The story of the Portland Schools’ current payroll debacle gets no less disturbing as it unfolds, with more bad news dribbling out day by day.
The failure by a school department to maintain an accurate payroll system is shocking in itself. But more troubling is the clumsy response of Superintendent Xavier Botana and school board leadership, whose evolving and often inaccurate explanations have magnified the problem.
The financial problems of the department are apparently deep-seated and long-standing, and administrators had early warning of oncoming disaster with the early audits in May.
A decisive administrative response should have included a candid, accurate, public assessment of the problem, and a clear plan for solution. That didn’t happen. The number of people affected grew with each passing day, to a point where now half the staff has reached out to the administration to raise complaints. A serious problem became a public relations nightmare, further damaging the school system and those who work in it. It will take some work to repair the reputation of the department.
Portland Schools are poised to hire a new superintendent by this coming May, which provides a welcome opportunity to change direction. For Portland residents, it’s a wake-up call to pay attention to the school department and help shape its future.
We urge residents to get involved in the public process during the search for a new school leader. We hope a new superintendent is not afraid to make difficult choices about the long-term changes that will ensure the school department’s success.
We admire the accomplishment of the equity goals that have been the priority for the schools in recent years, but a new superintendent should be able to accomplish those goals while running a department that can timely pay its employees.
It’s up to us to demand better from our school system.