinary level of engagement he attributes to a desire to give back to a community that has given him “this monumental opportunity at Sisters High School.”

My own daughter’s experience here has been very good. Not perfect — there’s always things that don’t work the way you’d like them to — but overall very good.

I want to go to school here. It’s way better in every way than the suburban California schools I attended way back when. Sure, the quality of the schools has been hyped, but even cutting through all that, there really is something special going on here — but it may not last much longer.

It’s all under threat. After years of deep cuts, we really are coming to the end of our budgetary rope. The school district has done a good job over many years wrapping things in duct tape, plugging holes with bubble gum and making things work. We can do that for maybe one more school year, but after that, it doesn’t look good.

I hope people get that. I hope that nobody is feeling complacent, because, as Superintendent Jim Golden told me, “we’re not down the drain, but we’re circling.”

The district riffed 6.2 FTE last Friday. Good people doing good work in the classroom who are now out of work — and their work has to be covered by others or left undone. The proposed budget spends the district’s reserves. They’ll have to cut days or more people to close the remainder of the $1.3 million shortfall.

By 2014-15, Sisters schools will be looking at the kind of trouble Redmond’s having now. And that’s WITH local option. Without it, the game’s pretty much up. Quality education would be gone.

Everybody with a stake in Sisters should be concerned about this. The schools are a major attractant to Sisters; significant erosion of quality would be a major blow to economic development efforts. Losing all the many points of engagement the schools provide would harm families and reduce the quality of life in the Sisters Country.

So, what’s to be done? Above all, voters must support local option when it comes up for renewal later this year or early next year. That’s all that stands between the schools and real financial calamity. If you’re politically-minded, there’s a crying need for reform of PERS, which has placed an unsustainable burden on schools.

Beyond that, support the Sisters Schools Foundation. Volunteer to help with efforts like Celebrate Sisters, sprucing up the physical plant with volunteer labor. Work with organizations like the Sisters Folk Festival and the Sisters Science Club who are adding enrichment and material support to the schools.

We’ve got a good thing going here. We need to fight to keep it.

Jim Cornelius, Editor


  1. If you go back and look at the first year of our local option it was sold as $400,000 of money annually that was to be used for "badly need repairs to the Schools and text books". It was to be a short term tax that would sunset in three years. Well, how ever many years later it has morphed into 1.3 million dollars, almost 10% of our budget and primarily funds salaries and benefits (my assumption). Its time to be honest with us all and admit we are addicted to the drug. Its not a tax thats going to go away in three more years so why with the charade ? I say we be straight up honest and say the tax is real and long term, or resign ourselves to the class sizes we see at Summit High School, and deal with the consequences.

  2. Mr Editor,

    Well said. It's always interesting to learn that what is obvious to some is invisible to others. Like it or not, the School District is the primary economic engine of this community, both from an employment perspective and an economic draw perspective. Without it, this community would be hard pressed to exist in any facsimile of what it is now.

    It's easy to attack a public school. It's funded from taxes...it's government run. But if some people got off their butts and actually went into the schools to mentor or get involved, or at least get educated on what good work is being done in these buildings, they might think twice about throwing rocks. It amazes me when people attack something and have never set foot inside the building (not directed at the comment above, but instead at others in our community).

    Sisters School District is special because the majority of people that work in these buildings care about what is happening. That energy transfers to the kids and the results speak for themselves.

    We are losing families that are being forced to relocate from here every single month. Combine that with an antiquated and dysfunctional system for funding education in Oregon and you have a very tough challenge.

    In 1978, I was fortunate enough to attend a private boarding school. I remember what it cost because my father complained about it. The school taxes in our town equated to $5,600 per student and that's exactly what my private school cost. He was bothered that he had to pay twice! Well, that was 1978, today, Oregon funds approximately $6,400 per student, 34 years later! That's really sad. The national average per student in 2009 was $10,500. States like New York (top of the list) fund over $18,000 per student. At $6,400, Oregon is near the bottom of the heap. For Sisters School District to do the work that it does with so little is nothing short of a miracle.

    You can attack teachers unions and public education and complain about taxes, but you should realize that we are witnessing magic happening here every single day and the only way it can continue to happen is with FUNDING and the support of this community. I would love to learn what percentage of people that are presently attacking public education actually went to public schools. Many of them have no problem donating money to their college, why wouldn't they treat their high school the same way. You know why? Because it was free. People don't seem to value what they get for nothing. It's just human nature.

    Anyway, Sisters School District needs Local Option. Please take pride in this community and support the schools.

  3. Mr. Gorayeb ..

    I went to public schools (in Oregon).
    I went to State College (in Oregon).
    I have lived in Sisters for 30+ years.

    I find it dangerous for a community in general to have its Schools be "the primary economic engine of the community". That comment is actually a bit scary.

  4. To Anonymous,

    I think it's scary too. But that doesn't change the fact that it is the primary economic engine. My only point is, rather than waste time trying to change that reality (which hasn't worked), we can instead embrace and support it. The largest employers in Sisters by order of magnitude are: Sisters School District, The Forest Service and then probably The City of Sisters, Rays and BiMart. Even during the boom, no home builder employed more people in Sisters than any of those entities.

    It is what it is.

    By the way, thank you, you underscored my point perfectly, your education (a good one) was paid for in part or whole, by tax dollars.

  5. I would be much more inclined to support local option if the school district treated voters and taxpayers with the respect they deserve. I urge everyone who reads this blog to click on the OPINION link of the Nugget's home page to access a guest column recently published on the conflict of interest of the lawyers representing the Sisters School District. The three questions I suggested the Nugget ask have yet to be publicly answered: 1) Can anyone challenge a district decision that takes money out of the classroom and obligates taxpayers without voter approval? 2) Why engage lawyers with a conflict of interest when the district can benefit by losing? 3) Are the SSD lawyers protecting themselves at the expense of the district?

