One way that the City of Portland can help its high schools

Rich Rodgers

One way that the City of Portland can help its high schools

For those who argue that the city should stay out of the high school redesign discussion, look at this outstanding Housing Authority of Portland project as an example of what the city and other local governmental partners can do to help. 130 units of housing (30 of them new, 100 rehabbed), right across from Humboldt Elementary and a few blocks from Jefferson. If there are 130 K-12 kids in those units, that represents about $1,000,000 a year in state dollars for schools in the Jefferson cluster, plus additional federal Title I funding. The entire instructional budget at Jefferson is just over $3 million, for comparison.

A project of this scale, all by itself, represents the potential to keep enrollment at sustainable levels in the neighborhood elementary and middle schools, and help solve the enrollment issues in high schools. By contrast, if it were built in a neighborhood with an already-overcrowded elementary school, it would create the need for a new school--about a $20 million proposition. Unfortunately, very little is done currently to coordinate school facilities and curriculum planning with housing investments.

Of course, administrative stability and curriculum are other critical elements in stabilizing and growing enrollment in our high schools. But make no mistake, housing investments make a big difference. The city spends millions of dollars a year in order to gap finance affordable housing projects, while also, through its Housing Bureau, playing a central role in the coordination of state tax credits, federal grants, and other external housing resources. Over the course of the past fifteen years, the city has participated financially in the construction or preservation of over 10,000 housing units.

Investment in family housing is not a silver bullet for schools, but it is a huge factor. The potential for extra enrollment-based dollars creates the opportunity to engage neighborhood parents in a discussion about priorities for the curriculum. Ideally, not just discussions about what to preserve, but also what new classes might be added in order to make these schools as attractive as possible to parents.

  • (Show?)

    Rich, I guess we joust again!

    I have agreed with you in past discussions that City development policies will impact the schools. Allowing this is a lot different than saying the city should be a part of the redesign discussion.

    Regardless, I am not sure what I am supposed to learn from your example. I presume this project is supposed to show that building low income housing will stabilize our school population.

    Do we have any shortage of Section 8 housing in the city (this is how the project is described in the web page)?

    And look where the low income housing is being built (actually the project mainly renovates and expands an existing facility)--right smack in the main area of town where there is a concentration already of low income residents AND where these same residents are voting with their feet and abandoning Jefferson.

    We already have a problem with an over concentration of disadvantaged populations in some areas of the City. I fail to see how expanding such housing in the same area helps the schools. Won't this only make things worse?

  • (Show?)

    Paul, as usual, your aggressive assumptions are wrong. You're only jousting if you hold a lance.

    N/NE Portland, in particular, has seen a huge drop in low and moderate income residents over the past fifteen years--one that tracks pretty closely with the drop in enrollment at Jefferson (compounded by the instability and ongoing experimentation that we've discussed earlier). Many of the people displaced by gentrification have ended up in overcrowded districts east of 82nd avenue.

    The newcomers in inner N/NE are much whiter, on average, and have fewer and younger kids, and are far less likely to send their kids to the neighborhood schools when they do reach school age.

    We have a shortage of Section 8 housing throughout the city. Section 8 is just one method among many of financing housing.

    Since you're a professor who presumably purports to show some deference to method and research, why is it that you consistently betray those principles when you go off half-cocked on any number of local political issues? I can only assume that because you call yourself a political scientist, you reflexively consider yourself informed. I'm embarrassed for you.

  • (Show?)


    Spare your embarrassment for those who need it: the children of North Portland whose schools you want to fix by switching over to Gmail, about as timid a political proposal as I've heard in a long time. But since you didn't even know the basic facts of school transportation, I suppose I should not be surprised.

    You've ducked twice now the basic questions facing Jefferson: 21% of the local neighborhood residents--white and black--send their children to the school. By any measure, the school is failing.

    Yet you laud a housing development that will pack more poor kids into the school's attendance boundary? The solution, Rich, much as it might challenge your ideology, is to get the middle class gentrifiers to keep their kids in Jefferson.

    I have four children in the PPS, so this is not just a hypothetical for me. Arts and music have already been slashed; sports don't exist at the middle schools except by parent and teacher volunteers; PE is about to be eliminated; and class sizes are 30 in elementary and 45 in high school.

    There is no way to avoid the demographic realities of a 20 year decline in school population.

    Portland has long maintained a transfer policy which caters to wealthy and educated parents. It has had rock solid political support and why not? It is that transfer policy which has provided a vital underpinning for gentrification in N and NE.

    It was sadly predictable that the first sniff of the race card, the political class in this City folded. Perhaps you would do well to read Steve Duin't column here:

    You might learn something by listening to viewpoints outside of your comfort zone.

    • (Show?)

      Paul, we agree, at least in part, that the solution is to get the middle class gentrifiers to send their kinds to their neighborhood school. I strongly disagree with the idea that affordable housing in the Jefferson cluster somehow means packing more kids into the neighborhood--instead, an aggressive housing effort would at best slow the decline in low and moderate income residents. You're just not in touch with demographic data in this case.

      In response to your earlier missive on transportation issues, I've already pointed out to you--though perhaps you didn't see it--that the district spends $800,000 a year on bus passes, this year funded out of reserves at the last minute. The demand for bus passes would increase with elimination of two neighborhood high school programs, at a time when the district is proposing to cut some of its spending on bus passes. Yet you persist in arguing...what, exactly?

      It's flippant to the point of deception to suggest that my only proposal for our high schools is to switch to gmail. I pointed out that non-instruction support services represent about $145 million out of a $455 million general fund budget, and suggested that these line items be cut first before cutting instruction. You declined more than once to engage me in good faith on this proposal, instead mocking it.

      I think it's a major mistake to say that Jefferson supporters are playing the race card. Reprehensible, really, in light of the long history. Are you familiar with this history?

      I'm glad you are a concerned parent. I am, too.

  • (Show?)

    Both, Rich and Paul, how can you figure what should truly be cut without a budget document in enough detail to allow the public to make some sort of determination of what should be cut? No such document exists. But it seems to make sense to cut at the very end things which directly affect kids like PE, libraries, and art.

  • (Show?)

    Steve, I agree completely. I would like to see the district produce budget documents that allocate the overhead and support costs by school, and display them by line item. In addition to administrative and support costs, there are about $200 million in revenues outside of the general fund, like Title I, that should be broken down by school.

    The district does provide instructional staffing levels by school, based upon their formulas and SES factors.

    Here is the link to the district's budget page:

connect with blueoregon