Hillsboro Argus Editorial Board Member Serves Up Propaganda and Calls It Opinion

Susan Gordanier is a member of the Hillsboro Argus’ editorial board. I expect her opinions be the result of sound judgment grounded in fact because I hold her to a higher standard than the average letter writer who relies on journalists like Ms. Gordanier for the truth.

The general definition of “opinion” in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary is: “a view, judgment, or appraisal formed in the mind about a particular matter.”

Ms. Gordanier was careless with her facts in the “In My Opinion” section of Friday’s Hillsboro Argus, and that’s putting it nicely. Her only opinion in the entire piece, entitled “Don’t Blame the Kids for Asking,” is that the Hillsboro School District “has had a string of public relations flubs in recent months.” That dubious assertion was in the first paragraph and her logic goes downhill from there.

Her piece sadly lacks sound judgment based on facts. In fact the remainder of Ms. Gordanier’s rant consists mostly of rumor, innuendo, fallacies, and, dare I say it, outright lies that she uses to justify her thesis that the school district is somehow having difficulties for which she provides no constructive insight or solutions.

For the sake of clarity, here are two related definitions of “propaganda” from the same source I used above: “the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person…” and “ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause…”

Propaganda is used to elicit an emotional, not a rational, response. It is designed to side-step critical thinking by presenting bias as if it was objective evidence. But it’s easy to spot.

Let’s take a closer look at the school district’s alleged flubs and the facts as I observed them from front-row center.

The next two paragraphs of Ms. Gordanier’s piece deal with the City of Hillsboro’s (as represented by Mayor Tom Hughes and consultant John Southgate) fantasy about accomplishing a building/land grab, that is, turning Thomas Middle School, or part of it, into an arts center at the expense of the school district’s taxpayers (I’ll explain more about that in a moment).

I was at the meeting where Ms. Gordanier alleges “At least one member [of the school board] suggested arty types so close to the new Lincoln Street elementary school might pose a danger to young students…” (Was Ms. Gordanier at the meeting? No, she was not.)

The facts: two school district board members at this meeting expressed concerns that the district would have no control over the comings and goings of the public at all hours of the day and evening, including the time school is in session. Those are reservations that need to be voiced and answered; otherwise we are not doing our sworn duty to protect our school children.

Does Ms. Gordanier suggest that we, the school board, not be concerned with the safety of school children?

In any case, the twisting of these legitimate concerns into a slam on “arty types” is disingenuous at best, and a blatant lie at worst.

The board did not encourage Mr. Southgate to move forward with the proposition to turn Thomas Middle School into an arts center because the city, i.e., the mayor and the people who share his point of view on this matter, wish to appropriate the building itself without cost. The benefit to the school district would supposedly be the savings of demolition costs. The school district would retain ownership of the land, so we really wouldn’t lose anything, right? That was the sales pitch, anyway. (Lest people forget, Mr. Southgate actually proposed that the school district donate the Thomas Middle School buildings to the city while retaining ownership of the land. Seriously?)

By the time the meeting drew to a close, most of the board members realized that this was not a win-win proposition from a well-meaning partner. It was a slick attempt to acquire a large building for free as well as the land it occupies, land which the district would never have the use of in the future. The city gets a big building and the land it sits on, and the school district gains nothing. In fact, the school district would lose out considerably in this deal. (Remember, the school district already has the voter-approved money for the demolition.)

The school district would be giving up a prime piece of downtown land planned for use as athletic fields that the students of Lincoln Street Elementary School and patrons of Hillsboro Parks and Recreation desperately need. Nor would the district have the means or opportunity to acquire anything like it nearby for a reasonable price.

Furthermore, the school district would likely be stuck with liability insurance premiums to make sure that it could weather a lawsuit if someone, for example, slipped and fell in the city’s building that would be sitting on school district land.

Add to that the city’s miserable record for timely development of properties they currently own, and it’s easy to picture school board members imagining an empty Thomas Middle School building sitting idle and growing weeds in the lawn — right next to a beautiful new elementary school — while the city struggles to find the millions in grants they would need for renovation because they sure can’t put that on the city taxpayers by using city funds. That’s an ugly image, but a probable scenario, and completely unacceptable to the local neighborhood and the school district.