    Just because public education is important does not mean that public education should get a pass when things are done that are adverse to the mission of educating kids. Three teachers are gone because of the decision in 2007 to issue Full Faith and Credit Obligations to fund facility construction projects that by law should have been put to a vote of the people. Had these obligations been approved by the voters a new tax would have resulted saving those three teachers.

    What follows is an email that I sent on April 19 to Kiki Dolson who is the publisher of the Nugget:


    I'm not sure that you or Jim realize that I am funding this lawsuit [Morgan v. Sisters School District] in part to protect every Oregonian's right to vote in an election when that right is established in the state constitution or state statutes.

    Oral argument on the issue of standing was received by the Oregon Supreme Court on March 5, 2012 at the Lewis and Clark Law School. If I lose on standing then this lawsuit is over. That result would create case law that the peoples right to an election and vote when it's required by the constitution or statutes is not guaranteed by the courts; i.e., status as a voter and taxpayer may not be enough to seek court intervention. That's going to be a huge burden for the Supreme Court to overcome. I don't expect a unanimous decision. I expect multiple dissenting opinions on specific details on how to protect the public's right to an election and vote without creating havoc in the state bond market.

    Oral argument can be seen by clicking the following link:


    It's a very big deal to have a case on voter and taxpayer standing before the Oregon Supreme Court and it warrants being covered as news. In fact, this is only the second case ever on voter standing to reach the state's highest court. The first was the result of one voter being denied the right to vote because the assigned polling place closed early. My case is significantly more important because all voters in the district were denied the right to vote and this practice is ongoing statewide.

    I made Jim aware of the conflict of interest of the bond attorneys representing the school district many months ago. To date there has been no coverage of this issue by the Nugget. My only interest is getting accurate and complete information to the public that is relevant to the current funding crises facing our schools.  I look forward to your comments.

  6. Actually, the top employers in the City at June 30, 2011 were the School District, the Ranger District, Ray's, Three Creeks, the Athletic Club and Bimart (in that order). At that point Bimart had 31 employees. The City of Sisters has 19. No where near one of the top. Don't work there, just know enough about how to find data instead of making it up...

  7. I agree the schools are very important. If the Local Levy does not pass, we will probably move. I will not sacrifice my child's future no matter how much I love this town.

  8. Grover Norquist, arguably the thought leader of the Republican party and the conservative movement in America, has said the his goal was "... to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

    Well that is our schools he is planning to drown in the bath tub.

  9. 11:18

    What don't you just blame Bush for the Sisters Schools issues !! It seems to have worked at the national level for the last 31/2 years :). Give it a break !!

  10. Just interviewed Sisters' incoming fire chief. In addition to the quality of the department, he cited the schools as a top reason he chose to pursue the position. He's got a daughter who will be a sophomore next year, and SHS impressed him and his wife.

    I hear this all the time.

    Jim Cornelius, Editor

  11. Editor, the Fire Chief's comments prove that the spin put out by the local media, chamber of commerce, realtors, developers, and others is working. It's anecdotal evidence at best. I know families that moved here for the schools only to be disappointed because the educational programs lacked rigor.

    Sisters schools have many of the same problems that plague other districts although the magnitude is less than in many others. You and I have talked about some of these yet there has been little to no coverage by your paper of these problems.

    There are parents that have contacted me that were very unhappy with our schools. Because they still had kids in school they were reluctant to go public with their complaints. It seems there is, at least in some quarters, some fear of retaliation. I can't help people that are afraid to speak up about their concerns.

    The Sisters schools benefit from widespread community support, hundreds of volunteers, involved parents, and fewer than the state average of single parent families. These factors alone will result in a better experience for most kids. That said, I've seen no international ranking that puts this country in the top 20 for education, nationally I believe Oregon is is the bottom third, and within the state the district is not ranked number one yet that's the spin since I've lived here.

    I personally would like to see less spin and more focus on reading, writing, math, science, and history and more rigor across the board. I'd also like to know if this last reduction in force was based on merit or, as in every previous case, seniority. Our schools will never be world class if we continue to embrace seniority at the expense of merit.

  12. After dealing with some incredible arrogant administrators and board members and witnessing the lack of accountability when 1.3 was mishandled plus the bond issue that we were not allowed to vote on I will be voting no to any more money given to this system.There are alot of other learning options out there for children.

  13. Anon 3.08

    Let me tell you why I wont "give it a break". The Conservative movement has lead this charge since 1980: Defunding public schools have always been a primary objective of the national conservative movement.

    So yes, to the extent that George Bush is and was a toady of Grover Norquist, we can blame issues here in Sisters Or on GW Bush.

    But I am not partisan on this issue, This is generational, not political. Our community, Our state and our nation have been over taken by a craven generation that only thinks of "..what can i grab for me,screw everyone else". This has manifested itself in many ways: Accepting preposterous notions like cutting taxes while increasing spending will balance the budget , or that the value of your home would always increase exponentially so you can use the fake equity like an ATM with out ever having to create any real value.

    It all boils down to the same thing: trying to get something for nothing.

    We had the Greatest Generation who won WWII and built an America that was the envy of the world. They have handed the country off to the Most Craven Generation. The MCG is in the process of liquidating all of what our predecessors built and spending the proceeds in an orgy of selfish consumption.

    If you don't think this is a direct cause of our issues here in Sisters, you are not seeing what is in front of you.

  14. Anon 8.47

    What learning option in sisters does an under employed family with not enough income available for food and rent have? Home schooling is not an option since adult members of the house need to be working or seeking work just to live.

    You say that you don't want to give any more money to this system. Is there anything you will pay for to support education in the community?

