Union workers celebrate Goldschmidt firing by PPS

No tears have been shed by organized labor following the Feb. 9 firing of Steve Goldschmidt, director of human resources for Portland Public Schools.

Goldschmidt and two of his top aides — Karen Schwartzrock and Dianna Hanlon — were ousted by PPS Superintendent Vicki Phillips. Phillips is the fourth superintendent at the cash-strapped school district since 1999. She was hired in May 2004.

According to several school employees, Goldschmidt was given five minutes to clear his desk and was escorted out of his office on the second floor of the Blanchard Education Service Center by security guards.

Schwartzrock and Hanlon were placed on paid administrative leave until the end of the school year in June.

Phillips issued a statement saying she could not comment on the terminations because they are confidential personnel matters.

Goldschmidt came to the school district from Eugene in 1999 as a highly-paid consultant hired by then-interim superintendent Diana Snowden. Snowden is Goldschmidt’s sister-in-law, married to disgraced former Governor Neil Goldschmidt, who last year admitted to sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl in the 1970s while mayor of Portland.

While in Eugene, Goldschmidt represented the Eugene School District during a 22-day strike in 1987 — the longest teachers strike in state history.

In May 2001, he was hired as the full-time human resources director by then-Superintendent Ben Canada under a contract that paid him a salary of $132,000 a year, an annuity worth $18,000 a year, annual performance bonuses of $20,000 a year, and a severance package worth $375,000 if he was terminated — unless the termination was for “moral turpitude or gross neglect of duty.”

It was no secret that Goldschmidt was at odds with the unions.

The Portland Association of Teachers has had a history of contentious bargaining that twice nearly resulted in strikes. Settlements were reached only after intervention from city and Multnomah County officials, and teachers agreeing to work two weeks for free and to start co-paying for health insurance.

In 2003, more than 300 school district custodians were fired after Goldschmidt — under the leadership of then-Superintendent Jim Sherzinger — helped contract the work to a private rehabilitation agency.

The custodians and their dissolved union, School Employees Local 140, appealed the firings, claiming they were in violation of the state Custodians’ Civil Service law. The Oregon Supreme Court will review the case at 9 a.m. Thursday, March 10, at Northwestern School of Law at Lewis and Clark College in Portland.

Today, the District Council of Trade Unions, an umbrella group of nearly a dozen union locals at PPS, has been working without a contract for more than nine months.

“We support the superintendent’s actions,” said John Kirkpatrick, a business representative of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 5. “A week after the firing we returned to the bargaining table and — really for the first time — saw some actual movement.”

Kathy Hornstein, president of the Portland Federation of Teachers and Classified Employees Local 111, which represents approximately 1,350 employees at the school district, posted on her union’s Web site: “To Vicki Phillips, superintendent of PPS — Thank You.”

“I suppose he (Goldschmidt) did some good things, but the damaging affect he had on employees was traumatizing. He never looked out for the best interest of employees,” Hornstein told the Northwest Labor Press.

Several teachers joined classified employees and former custodians for a party Feb. 19 to celebrate Goldschmidt’s firing. The event at a Northeast Portland tavern featured a Goldschmidt dart board and trivia game.

“Vicki got rid of the king,” said Tina Jacky, a custodian at the school district for 14 years. “Steve Goldschmidt is the biggest union-buster in the state. He’s personally responsible for the teachers strike in Eugene back in 1987. He’s also responsible for the near strike of the teachers. back in 2002. As for me and 300 of my friends and co-workers, he’s the reason we no longer have our jobs. The only person Steve Goldschmidt is looking out for is Steve Goldschmidt.”

Goldschmidt’s departure doesn’t mean all will be well at the district.

Last month, Phillips unveiled a plan to close six schools and revamp more than a dozen others. She also will propose cutting the 2005-06 budget by $35.4 million. Phillips says she won’t balance the budget with one-time measures, such as shortening the school year and spending down reserves.

“The district will continue to look for ways to work more efficiently and recoup savings, and will weigh programs based on their effectiveness at reaching the critical educational goals,” she said.

A “feasibility study” on central support services released Feb. 14 suggests downsizing central kitchen/food services from “full production” to distribution only and to look harder at contracting out the department to save on labor and benefit costs.

The study also recommends that the school district “vigorously pursue” a joint maintenance service facility with the City of Portland, Multnomah County and/or other public partners.