34,000 kids are missing. Will ours be next?

Wendy Radmacher-Willis

Elliott_lily_may_2004_1Today, Portland’s new mayor Tom Potter was sworn into office in a public ceremony. As part of his swearing-in speech, he likened the city’s kids to “canaries in a coalmine,” their health being indicators of the city’s overall health. We couldn’t agree more, except that in a few years, there might not be many kids left to worry about.

In 1962, a few years before we were born, Portland had 81,000 kids in public schools. Today, enrollment stands at about 48,000 students, with further declines expected.

Just think: in one generation, more kids have left Portland Public Schools than could fill the Rose Garden Arena. Where have they gone? What does this mean for the future of our city? Does anybody care?

We are your proto-typical public school supporters and urban dwellers. Between us, we have five pre-school-aged kids. We both went to public school. We both moved back to Portland from other cities because we wanted to raise kids in a place where everyone – corporate executives, grocery clerks, mechanics, university professors – sends their kids to public schools. Without being hyperbolic, we believe that high-quality public schools are the most important building block of a vibrant democracy.

We also chose to raise our kids in an urban setting. We want them to be able to walk to the grocery store, to the library, to Burgerville for sweet potato fries. We want them to be exposed to all sorts of people. And, to add to it, we are delighted by our little elementary school – Abernethy – that sits right down the street.

But, two weeks ago, we read an article in the Oregonian that turned us cold, an article about what the district euphemistically calls “school efficiencies.” Our school has just 200 elementary-aged children and may be a target for closure by the district. However, Abernethy Elementary School is also the heart of our neighborhood.

It’s the site of a popular local pre-school program which draws kids from close by and all over the city. It serves as a community gathering place and a dog park. Neighbors regularly form work crews to take care of the school grounds. We gather in the gym to raise money for good causes or to hold parties. Last year, residents and local businesses raised $60,000 to put in new playground equipment for the kids who live there—and then we got together to put in the equipment ourselves.

We want our kids to be part of that tightly knit neighborhood community, where they know adults and other kids, neighbors and teachers. But the kids just aren’t there, and they and their parents seem to be leaving Portland Public Schools—and in some cases, leaving Portland altogether. It is a reinforcing cycle. Families leave the city, neighborhood schools close, more families feel disconnected from their school and their neighborhood, and then they leave, too.

We want to be a part of Portland Public Schools. We want to raise our kids in the city. But, if Portland continues to be a place where fewer and fewer families live, we may have to do what parents in Portland have been doing for a generation: look outside the city for more affordable housing, a livable neighborhood and a good school or make the wrenching choice to stay in the city but send our kids to private school. We desperately want to stay in the city and we want to be parents of Portland Public School students, but we fear we may fall prey to the same slow-motion spiral.

We also love Portland. We want it to be a place where diversity is celebrated: diversity of color, gender, sexual orientation, income and yes, age. We fear, however, that we’re on the path to becoming a city of singles and dual-income couples with no kids, full of great restaurants, bookstores, nightlife, art and culture, but absent the energy, optimism and life of children. Do we really want to be San Francisco when we grow up?

  • PanchoPdx (unverified)

    "Our school has just 200 elementary-aged children and may be a target for closure by the district. However, Abernethy Elementary School is also the heart of our neighborhood."

    Why not help form a charter school at the old Abernethy site? A dozen motivated parents volunteering on a local school board could probably outperform PPS at that school anyway.

    "We desperately want to stay in the city and we want to be parents of Portland Public School students, but we fear we may fall prey to the same slow-motion spiral."

    Spiral is right. Counterclockwise and headed for the Big Pipe.

    "Do we really want to be San Francisco when we grow up?"

    That would actually be a worthy goal (if it was possible). San Francisco, like New York, is a product of its place in history and its unique geographic advantages. It won't be duplicated through intense central planning in a (historically adolescent) river city.

    Now that M37 has made the UGB vulnerable, expect the exodus of Portland families to increase.

    Once strip mall McMenamins pubs began popping up in every 'burb, the handwriting was on the wall.

  • Aaron (unverified)

    With the potential cash intensive payments of the enforcement of the land-use laws of which M37 is a direct result of it passing, this will only stretch the dollars further away from schools and supporting services. As well, the lack of enforcement of taxes down in Salem and with Multnomah County, has developed into a worse case scenario with the decreasing population of families with school-aged children and the constant lack of funding for schools and other supporting services.
    What are your solutions to these two issues?,Leslie and Wendy. San Francisco is a great town. It would not be a bad thing for Portland’s future roadmap has similarities of San Francisco.

  • (Show?)

    Portland Public Schools have a very dubious record regarding prudent spending of tax-payers dollars. Closing small schools saves $'s. Selling most of the unsed real estate owned by the district saves $'s. Negotiating better teacher contracts saves dollars.

    Folding small schools together to form a school of around 500 students is consistent with educational research that shows there are virtully no differences between small and schools of 500 at the elementary level, in educational gains. If the school is too small, a downward trend can occur. Howver, research shows that very large high schools can be detremental to students educational gains.

    That said, magical Portland is being replicated in towns surrounding the city. Get twice the house, better schools, fewer taxes and take the light-rail into the city as often as you like.

  • (Show?)

    I hope no one takes this post as a slam to San Francisco. It is a great city, and one I love. However, our point was that unlike Portland, anyone with the means for private school has left the public school system in San Francisco (and for that matter, in cities all over California). And, SF has notoriously high housing costs, and has seen flight of middle-income families for years now. Portland, it seems, is at the beginning of this kind of trend--one I hope we can arrest.

