PORTLAND, Ore. -- A spokesman for Portland Public Schools said the district's decision to pay a consultant $15,000 a month to help negotiations with a local teachers union "meets our benchmark".
The On Your Side Investigators learned Portland Public Schools (PPS) paid the city of Portland's former HR administrator, Yvonne Deckard, thousands of taxpayer dollars to help the district broker a deal with the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT). At this point, the two sides are going on 10 months of talks with no deal, and the fear of a teacher's strike is growing.
In the midst of the negotiations, a viewer contacted the On Your Side Investigators with concerns about the seemingly high cost of the contract.
"It seems like an extravagant arrangement or that amount is eye-catching," Bruce Scherer said, a PPS parent who contacted KATU separately from the original viewer.
The dad of two and active member of a couple of education policy groups, including Oregon Save Our Schools and Parents for Excellent Portland Principals, has many concerns about the contract. He also used to work for the Oregon Education Association.
"I've spoken to a lot of parents about the topic, there's a shared concern about the dollar amount and what sort of value the community is getting out of that sort of investment," Scherer said.
The On Your Side Investigators went straight to the district for a copy of Deckard's contract and it shows she was hired in July 2012 to lead the "strategy development process for upcoming teacher contract negotiations, provide on-boarding support for new Chief Human Resources Officer, and provide political strategy advising to the Superintendent."
While she was to be paid $15,000 a month, the contract also stipulates that "the maximum total payment under this contract is $90,000."
In a phone interview Monday, Deckard told the On Your Side Investigators that she had nearly 25 years of experience analyzing, interpreting and negotiating contracts.
"My professional goal is to get the people I have a contact with everything they need to get the contract, in the end. If that takes 150 hours or 200 hours, I'm going to do that. That's the value they're paying for and what they deserve to have," Deckard said in a phone interview with KATU.
Deckard also said the monthly $15,000 figure is lower than what she would otherwise charge as a consultant. Deckard said she typically charges $300 an hour at her consulting firm, YLD Consulting.
KATU learned Deckard worked for the city of Portland for close to 30 years, more than 13 of which was spent as the city's Human Relations Director.
In September 2012, the city of Portland hired Deckard as consultant for $23,000 for a series of tasks including working with "the Chief Administrative Officer and Bureau Director for the Bureau of Internal Business Services (BIBS) to recommend strategies to support more integrated services within the bureau; to facilitate work sessions with the Director and other key staff, and recommend appropriate management roles and responsibilities;" among other things.
However, nowhere in Deckard's contract with PPS does the district explicitly require her to provide an account of tracked hours worked or specific, tangible contributions.
Over the course of two days, The On Your Side Investigators asked to speak with several people at the district about this issue including the superintendent and a spokesperson. By Tuesday afternoon, PPS spokeswoman Christine Miles said no one was available to speak on camera since her colleagues were preparing for a board meeting and dedicating time to negotiations. They refused to speak in an on-camera interview.
Instead, Miles sent an email statement to KATU, written by fellow PPS spokesman, Robb Cowie.
"Yvonne Deckard provides strategic guidance on six different union contracts. This year we have successfully negotiated all contracts and are stilling (sic) working on a contract with PAT. That meets our benchmark," according to the statement.
No Competitive Bidding Process
Portland Public Schools did not put this consulting work out for bid. The On Your Side Investigators learned district policy allows PPS to bypass the bidding process and hire directly for "personal services greater than $50,000" if the "nature of the work is "not project-driven but requires an on-going, long-term relationship of knowledge and trust."
Deckard's contract includes the provision that she "possesses unique knowledge and/or expertise in a specialized service area, making competition impractical."
Without a bidding process, how did PPS ensure taxpayers hired the best candidate?
Cowie addressed this with the second half of his email statement to KATU, which read: "State laws allow public agencies to contract directly with people who have unique expertise in situations with a high degree of trust. Deckard's contract was approved by the school board."
"Yvonne Deckard provides strategic guidance on six different union contracts. This year we have successfully negotiated all contracts and are stilling working on a contract with PAT. That meets our benchmark.
State laws allow public agencies to contract directly with people who have unique expertise in situations with a high degree of trust. Deckard’s contract was approved by the school board.”
Department of Community Involvement and Public Affairs
Portland Public Schools
Superintendent Smith will update school board members on negotiations tonight during a scheduled board meeting.