March 15, 2013

Letters to the editor: Newspaper reinforces bias against park

Despite a large and diverse crowd of people who expressed their disapproval of the move to sell Congress Square Plaza to a private corporation last August, for some unknown reason the four members of the City Council's Housing and Community Development Committee continue to negotiate with this corporation.

click image to enlarge

Jake Lowry takes part in an Occupy Maine-organized cleanup of Congress Square Plaza in Portland in 2012. Press Herald coverage of the park repeats unfounded claims of disorderly behavior there, a reader says.

2012 File Photo/Shawn Patrick Ouellette

This is a very disturbing example of corporate welfare at its worst; to sell part or all of a city park to a corporation is a dangerous precedent.

But even more troubling, the hotel (formerly the Eastland) is about as villainous a corporation as one can find: It evicted 50 low-income tenants last year with little notice and has been charged with wage and hour violations by some employees.

Unfortunately, whatever the motivations of Councilors Nicholas Mavodones, Kevin Donoghue, Ed Suslovic and John Coyne, they are abetted by the scurrilous characterizations made by the Portland Press Herald in every article about Congress Square Plaza. Each article includes claims that people are publicly drinking or urinating in the park.

Actually, although I've crossed the park frequently for many years, I've never observed that. Rather, in warm weather, many tourists are sitting on the benches, and in cooler weather, the few people who are there are local residents. When does the Press Herald go to the park (if ever)?

No question, Congress Square Plaza can be greatly improved. One idea is to go back to the films and shows that were frequent in the square some years ago.

But the campaign of privatization based on class prejudice by both the newspaper and the councilors is rather shocking in Portland.

David Wagner


Standards for assessment of charter schools unclear

Colin Woodard's in-depth exploration of the Gulen movement and its connection to many charter schools was excellent ("Proposed Bangor charter school linked to Turkish imam," Feb. 17).

One statement in his article was interesting: "Their schools are often top performers." In what way? Academic success? Nationally normed assessment results? College acceptance? Graduates? Employment rate?

As a teacher and a social worker, I want to know the data behind words like "top performers."

As a taxpayer, I want to know what charter schools can give us that public schools can't.

Every year I get to vote on my town's school budget. School committee meetings are open to the public. Data is sent home to property owners and it is published in newspapers.

That's transparency. Thus, I have a measure of control over how my tax dollars are spent in public schools. When tax dollars are given to charter schools, I lose that control.

If some charter schools really are "top performers," then I'd like to know what they are doing that public schools could emulate.

In short, what does authentic evidence say works best to educate students?

Public schools already own buildings specifically constructed to house classrooms, they have transportation systems in place, they have standards for teacher qualifications.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. If parents are unhappy with their local schools, they should not have to look to charter schools to find satisfaction.

They should demand documented evidence from the public schools that effective instruction is taking place, and if it isn't there, then change should happen from within the tax-funded, transparently administered and surprisingly adaptable public schools.

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