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Should voters be paying to play the race card?

The “people’s” money (federal, state and or local) pays for programs like “Taking it Up,” a program in the North Clackamas School District for the past two years. Never heard of it? It is not surprising! What is surprising, and also discouraging, is that there seems to be nebulous “reasons” for its introduction into the district’s workforce and into the budget.

Why are our district employees in need of a costly program, which is based primarily on historical events related to racism? Why are thousands of taxpayer dollars being employed to educate adults on race relations?

The question surrounding “Taking it Up” are as much to do with stewardship of our district leaders, as they are to do with the materials and techniques used in its delivery.

Funds for “Taking it Up” come with the “people’s trust.” Trust that our local representatives spend our money toward its greatest need and greatest efficiency. That is true stewardship. I wonder how “Taking it Up” is deemed efficient in a school district that has terminated employment for some, reduced hours for others, cut programs, and charged the public additional monies for that were once paid for by their taxes? How and why is it possible to spend thousands of tax dollars on a program like “Taking it Up,” that seems to have as its primary goal the promotion of the race card, why it is an “imperative” for us to pay taxes for such a program?

I became aware of this program and its theme of identifying and acknowledging racism over a year ago when I happened to walk by the auditorium at the Schellenberg Campus.

As the campus monitor of Sabin-Schellenberg, I was aware of the conferences at the south campus, but not aware of its contents, until one day, last school year, when I happened onto an abrasive conversation, taking place between a district school bus driver attending the conference and the facilitator of “Taking it Up.”

The bus driver was being chastised by the facilitator for not being “cooperative” in the “Taking it Up” seminar. Curious, I later spoke to the driver about the incident, which eventually led me to speak to another dozen other employees who attended these meetings, at Schellenberg. That took nearly a two-year period of time. To avoid being influenced merely by hearsay, I decided to observe and hear the content personally. What I saw and heard over the next year and a half at Schellenberg was a throw back to my sociology classes in college in the late 1960s and early ‘70s — a study of racism in America.

Consistently, every time I attended, the audiences at Schellenberg were 100 district employees, at least 80 to 90 percent Caucasian, with most being in the 30 to 50 age-range. I dare say that most people in that age grouping, experiencing life in a metropolitan area like Portland, have for years had contact with very diverse cultures and have friends of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. I feel safe saying at least 50 percent were Obama supporters. Those observations are significant. Whoever decided that this school district needed this training maybe did not really “know” its employees.

Replete with wall charts, handouts and lectures the two-day conferences had people split into about a dozen groups of six to eight employees seated around about 10 to 12 round tables. There they discussed what they had heard in the lectures and what some of their experiences were, involving racism. Then, as part of the group experience, they were instructed to make signs of what they had been given early in the sessions. Adults were expounding things they had known for years, through their own education, of the historical events of racism in an old America, combined with things taught by “Taking it Up.”

The signs were displayed on the walls throughout the auditorium detailing historical racist events, laws and atrocities. There were handouts aimed at “reminding” the audience members of their white heritage and white people’s involvement, in a racist history. One handout listed dates from the 17th century to more recent times, of a chronology of wrong doings against blacks, Indians and Hispanics, by America’s white population. Another four-page handout was more blunt in its declaration of “white supremacy.” During the two-year period I spent several hours listening and observing these actions within the confines of the auditorium, the race card on full display.

Delivering shame and guilt

Increasingly over the next year of these two-day seminars, I became more concerned with the message and our “need” to have such a program, in our district and at our expense. As a former teacher, I was turned off by the delivery used by the facilitators. The mood of these conferences was, to put it succinctly, negative.

Some have said, of the second year, they were not as accusatory as year one, but the atmosphere always appeared to me to have a strong element of shame and guilt directed at the audience, an audience of adults, that had no responsibility for, or control over, the racism of the past.

If the objective for the program was for whites to interact better with minorities, as was stated as one of the reasons for the program, the delivery methods and techniques of the facilitators of “Taking it Up” were counterproductive, for those employees I spoke with in the following months. “Demoralizing” was the way it was described to me by several longtime employees of our district.

Comments from our employees about their period of “subjugation,” during the breaks told volumes of the way they felt about the program and its delivery — “put down,” “humiliated” and “talked down to,” as if we were “racists” — were only a few replies. The race card, with a mixer of shame and guilt was the theme, and delivery, a hallmark for race industry issues, supported that goal.

Paying for the race card

The crux of the matter involving “Taking it Up” and other such programs has to eventually be measured in cost effectiveness. I have no specifics as to actual costs for this project, but have talked to enough knowledgeable employees to come up with a rough estimate of $200,000 per year for its implementation. Here are the considerations:

Every time a two-day conference is held it is attended by a least 100 employees who must who must be substituted for that two-day period. That means that double pay is financed by our taxes. Breakfast and lunch for both days is provided for all in attendance. That estimate, by staff culinary employees, is over $2,000 for the two-day event. That, times six to eight events per year, conservatively runs nearly $12,000 a year.