  15. Mr. Morgan,

    Both of my kids went to Sisters schools. From my personal view I can say they received a first rate education. That is not to say that there are not issues in the system that need to be worked on, but you make it sound like the schools are wasting vast sums on incompetent teachers instructing a lax curriculum. That is just plain false. Concrete evidence, i.e. graduation rates, test scores, drop out rates, 4 year and 2 year college attendance rates prove your claims are false.

    Your vendetta against the public schools in sister is a mystery. If you really wanted to make changes in the way the school district managed funds, you would not sue the schools (which costs how much for them to defend?), but rather work to amend the state laws that govern them. That approach would probably have been more effective and not cost our school district precious dollars defending your tenuous claims.

  16. I have no vendetta against the Sisters schools. That is an absolutely false allegation. I want our schools to be much better in Sisters and everywhere else in this country. That said, I will not give the schools or any other public entity a pass when they violate the law and the rights of voters and taxpayers.

    No one has spoken out about merit more than I have in this community. I believe that the strong community support makes Sisters the perfect incubator for positive change in this state and perhaps elsewhere. Change to merit is not going to happen in the big cities, it must happen in places like Sisters first. I have talked to some of the best teachers in our district and they support a change to merit but can't get there because of the power of the unions and the education establishment. I strongly support the efforts of Bill Gates, T. J. Rodgers, and Andy Grove. Do a web search on what these strong supporters of a better education system have to say instead of attacking people that you don't know and have never talked to.

  17. Mr. Morgan,

    I will just point out that so far the courts have not shared your opinion that the schools have violated the law, or anyone's voting rights. I have read the laws you are basing your case on, and I don't see that you have any grounds for your accusations. It seems to me that you are unlikely to prevail in court. Hence you wont get the change you are looking for and will have only wasted schools time and money. That is why I suggest you work to change the laws rather than sue the district.

    I know you have spoken out loudly about Merit in the Sisters schools implying we have a huge issue with incompetent teachers. I don't need to have met you to challenge that. I just point to the schools results and my own experience.

    Merit pay for teachers is a fine Idea, but is really independent of the need to fund schools adequately.

    It doesn't really matter how you evaluate and promote teachers if there isn't enough money to hire them.

  18. Anonymous 5-19 at 12:32PM:

    Your comment about the merits of my case against the Sisters School District reflects poorly on your ability to research issues of law. You can choose to stay ignorant or you can go the the website I referenced above to watch oral argument before the Oregon Supreme Court. You can also go to: to get access to the Appellate Court opinion and all briefs filed with both the Appellate Court and the Supreme Court. Just put Morgan v. Sisters School District where indicated.

    If the School District has a strong case on the merits why are they arguing that a taxpayer and voter in the district lacks standing to even bring a court action against them? Why are they employing lawyers with a clear conflict of interest? The Oregon Supreme Court reviews a very small number of civil cases per year. It takes four of the seven justices to pick any case for review. Are you so naive and/or jaded that you believe they have picked this case for review without justification or merit?

    I've already won one case against the district for not keeping records of executive sessions; even if I lose on the present case I'm batting 500. That's pretty damn good where I come from.

    A better question for you to ask is why the district keeps doing things that get them into trouble; e.g., the Christen School scandal, the testing scandal, the no records lawsuit, and now a lawsuit challenging a debt obligation that should have gone to the voters but didn't.

    The next time you say something that could be controversial please cite reasons, logic, and facts that support your opinion. Saying stuff without references and without discussion of logic and facts amounts to nothing more than saying stuff. Anybody standing on a street corner can do that but it usually means nothing.

    We don't need new laws, we need the courts to enforce the ones we already have.

  19. Thank you May 19th at 9:52am. I completely agree.

  20. Mr. Morgan,

    I do so enjoy jousting with you on this blog.

    1. Courts don't enforce laws, the executive through the Attorney Generals, state police and local police does.

    2. Just because I question your opinion, you always end up by responding with name calling; like saying i'm ignorant just because I think you are wrong.

    3. Filing lawsuits against the local school system isn't a game. The fact the you think you are "... Batting 500" makes me believe you think it is a game. Stop playing games with our schools.

  21. Anonymous at 9:25 am:

    You hide behind anonymity so that you can't be held accountable in the community for the nonsense you say. I give a lot of credit to Andrew Gorayeb and the Editor for at least being accountable; you deserve no such credit.

    Law enforcement and the State Justice Department have no role in enforcing civil law; try getting them to arrest the school board for not taking minutes of executive sessions. These agencies enforce criminal law which is different from civil law. You make my point that education needs improvement.

    I have spent considerable time with the Nugget Editor going over the evidence I have that suggests the lawyers currently defending the Sisters School District have a conflict of interest that is potentially harmful to the district. He should publicly disclose what that evidence is and what it means. I've also, at his request, given him a copy of the Oregon Bar Rules on lawyer conflict of interest; he should explain what those rules mean regarding the current lawyers representing the district.

    The Editor makes a living writing the English language. He has sufficient education and experience to read and interpret our language. I believe he has a duty to tell the community what our legislature has said regarding the requirements found in the chapter of Oregon law specific to the local funding of public schools; he should tell the community what ORS 328.205 through 328.230 says regarding voter requirements before a debt obligation can be incurred for facility construction projects. He should also make clear to the community what ORS 271.390 does not say regarding school districts, what it does not say regarding a pledge of full faith and credit, and whether or not any vote is required before full faith and credit is pledged. He should also study the voter and taxpayer standing argument the district is making and the ramifications if the Supreme Court finds that a voter and taxpayer lacks standing to challenge certain actions of a public school district.

    Thomas Jefferson made clear at the birth of our nation that a democracy needs a free press to survive. He said that without a free and effective press government will not be accountable to the people; corruption and dysfunction will be unstoppable. Accordingly, our local media has a duty to tell the community what it knows even if doing so makes some people uncomfortable.