All in all, the city offered the school board nothing to persuade us that giving away Thomas Middle School and the land it sits on was a good idea, and now the board/district is taking heat from Ms. Gordanier for rejecting the offer. What a joke. The school board has a legal and moral obligation to exercise fiduciary responsibility with school district taxpayer investments in the school district, and giving away school district property, the board decided, was not a way to accomplish that duty.

The ultimate irony here is that the city wants to make an art center out of what is arguably the ugliest building in town.

Next Gordanier slimes the school board with the innuendo that somehow Jeremy Lyon isn’t worth his salary because “Some people have noticed their own incomes aren’t keeping a similar pace.” Who are those people? They are morons if they think their income should keep pace with anyone out of some sense of entitlement or handout from “Big Brother.” What is Ms. Gordanier thinking when she quotes those folks?

We all know that in the United States of America we are in charge of our own paycheck. Don’t like it? Do the work and change it, but don’t expect it to keep pace automatically with someone else’s paycheck.

Jeremy Lyon’s salary (and benefits) is a drop in the bucket when compared to the district’s return on investment in an exemplary leader who’s earning a statewide reputation for sound education management. It’s the single best investment school district taxpayers can make. His financial package is very much in line with what other district superintendents earn who run similar or larger districts. (This is a matter of public record that could have been easily researched by Gordanier, a member of the Argus editorial board, so why rely on innuendo, except to make an issue out of a non-issue?)

The third mudball Ms. Gordanier has thrown against the schoolhouse wall leads with another innuendo that is also a lie. Ms. Gordanier said, “More recently, word slipped out of a lawsuit against the district.” She then repeated allegations from the plaintiff as reported by a cheap shot one-sided Oregonian article that slimed our very capable special education group, the superintendent, and the entire board. The truth is that this “word” did not recently “slip out.” The lawsuit has been in the public eye for months. That Ms. Gordanier didn’t know about it until recently means that she didn’t do her homework.

Sadly, I cannot comment further on this matter until it is resolved. But I’m very much looking forward to commenting on it when it is resolved.

Mudball number four is Ms. Gordanier’s crucifixion of the district for conducting prudent business as it normally does (as do many other local governments and special districts in Oregon), and implying that the board, or the superintendent did something crooked when tax notices that included the new bond went out.

The bond was sold as costing $1.25/$1000 assessed valuation and that, or less, will be the cost of the bond. The school district erred in not questioning the time-honored collection policy of the first payment. And we learned that just because things have always been done a certain way doesn’t mean that we should always do them that way.

Dr. Lyon took full responsibility for the decision, even though any board member, or citizen for that matter, could have said beforehand, “Hey, what about that extra amount you guys always collect on the first go-round?” Who had a clue? But that’s no excuse.

We all took a hit to the monthly budget, but Superintendent Jeremy Lyon stepped up to the plate with a public apology printed in the November 2nd Argus, and he didn’t point the finger of blame at anyone but himself. That’s an honorable man doing an honorable thing.

And please don’t be confused. Although it’s a lesson learned for the school district, and Jeremy took the responsibility, he doesn’t grovel and neither do I. It’s over and that’s that.

I really don’t have much to say about Ms. Gordanier including in her ghastly propaganda piece an appeal for the Hillsboro Schools Foundation’s Answer the Call fund raiser, except to imagine that HSF Executive Director Aron Carlson is tearing her hair out that HSF would be mentioned in a calculated propaganda smear of the Hillsboro School District. How can that help the kids who are working hard to help HSF?

I’m sorely disappointed in Susan Gordanier, an editor of the Argus, who, as a member of our community, ought to subscribe to Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce President Deanna Palm’s now famous words that are included in the district’s strategic plan: “We will re-ignite the community’s passion and commitment for our schools in order to build a world-class school system.”

Why did Ms. Gordanier go out of her way, abusing her access to newspaper column inches, to undermine the school district, and its administration and board, with her irresponsible propaganda?

Does “the city” want the Thomas Middle School building so badly that they and their mouthpieces are willing to chip away at a significant chunk of the glue that holds this community together – an exemplary school district that can attract businesses and business leaders who want the best possible public education for their kids?

If someone wants to be critical of the school district, by all means voice an opinion. But please don’t dress a political agenda (the acquisition of the Thomas Middle School building) in a faux critique, as did Ms. Gordanier.

If I can see through it, I’m sure many others can too.