A union rep I spoke with and several other people who know their departmental operations feel $30,000 per conference, per department, is reasonable to assume. All departments must participate. Then include extras like, extra time for monitoring, set-up, clean-up and breakdown and the costs escalate.

The bulk of our expenditures come with the initial hire of the outside organization “Taking it Up” and the five-day training period, for our people prior to the 2012 inauguration. That training, from what I found out, was done not, using our facilities. That initial “investment” could be staggering when considering the percent it is of the overall district educational budget.

Recently, I heard that federal monies have been withdrawn from this program. If that is so, does that portend a greater expense for the county if “Taking it Up” continues this next year and beyond. I have also heard that every district employee is “required” to have gone through this procedure. I’m not sure about that element of it. Either way, federal, state and local monies are in play. Someone, somewhere, in picking up the tab for an expensive program here in North Clackamas County. Repeat — I have no official numbers as to the “economic” costs of paying for the race card but full disclosure should be the mandate; why, how much and how it profits our district.

Conclusion — Why the race card

I’ve come to the conclusion that “Taking it Up” is a program we don’t need and just as importantly, we do not have the expendable income to pay for. Any organization with stewards who are responsible for spending large amounts of revenue, revenue that is acted upon, to identify a specific need for that spending. There needs to be evidence.

Whoever made that decision must have had access to employee’s files indicating that North Clackamas School District employees are linked to countless charges of racism and harassment issues. Perhaps our supervisors were concerned about an extreme potential for the same. Where, in NCSD employee files is that evidence indicating that we need “Taking it Up?” Or is it a racist assumption made on predominance of the lighter skin color of most of our employees, that we needed to be indoctrinated with the “Taking it Up” message to prevent our racist tendencies? If that scenario is accepted, isn’t that assumption of potential racism, due to white skin, racism in reverse? And if racism is wrong everywhere, isn’t that solid, logical reason for dumping the expense and the process of “Taking it Up.”

The program is a study in redundancy and bureaucratic overkill. All district employees are mandated, every year to take a five-or-six-hour online course on, among other things, harassment in the workforce. This includes topics on race, gender, religion and sexual offenses. We pay for these courses with our tax dollars. Is it not redundant or are those classes not sufficient enough to equip our people with skills to behave well? “Taking it Up” is just another example of social engineering perpetrated, in part by a race industry that turns a good profit at the expense of good people like those that exist in this county, in Oregon and in other places throughout the nation that have overcome its racial problems. Look around, is that not true? I guess it depends on your point of view or the side of your brain you use to evaluate life or maybe if your experience in the school yard was unpleasant.

The “Taking it Up’s” of the world are attempting to advance, in many cases a political agenda by bullying, demoralizing and talking down to innocent audiences that exist in a world NOT filled with racism. The pretense of education has become the banner of the movement. The problem is that our employees at NCSD are mature adults, not children in a school setting and NOT GUILTY of the implications set forth by “Taking it Up.” Jousting at imaginary windmills with utopian idealism and naivete is, in my opinion, itself an immature process. So, if not done for the promotion of utopianism, perhaps the motivations go beyond or around that “ideal,” to a political agenda that aims to set groups of people against each other. Ever read Marx?

Organizations who labor under the weight of the past society’s mistakes may fall victim to their nonsense. Our stewards should have seen this coming. But, guilt and shame can blind.

In time of a black president, voted in primarily by whites, from many “white states” like Oregon, isn’t there reason for suspicious caution when these organizations come knocking, with their hands out? There is no doubt that racism, worldwide, still exists and that racists, as in the history of all mankind, still come in a multitude of skin tones. There is no argument that the historical events that are the backbone of the theme of “Taking it Up” took place and were deplorable, but racism, institutional and individual has drastically declined since the period of time, of Selma, Ala., circa 1955. More importantly, our people, in this place, in this time are not those people then, in theirs. Let’s not assume their guilt because we might look like them, for that would be racism.

The emotional pitch, the numerous wall charts, the offensive and redundant handouts and accusatory atmosphere have no place within an organization of hard working, fair and compassionate workers. They need not be harangued by an industry that makes money off the race card.

The stewards of NCSD should, if they have not already, cease subjecting its employees that attempts to hold people accountable for the “sins of our fathers.” Let “Taking it Up” sell their program to Rutgers University — I hear there’s a real need for it there!

Terry Mathews is a campus monitor at the Sabin-Schellenberg Professional Technical Center. In 2012, NCSD set a budget of $60,000 annually (which doesn’t include staff time) to train all classified and certified staff members by 2017 in “Taking It Up.” You can testify in front of North Clackamas School Board members before their final approval of a budget plan June 26.




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