  22. I appreciate the Anonymous (May 19th 12:32) that is engaging Mr. Morgan here. It is a frustrating process to try and engage him. He has more time on his hands than most and to be honest, the reason I chose not to engage him more often is because 1) I don't have as much time as he does to play back and forth games to prove my points to his satisfaction, 2)to engage him just provides him the attention he so clearly needs, and 3) I don't want to become the focus of his next war (why people stay anonymous).

    I wish I (and other logical people like May 19th at 12:32) had the time and patience to be a counterpoint on a regular basis but most of us have a life and I would rather live it. I volunteer in my community but I really don't want to waste time playing back and forth with Mr. Morgan.

    I haven't talked to anyone that agrees with Mr. Morgan about trying to get out of the bond payments. My ethical standard might be out of line here but it doesn't feel right to take out a loan and then say you shouldn't have given me that loan so I am going to keep the money and not pay you back. Perhaps if you provided a list of citizens/community leaders that agree with your position it might help your case with the community. Although it could be that you don't care if anyone agrees with you.

    Have you given any thought to using your money to help others instead of on lawyers? (No, spending money on lawyers to fight your neighbors is NOT helping others.) I think you would find it more satisfying in the long run.

  23. Anonymous at 11:44AM:

    Oh, I'm sorry, I get it now. I have more time to research issues and therefore you won't engage me without hiding behind anonymity because I might be able to best you on the issues I have thoroughly researched? Give me a break!

    I hire lawyers to get professional advice on issues of law that interest me. Reasonable people think that's a rather good idea. You don't because my target is often out of control government which you seem to think is OK. I assume you take that position because what I might consider out of control is somehow benefiting you at the expense of others.

    You will not engage on the substance of the issues brought forth in this blog. You should be banned from further participation. This blog used to have a rule against personal attacks. It should be enforced now. I can't make a personal attack against you and others because you hide behind anonymity. You should come out from behind your rock to continue this dialog.

  24. Mr. Morgan - It seems you are asking the editor to take your side in this disagreement and turn your opinion of what the law says into facts. The government is not censoring what is in our paper which to me is what a free press means. The editor gets to decide what they write about, not the government and not you. It is wrong of you to expect the newspaper to become your mouth piece. Use that freedom you quote and start your own paper if you don't like what they print.

    I think the editor has given you plenty of space with your letters to the editor, special opinion pieces and coverage of your lawsuits. Anyone that is interested in more of your opinion would know they could contact you for more information.

    P.S. Regarding the last opinion piece (the topic you reference here)...By your definition of conflict the school district would not be able to hire any lawyer that was an expert in Oregon school bond law, the subject of the lawsuit because all of the experts use their expertise to assist schools in issuing bonds. Seems unfair to me.

  25. There are many lawyers that are experts on public financing. Some of those have never done a deal with the exact same characteristics and issues of law as the 2007 Sisters deal. The school district has many good choices of lawyers that could represent them without a conflict of interest.

    The lawyers I have used have no expertise in public financing but I hired him anyway because I had no better alternative. Bond attorneys make so much money from government entities that all I contacted refused to represent me because I was adverse to where most of their income is generated. My non-experts have succeed in getting my case to the Oregon Supreme Court which is no simple task.

    The Bar Rules are clear; conflicts have to be disclosed and there has to be a written recommendation to seek an independent legal opinion to determine if the client should waive the conflict of interest. That has not happened.

  26. Furthermore, I do not expect the Nugget to be my mouthpiece as you suggest. That said, I do expect it and its employees to tell the truth, to counter slanderous remarks that they know to be untrue, and to read what the legislature and the Oregon Bar has said and report that to the people in the community.

  27. Mr Morgan,

    I guess i am in a good mood today because i cannot resist one more pass with my verbal lance in our blog based joust. Here goes:

    Your position that the lawyers for the school district have a conflict of interest because they have "...done hundreds of FF&COs that are identical .... to the obligations issued by the SSD." is ludicrous on its face. We have what is known as an Adversarial Legal System. That means that each party advocates their position in opposition to the other.

    To do this, each party engages attorneys who act as their advocates in court. By definition, your advocate supports and has expertise in the position you hold. It would be monumentally incompetent for the board to engage anyone other than some one who had first hand experience in FF & COs such as those they have used in SSD. All I can say is that you seem to have no idea what the role of an attorney is in the adversarial system.

    A real conflict of interest would be if the attorneys portray that they support the SSD use of FF & CO, but were in fact actively working to bring actions like yours in other jurisdictions. That is the type of conflict that I am sure the BAR is looking for.

  28. To be blunt, you don't know what your talking about. Oregon Bar rules can be found at: http://www.osbar.org/_docs/rulesregs/orpc.pdf

    If the lawyers currently representing the school district lose the case now pending those lawyers would likely be subject to malpractice claims for giving advice to other districts that resulted in those districts doing exactly same thing the Sisters School District did. In other words, my case would be the road map to other cases in other districts and many of those cases involve Mersereau & Shannon LLP.

    Rule 1.7(a)(2) makes a personal interest of the lawyer a conflict prohibiting the representation of a current client. In the SSD case, that conflict would likely preclude any mention by Mersereau & Shannon LLP that there could be an alternative to defending against my lawsuit that would likely have economic advantages to the SSD. Rule 1.7(b)(4) requires the affected client give informed consent, confirmed in writing, prior to the conflicted lawyer representing the client. Rule 1.0(g) defines informed consent and requires the conflicted lawyer give a written recommendation to the client to seek independent legal advice to determine if consent should be given.

  29. We're relative newcomers to Sisters and a major factor in our decision to re-locate here was the quality of the schools.

    When I look at current funding and future prospects for education here I'm not entirely sure we would make the same decision.

    Education is an investment in our children. We know that.

    The more cynical among us might want to consider the connection between a top notch school district and economic growth or even the value of their home over time.

    We've got something special here that dedicated people with a vision have built up over time. By neglecting to fund our schools we could discard that accomplishment overnight. Considering the current funding climate for public ed guess what? We're never quality schools back.

