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A Casey Stengel moment

“Can’t anybody here play this game?”

— Casey Stengel

The manager of the New York Mets reportedly asked that question in 1962, when the team was on its way to a 40-120 record in its expansion season. This week, Gov. Kate Brown’s administration botched the release of annual school performance ratings barely two weeks before the election. This time, the game is politics, not baseball, but the question seems appropriate.

Oregon schools chief Colt Gill initially decided to delay releasing the school performance data until after the Nov. 6 election. Brown faces a close re-election battle with Republican Knute Buehler, who has made the state’s poor education performance his top issue in the campaign.

The Oregonian reported that the Education Department gave school rankings to local district superintendents on Oct. 4, so they could prepare for the Oct. 25 release of the statewide data, but told school district officials last week that the department would be delaying that release for three weeks, without giving a reason.

This week, the department’s spokesman said ODE delayed the release so it could launch a new website designed to fight absenteeism, then said the next day that officials needed more time to deal with the fact that some schools get low rankings because not enough students took the statewide tests.

On Wednesday, Gill reversed course and released the rankings, but the damage had been done. The delay looked like nothing more than an attempt to shield Brown from bad news on school performance on the eve of the election.

It’s not clear whether that’s the case — officials said that while Gill informed the governor’s staff of the decision, it was his call — but it doesn’t really matter. Perception counts for a great deal in politics, and as they say in the business, the optics on this were terrible.

Gill said he wanted more time to help schools get ready to respond to the public release of the data, which is in a new format under federal guidelines, but after a public backlash over the delay, the governor decided to release the data after all.

Gill said he never discussed the delay directly with Brown, telling the governor’s chief education officer instead. But the mystery here is why neither Brown nor, apparently, anyone on her staff realized how the public would view delaying the release until after the election. Buehler, of course, blasted the governor for the misstep — although he wound up holding his press conference to do that just as the data was being released.

Sorting out the school data itself will take time — the state released report cards on individual schools, but not statewide summaries as in the past. But the way this was handled suggests an administration that runs less like a well-oiled machine and more like the 1962 Mets.

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