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2 responses to “Hillsboro Argus Editorial Board Member Serves Up Propaganda and Calls It Opinion

  1. “The ultimate irony here is that the city wants to make an art center out of what is arguably the most unattractive building in town.”

    Beauty is a subjective thing, Mr. O’Donnell. Have you no sense of architectural history? I will argue that the new elementary school going up on Lincoln Street will new, but I will hardly deem it “beautiful.” There are a whole lot of unsightly buildings in this town, and in many people’s opinion, Thomas is not one of them. Old, maybe. In need of repairs, most definitely. Ugly—that’s too subjective of a word.

    Thanks for commenting, Ms. Adamo.

    I have no quarrel with your assessment of the Thomas building. In fact, the Romans used to say, “De gustibus non disputandem est.” There is no quarrelling with taste.

    The study of aesthetics is complex. Perceptions of beauty (or the lack of beauty) depend on individual traits and cultural conditioning. In 1741, Benjamin Franklin wrote in Poor Richard’s Almanack, “Beauty, like supreme dominion, is but supported by opinion.”

    I am no expert on architectural history, but in my travels, I’ve seen plenty of examples of historic domestic architecture and furnishings. Winterthur, the old DuPont estate in Delaware, is a living museum. But my appreciation of architecture in general has nothing to do with my perception of the Thomas building as blurred lines failing to define a putty-colored stucco facade.

    I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree about the aesthetic merits of the Thomas building. Fortunately, that issue has nothing at all to do with the school board’s decision to decline turning the building over to the city. — Hugh O’Donnell

  2. I am disturbed by Mr. O’Donnell’s perception of the spring ’07 meeting where John Southgate approached the Board with the possibility of saving the old Thomas Building for an arts center. I talked to Mr. Southagte shortly after that meeting, and got a different impression of what was discussed. I am one of the many citizens of Hillsboro who do NOT think it’s the ugliest building in town; I would like to see the school board more receptive to the idea of turning it to a public good. By closing down the dialogue with the City so quickly, they have lost an opportunity for discussion and negotiation. Mr. Southtgate’s main request was for a chance to do a feasibility study, nothing more. The study would cost the school district nothing. If it concludes that the building is not worth saving, then the discussion is closed. Or, it could be the beginning of a new opportunity for our community. I wish our elected school board officials would be more open to possibilities.

    I must comment, also, that I very nearly voted against the “closely contested” bond measure, in large part because the demolition of this grand old building was included. But, I almost always vote FOR school measures, and I hoped at the time that there would be a way to save this building for a non-school use. Perhaps there is still time to consider alternatives that would please the citizens, save the school district some money, and enhance our downtown district.

    Thank you for commenting, Ms. Demlow.

    The issue with turning the Thomas building over to the city has nothing to do with community perception of its aesthetic merits. The building is simply in the wrong place to be turned over to the city, especially with no appropriate exchange of value. A feasibility study, at a cost, according to Mr. Southgate, of about $15,000 of taxpayer money, would not negate the fact that we did our own study of renovation and code upgrade costs and found the figure to be approximately $30-40 million. What’s more sobering is that construction costs escalate at a rate of approximately ten percent per year. That means the cost of the Thomas building makeover at this time next year would be closer to $33-44 million.

    Saving the district the demolition cost does not replace the land that the city would de facto appropriate from the school district. We are building a school on that site, and that school requires fields. Park and Rec also needs those fields. What does the city expect us to do, bus Lincoln Street kids elsewhere? That’s only part of the challenge you are facing when asking for the Thomas building.

    If the city wanted to buy the building for the savings of demolition costs, I’d consider it, provided they move it in a timely fashion of the school district’s choosing to another site owned by the city. Since that is not a realistic solution to the challenge, I suggest that the city look elsewhere.

    One more thing to think about…if the Thomas building was viable, I would have sought to turn it into a regional professional development center for educators. Or keep it as a school. But the Thomas building has to go for a whole variety of very sensible reasons.

    Please be a leader, Ms. Demlow, of enlightened citizens who realize that the Thomas building is not the Holy Grail. The grant money that would be spent on that structure, if it was available to the city, would be better spent on new construction on land that we are not in contention for.

    And thanks for voting “yes” on the bond for the sake of Hillsboro’s children. You were wise not to let an unrelated issue cloud your judgment. — Hugh O’Donnell

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