    Let's go with what has served the community so well for all these years and make sure our schools are funded.

  30. Mr Morgan,

    Here is what the rule actually says:

    A current conflict of interest
    exists if:
    (1) the representation of one client will be directly
    adverse to another client;
    (2) there is a significant risk that the representation
    of one or more clients will be materially limited by
    the lawyer's responsibilities to another client, a
    former client or a third person or by a personal
    interest of the lawyer; or
    (3) the lawyer is related to another lawyer, as
    parent, child, sibling, spouse or domestic partner, in
    a matter adverse to a person whom the lawyer
    knows is represented by the other lawyer in the
    same matter.

    Since they and all the clients they represent have the same interest, ie that the treatment of FF & CO is valid,ie they advocate for it, then there is no conflict under this definition.

    I would agree that they have a conflict with your interests, but that is how our system is designed: Adversarial!

    Lawyers can lose cases in court without being subject to malpractice.

    I stand by my statement. Your position that the lawyers for the school district have a conflict of interest is ludicrous.

  31. Anonymous

    Ludicrous? In your misguided zeal to attack me and to make me wrong you have conveniently over looked the words in paragraph (2): “...or by a personal interest of the lawyer...”

    I will try to make this very simple for you. Here is what the Oregon Bar Rules say specific to the point I have made with all other words deleted:

    A conflict of interest exists if “(2) there is significant risk that the representation of one or more clients (SSD) will be materially limited by... a personal interest of the lawyer....”

    Since you know I'm willing to engage lawyers on issues that interest me I can assure you that I have vetted the conflict issue with lawyers that do investigative and enforcement work on behalf of the Oregon Bar Association. That said, I've also been told that it's very difficult to near impossible to get an Oregon lawyer disbarred or suspended. This is how they think things will play out if I win the case against the Sisters School District.

    An injunction will be issued by the court to force the school district to stop making payments on the unlawful obligations. That will cause the owners of the obligations to file a claim against the company that insured the obligations. That will cause the lawyers for the insurance company to go after the bond attorneys that put the deal together for the SSD (K&L Gates) and filed formal documents with the State Treasurer's Office stating the obligations could be sold without voter approval.

    I've talked to the insurer of the obligations and was told they rely on the professional advice of the bond attorney's that put these deals together. I can assure you the insurer will not eat this loss, it will ultimately be borne by the insurer of the bond attorneys that said the deal was lawful and made money on the transaction.

    Now, if I win, what do you think might happen to the lawyers that have done hundreds of identical deals and are currently defending the SSD? This case will be a road map for relief in other cash strapped districts. Do you think there is even a remote chance that Mersereau & Shannon LLP will lose future business or be black balled by the the insurance companies that insure these types of obligations?

    Is your answer yes or maybe? If it is there can be no doubt that the SSD lawyers are operating under a significant personal interest conflict in violation of the Rules of the Oregon State Bar Association.

  32. Mike,

    The only problem with your elaborate analysis is this: The lawyers interest and the SSD interest are the same here, i.e. they want the debt instruments they both have a hand in validated. Conflict means their interests are DIFFERENT!!!!!!!! Conflict means that the Lawyer would really rather not have the FF &CO validated!!!!

    You have found so many twists and turns in your game of lawsuits that you have overlooked the blindingly obvious: the definition of the word "conflict".

    Maybe the editor of the Nugget hasn't published anything about this story because THERE IS NO STORY!

  33. Anonymous:

    You called me ludicrous; it's time for me to call you ignorant because you are unable or unwilling to read the English language and to apply reason and common sense to what you read.

    Your right, the conflict rules apply to conflicts, but what you refuse to understand is that the conflicted lawyer must advise the affected client to get an independent opinion regarding the advisability of waiving the conflict of interest. This recommendation must be in writing and any resulting waiver must also be in writing.

    Most, if not all, clients would never know of a conflict of interest without disclosure by the attorney being asked to represent them. Do I really have to explain to you what I just said? If you disagree, please explain how a potential client is going to know if the lawyer has any of the conflicts addressed in the Bar Rules. Does the new client know all of the clients and issues the lawyer is representing now or has represented in the past? If a lawyer represents a client in an action against a corporation the the lawyer has stock in how would the client know that?

    The time for disclosure is before representation commences or as soon as the conflict is made known to the attorney. Mersereau & Shannon LLP and the SSD have been aware of an alleged lawyer personal conflict of interest for a very long time. This is an ethics issue that requires the lawyer to do what's right and required by the ethics rules of the Oregon Bar Association.

    Let go of your hatred and zeal to consider the following. What harm can result from getting a second independent legal opinion as suggested by the rules on conflict? For that matter, what harm would have resulted from taking the 2007 obligations to the voters as is suggested (it really says required) in ORS Chapter 328 that is specific to the local financing of public school districts? And, please tell me what the title is of chapter 271 relied on by the bond attorneys and the SSD to determine a vote was not necessary?

    I've given you a pass for days for not answering my questions. That's over. If you don't answer my very specific questions and instead continue to spit venom and hatred then I'm done with you. Everything I need to say to make my point with reasonable people I've already said.

  34. Anonymous:

    I didn't make my last post simple enough for you to understand. If I win, the SSD would likely gain $2.1 million in what lawyers call found money. This is money they got in 2007 as a loan but is paid back by the insurer of the obligations. Mersereau & Shannon LLP would likely be in trouble with some of their other clients and with the Oregon Bar Association. That's a clear conflict.

    The SSD would like (or should like) the $2.1 million in found money but that requires losing but the law firm wants to win to minimize its downside. An independent and non-conflicted lawyer might advise the SSD to minimize its defense and accept defeat to gain the found money.

    The issue will ultimately be decided on the merit, or lack thereof, of citing ORS 271.390 as legal authority to issue the obligations without voter approval.

    Arguing that a taxpayer and voter lacks standing to challenge the district just makes the district look bad. How many of us are going to want to bend over backwards to support the district when we are told we can't even challenge a decision by the district that obligates taxpayers without a vote of the people that takes money out of the classroom?

  35. Well said, Andrew. I appreciate the thoughts.

    Mr. Morgan..... Please, for the sake of our schools, our city and our sanity.... Go find another windmill to tilt at.... You are really, really getting tiresome. Don't you have some issues with NASA or the military? Maybe the State Department? Hell, even Deschutes County. Go after them for a bit with your anger. Leave Sisters alone for while. Let us catch our breath. Oh, and these schools are great and we specifically moved here for the schools. And, Andrew was 100% correct in that Oregon is a backwater when it comes to funding schools. Embarrasing.

  36. Mr Morgan,

    Oh my my my. Oh well I know know that anyone who disagrees with or challenges you is guilty of "hatred and venom". So be it.

    As for your questions, they are irrelevant. I choose not to answer.

    Bottom line is to not vote for the local option will cause harm to the Sisters Schools. Your Lawsuit can only cause harm to the Sisters Schools no matter the out come. The only question is how big is the harm.

    Harming the Schools will harm the community in the short and long term and in ways that will be very difficult to repair.

    I hope you fail. I believe you will. No Venom. Just honesty.

  37. Anonymous:

    Your refusal to answer any questions speaks volumes about you personally and about your argument.

    I support strong schools, I support better education, but we can't get there with the arrogant attitude that you, and others like you, have that the ends justify the means, that the voters and taxpayers don't count, that any one who speaks up and asks the schools to do a better job hates kids, blah, blah, blah, and on and on.

    The Sisters School District has a statewide reputation of pushing the envelope, get more money, get it no matter what, it's all for the kids. Well, some of don't think so. If it's all for the kids then merit should have been implemented a long time ago. If it's all for the kids there should be no reduction in days due to budget cuts; teachers and administrators should accept a decrease in compensation and benefits to do what's best for the kids.

    Enrollment in the Sisters School District is declining. Now we are implementing strategies to market our district to steal students from other districts while they do the same to us. This is a waste of time and precious money. The arrogant leadership of this district refuses to recognize that we don't have the economies of scale of the two competing districts in Central Oregon. This is a fight we will lose.

    The best performing schools in this state are charter schools in very large districts. Districts that are big enough, with an economy of scale, to funnel a little extra to schools that have the best academic achievement. We don't have an equivalent economy of scale and likely never will. Efforts to try and make the SSD equivalent to a private school will also fail without significant changes in State and Federal law.

    What I see and hear from people like you is a desperate effort to hold on to old ideas and old practices that are outdated in today's economy. All of us are doing more with less; it's arrogant for you and others to think that our schools are exempt from economic realities.

    Like I said, I'm done!

  38. Not quite done.

    Everybody following this blog should go to this website and look up Mt. View, Summit, Bend, and Sisters High Schools: http://www.schooldigger.com/go/OR/schoolrank.aspx?level=3

    The 2010-2011 rankings have Mt. View at 11th in the state, Summit at 34th, Bend at 59th and Sisters at 69th. The respective student to teacher ratios are Mt View at 24.5; Summit at 24.9, Bend at 23.5 and Sisters at 17.4.

    There may be miracles going on in Sisters but there is evidence that there are as many or more miracles in Bend without local option and with much larger class sizes.

    I would suggest this data reflects the economy of scale available in Bend that is lacking in Sisters. Because of our small size we are forced to carry more overhead and fixed costs per enrolled student. This will only get worse as enrollment continues to decline.

    I don't have any solution in mind but all options should be on the table including a merger with a larger district. Based on this data, the preferred option would be Bend-La Pine. The reality is this may be inevitable in a few more years. This will be very hard to swallow for some of the bigger egos in this town.

    This information is food for thought. I don't want any arguments. That's not my purpose.

  39. Jim Cornelius - Thank you for this forum. It is a great community service and I appreciate it. I learned a great deal from this discussion.

  40. Mr. Morgan,

    So you are done? Let me poke you with a fork and check.

    So your solution for problems in the schools is:

    1. Cut teacher pay to promote excellence

    2. Merge SSD into larger school districts so we can have "economy of scale" ... read larger class sizes for most schools so a few can achieve excellence.

    3. If 1 & 2 above don't do the job, lets sue the schools we trying to "help" to make them stronger.


  41. Mr Morgan,

    Here comes my fork again: If you go to this site http://www.psk12.com/rating/USthreeRsphp/STATE_OR_level_High_CountyID_0_start_51.html, Sisters ranks above all Summit, Bend, and Redmond. This totally contradicts your point.

  42. Anonymous:

    You're way too easy to beat. I went to your website to find a free sample of 2003 data. Does 2003 data have anything to do with the reality of today? Is this the best you can do?

    The data I cited is clearly for the school year 2010 – 2011.

    You also still can't read, I said my post was food for thought, not argument. The school district should put a muzzle on you. You are not helping their cause.

    I'm done with you. Go back into hiding.

  43. Since the discussion is regarding school performance, can we please end the "myth" of the charter school excellence. It is not based on an apples to apples comparision. Charter Schools do not have to accept discipline problems. Charter schools do not have to accept developmentally disabled students. Charter schools do not have to accept behavior issue kids. Charter schools can "get rid" of problem students easily.

    Charter schools serve a purpose, but they are NOT a panacea to the problems with education in Sisters or the State.

  44. Jim Long:

    I agree with the factual content of your post and I appreciate that you are accountable for what you say. That said, my point is that larger districts have greater financial flexibility that is often used to fund charter schools. Since charter schools are not burdened to the same extent as mainstream schools they can be, and often are, more successful academically.

    There is NO panacea to the problems that confront public education. Funding is only the beginning, burdensome regulation is closer to the root of the problem. The countries with the best education systems don't force non-performing kids into the same classroom as those that are motivated and work hard. How can we compete with South Korea, China, and India when we force teachers to deal with half a dozen disruptive kids in a classroom of 25? Ain't gonna happen regardless of the amount of money we throw at it.

    I also agree with a previous post that thanked the Nugget for allowing this discussion to take place. One hundred years ago these discussions were common in most every small town. Now people are so busy and preoccupied that it's hard to get broad participation. I would encourage the Nugget to summarize the content and argument developed here for the broader community that reads the print edition.

  45. I think if you compare the performance of the Redmond, Bend and Sisters school district on the Oregon achievement tests (OAKS) you will find that Sisters comes out on top.

    The district is also making an effort to realize economies of scale by partnering with other districts in the area on special ed, technology, fiscal, and human resource services.

    What really continues to impress me every day about the Sisters School District--a point Jim made in his initial entry--is how many well meaning people in our community volunteer every day in our schools. We are so fortunate to have help in athletics, the many volunteer mentors for Aspire program, smart readers, classroom helpers, the wonderful people who put together the Scholarship program (GRO), the Science Club volunteers, the Americana program and so many more. I am very grateful to live in a community in which so many people are willing to invest in helping kids be successful.

  46. I agree that Jim could do all of Sisters area a favor and broaden the audience somehow. I also want to thank Mike for his involvement in pushing SSD to be better. I would be the last person to applaud the law suit, but sometimes that is what it takes. John Sheppard did far more to further TAG in Sisters than MaryAnn ever got done. Multiple complaints to ODE finally got SSD to behave correctly, which benefitted all kids not just the TAG kids.

    Let's face it, SSD is hurting badly and will get much worse. Just asking the community to buck up and spend more money via local option when SSD has not performed is not going to work this time. Just ask Andrew G. how successful his volunteer day for SSD was last week. People will step up, but only if SSD meets the community half way. That has not happened.

  47. Chris:

    The comparative information I referenced is from the 2010 – 2011 OAKS data. Please go to the website listed in my post of May 21at 11:12 PM and confirm, if you can, that what I have said is correct.

    Your comments about the level of community support are not lost on me. It's the reason I believe we can do things here that would be impossible elsewhere. We just need the courage to do it. Change is always uncomfortable but we're running out of time. If this district is going to survive as a separate entity it's going to have to figure out ways to get a lot more done with less money.

  48. Alert:

    I will not be moderating further comments on this blog until Thursday morning.

    Jim Cornelius, Editor

  49. Mr Morgan,

    If you go to the website you reference and see ho wthe district ranks, Chris Jones is correct. Sisters bests Bend and Redmond SDs.

    (poke with fork..is he done yet?)

  50. Mr Morgan

    ...in fact Sisters ssd ranks 8th out of 153 in the state.

    here is the link


    So looks like we are doing prety well and our tax $$ are not being wasted in they way you suggest. In fact it would seem that despite problems -self inflicted and other wise- the SSD is performing in the very top tier in the state.

    Get your facts straight.

  51. Thank-you Mr. Morgan for all your research and using you real name speaks volumes about your charactor as opposed to those who don't(including myself because of my children in school) It is a real hoot to read these online "opinions". After reading yesterdays front page "Its Raining" article you can tell the school is ramping up to present to present yet again another local option tax to the voters at a time when those of us not employed by the school are struggling to make it. It is throwing money at such aflawed system that I will be voting no on any more requests made.

  52. Anonymous at 2:47 AM and 2:53 AM:

    I'm sorry you can't sleep at night.

    I have asked Chris Jones to check my facts referenced in a previous post. I trust her to have the intelligence and ethics to not mislead me or the public. My data was specific to area high schools, not a general comparison of districts as a whole. I would be interested in that data for 2010-2011 if someone could identify a link.

    You on the other hand are an idiot who is frothing at the mouth to make me look bad. You have a personnel vendetta that is not relevant to this discussion.

    For the second time you have cited data that is clearly not applicable to 2010-2011. Your new website does not identify the school year applicable to the data presented. That said, here is a hint for those that can read. This person's data shows Sisters School District with 1393 students. How long has it been since Sisters had 1393 students in the seats? Here is another hint, ODE shows Sisters had 1302 students for school year 2010-2011and this total includes no web school enrollment.

    Please take your white hood and robe and go back into hiding. You are not helping the cause you claim to support.

  53. Mr Morgan,

    I knew you weren't done yet!

    Thanks for calling me names like "idiot" and "ignorant"and accusing me of being venomous in your posts. I think if you examine my posts you wont find anything like that sort of name calling.

    I will admit to saying that i thought you were wrong and that one of your ideas was ludicrous (i apologize for that one, saying i thought you were wrong was sufficient).

    Having said that, I will point out that my data source was the same as yours, which is why i cited it-schooldigger.com; remember you were the one who pointed this blog to that site as authoritative. To be frank, I don't know if any of the data on that website is valid or how it should be interpreted.

    I was merely making the point (without calling you names) that we tend to find data to validate our own views, as i was able to do in this case with relative ease.

    So I will underline my overall point that I made at the very beginning: You have been making it sound like Sisters Schools provide a 2nd rate education because they are infested with overpaid incompetent teachers presenting a lax curriculum. I believe that is a complete misrepresentation of the school system based having sent 2 kids through the entire k-12 experience here.

    Do you have that kind of experience? My guess, and I could be wrong, is that you don't. My impression is that you spend lots of hours digging for data to validate your preconception, which is easy enough to do.

    So, I think your preconceptions are wrong. I dont presume to know why you have them.

    Cutting funding for the schools is in no way a good thing. You reap what you sow, and in this case we are sowing less and less each year. Thus shall we reap.

  54. I thought I posted this comment earlier so if it is a repeat, please delete it.

    Interested parties can access district and school report cards from the ODE website and draw their own conclusions. The most recent data is for last school year, 2010-11. http://www.ode.state.or.us/data/reportcard/reports.aspx

    I prefer to look at the data rather than rely on indices constructed by others on commercial sites.

  55. Anonymous at 7:23 PM:

    The web page that you cite comparing the overall performance of Central Oregon Districts does not indicate that it is 2010 – 2011data. The fact that it is the same data reporting service that I cite is not relevant. This website does display clearly identified 2010 - 2011 OAKS data for elementary, middle, and high schools which is the standard referred to by Board Chair Chris Jones.

    Looking at data on schools in Central Oregon is a good way to accurately compare measurable performance in our area. Larger districts can have some schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods that pull down averages; we don't.

    The cited website has 2010 – 2011 data that shows 1) Sisters Middle school ranked 70th out of 376, Bend's Cascade is ranked 26, and Westside is ranked 62, and 2) Sisters Elementary is ranked 170 out of 721 with six elementary schools in Bend ranked higher.

    We can't beat some of our neighboring schools even with the advantages we have; parental support, hundreds of volunteers, local option, fewer single parent families, etc. We're not even in the top 20% of all schools in the state and we don't have the disadvantages of the larger districts. We can and should do better or else give up the fight and merge.

    Entering into cooperative agreements with Bend and Redmond to improve our economy of scale will likely not work given that we are also trying to lure away some of their students and some of their funding.

    You assert I've said things I have not said, you refuse to answer questions, and you do not respond directly to points I have made. You are a very difficult person to debate. My agenda is not to demonize the schools, teachers, administrators, or board members. My purpose is to present facts and to challenge the district to do better; to change and innovate, and to do more with less like the rest of us are doing every day.

    Our economy will never be as great as it once was if we don't dramatically improve public education. We need to be in the top tier of countries in the world, not down around number 30 with some third world countries. We no longer dominate in manufacturing and technology like we did in the last century. Those sectors built the biggest and strongest middle class the world has ever seen. We need to do better!

    This is my last post so I want to clarify a disparaging remark made earlier. This town has a reputation of being unkind to newcomers that rock the boat of the good ol' boys. Six lawsuits have been filed in the last ten years in my neighborhood, I've only been a plaintiff on two. In the first, myself and others sued our developers for fraud for selling airpark lots without a legal right to access and use of the Sisters Airport Runway. In the second, myself and others filed suit against the former directors of our HOA for breach of contract and conversion for paying lawyers to file and maintain lawsuits against me and other members without authorization of the membership. We won that case and a $25,480.00 money award for the HOA. I have successfully defended myself from some outrageous claims during the last ten years but that's a story for another day. I've been president of our HOA for the last five years and things are better now.

  56. I just want to make one point and then I won't bother reading this blog string any more.

    I just finished taking a look at the Bonds that Sisters School District has outstanding. Our total current debt is around $24,000,000. The District has made good progress in paying down the principal balances of it's "mortgages" and actually paid one of them off recently.

    This is a really important point that needs to be made. Sisters School District has the lowest bond related taxes in our region.

    Sisters School District has not pushed the envelope in grabbing every dollar that it could. In fact, I would argue that the District is actually under-leveraged. Our taxes are almost 35-40% lower than Redmond's and a lot lower then Bend Lapine's. Just a simple FACT that folks might want to think about.

    In order to maintain first class facilities (and help attract students) we need to invest in them, we need to invest in technology and we need to maintain our buildings. We could actually use more money to accomplish all of those things.

    This is exactly what I am speaking about, people need to actually get inside of the buildings and see them before they form their opinions. It just makes simple sense.

  57. Andrew, I thought I was done but, $24,000,000 total bond debt is about $20,000 in long term debt per kid in a SSD seat. Do you know what the corresponding number is for the other CO districts?

    And, regarding property taxes due to school bonds, are you saying we have the lowest tax rate per $1000.00 in assessed value or the lowest total taxes collected in the tax district?

    A few more details would be appreciated.

    And, I've been in the buildings and they are wonderful.

  58. Mr. Morgan

    I am difficult to debate because I don't accept your "facts". You state things as if they were facts but they are just your opinion.

    You haven't answered many of my questions. Fine. But I do have one question for you that I think this blog deserves a yes-or-no answer to: have you ever had or do you currently have any kids in the Sisters Schools? I think it is very relevant to evaluating your opinion of the schools and to evaluating what your real interest is.

    My belief is that the answer to that question is no. I think that matters. Please correct me if I am wrong.

  59. mr morgan,

    Me again... I took Chris jones advice and wen to the http://www.ode.state.or.us/data/reportcard/reports.aspx web site. For the 2010-2011 year report, the most recent available, All 3 sisters schools received a "Oregon report card rating" of "Outstanding".

    Further All 3 schools exceed statewide averages in all academic measures.

    Your opinion is that the schools are doing things "...that are adverse to the mission of educating kids...". I think the most recent data refutes that.

    My opinion is that the schools have be doing a fantastic job under very trying conditions. The things "...that are adverse to the mission of educating kids.." are lawsuits you have files and the drastic cuts in funding the schools have experienced.

  60. Anonymous:

    I have not had any kids go through the SSD. My daughter went to school in Palo Alto California in the 1980's which had been regarded for many years as one of the best school districts in that state. I know what a good district looks like. I believe this is a good district but I also know it could be better.

    That's all I've said but you won't or can't listen. My lawsuit is not adverse to educating kids, taking money out of the classroom in violation of Oregon law is.

    The decision in 2007 to sell full faith and credit obligations without a vote of the electorate is now causing the loss of three teachers. This fact can be confirmed by Board Chair Chris Jones or anyone that is on the school district budget committee.

  61. Mr. Morgan,

    Have a nice day. Joust over.