  • Betsy (unverified)

    To further complicate matters, Portland's liberal transfer policy results in neighborhood schools that barely reflect the culture of the neighborhood they reside in. NE PDX's Irvington is a prime example here - over 50% of the kids who could go to Irvington go elsewhere (either transfers within PPS or private school), while over 50% of the kids who attend the school have transferred in from other neighborhoods.

    My kids went to Irvington until this year - and yes, we regarded this diversified influx of transfer students as a good thing (it's part of why I wanted to send my own kids to public school.) There are many pros and cons to the whole liberal transfer policy, of course (and many who believe that an increase in special-focus programs and magnet schools will help stem the tide away from PPS) - but it definitely weakens the fabric of most local neighborhood schools, to be sure.

    But I have to say as the parent of two kids - one who goes to his neighborhood middle school, and another who is now taking advantage of said liberal transfer policy - it doesn't take geography to build a strong school community.

  • Steve Schopp (unverified)

    Pancho says, "Now that M37 has made the UGB vulnerable, expect the exodus of Portland families to increase".

    Now that's a hoot. The UGB was a big contributor to the exodus which already happened. This is one of many detriments coming from our so called "iconic" land use planning. I read some 4 or 5 years ago that for a given group of families with children moving to Portland they brought 4 children with them while those in a similar group moving out took 22 with them. Not a good trend and no surprise to those who have recognized the many problems our "model for the nation" planning has delivered. Of course it's all part of the imitation success so often touted here in Oregon.

    Affordable housing in decent neighborhoods drove people to look for it elsewhere. There is no mystery. The UGB never was a good plan. It has also sacrificed much of our urban green with the mandated high density developments and infill everywhere. The ugliest developments, those forming a sea of roofing, asphalt and concrete, are those spawned from the UGB and 2040 plan. It has been a truly monumental fraud. Many of the land parcels outside the UGB are neither farm, forest or wetland and could be human habitat in a sparsely developed and high livability way. In stark contrast to the high density, green devouring form UGB advocates prefer. Even the farmland which is held in high adornment by UGB advocates, (as if we would all starve if we use some of it for other uses), is not necessarily the one and only preferred use. After all much of it used to be covered with trees and was unspoiled by chemicals and decades of farming. It can again be covered again with trees and mixed uses through proper planning. Hopefully not in the form of ugly we've seen inside the UGB. In Portland the troubles are many. Example one is the tax subsidizing of luxury condominiums while supplies of low income and affordable housing move beneath crisis levels. What kind of BluePortland has enabled this dreadfully upside down outcome? Have to run for now. Will the real Oregonians please stand up?

  • Aaron (unverified)

    Example one is the tax subsidizing of luxury condominiums while supplies of low income and affordable housing move beneath crisis levels.

    One of the few point that Steve and I will truly agree upon. It is very heinous of the City of Portland and the PDC too give up "property tax revenues streams" for the ability to draw in the mid-aged upper income individuals; that they might have children in public schools in that area. Furthermore, with the Burnside Bridgehead Project coming to a vote in February, strictly by the PDC; could cause another negative revenue stream for the city. With the Big Box retailer(Loews or Home Depot) that will be in direct conflict with more than a score of local “ma-and-pa” stores that would cause serious decrease of business, with a solid chance of them going out of business; and with the potential “tax incentives to coming to the city” would be more $$$ out of the schools and other critical services that the city and region needs to have. I do not know if the city and PDC has truly taken in account of the additional lost revenue from these smaller businesses.

  • (Show?)

    Will the real Oregonians please stand up?

    Oh, yes, please let's start making that distinction. That will help.

  • Steve Schopp (unverified)

    B!x says ""Oh, yes, please let's start making that distinction. That will help.""

    I thought that was funny. It's a joke son. Unlike when Legislator Kurt Schrader said real Oregonians will vote for M30.

    On tax subsidies for the expensive condos. I doubt whether many of you understand how widespread and corrupt this really is. They have been handed out like candy. It's not only condos. A recently completed upscale apartment high rise in the Lloyd district has a ten year property tax abatment. Guess who picks up the slack when the condo and apartment owners do not pay their fair share? Families who bought homes around Abernethy Elementary along with all of the rest of the folks who do not get tax exemptions.

  • Randy Leonard (unverified)

    I do think that to have first rate schools we have to be willing to pay the cost ... something Portlanders have shown they will do. However, we are still just treading water.

    Since the passage of Measure 5 in 1990, schools within Portland have taken a disproportional financial hit that was compounded when the republicans gained control of the legislature in 1995 and further reduced the amount Portland schools received. Unfortunately, there is no relief in sight from the upcoming legislative session.

    I greatly appreciate the perspective offered in this posting. I hope you share your thoughtful insight with your state legislators.

  • ross smith (unverified)

    In answer to "San Francisco is a great town. It would not be a bad thing for Portland’s future roadmap has similarities of San Francisco."

    Posted by: Aaron | January 3, 2005 03:12 PM

    The housing situation in the Bay Area is impossible for young families who have to commute for over two hours from the interior valley.

  • Anne Dufay (unverified)

    You two picked a great neighborhood to raise kids in. Abernethy is one of the highest performing schools in the district -- you'll never regret sending your children there.

    Close it? Not if they don't want to see pitch-forks outside District headquarters...

    Personally, I wouldn't worry about that. Which doesn't mean the funding fight won't consume many of your future years. But, all the work you put in to it will benefit not only your children, but so many others. What could be a better or higher use of your volunteer hours?

    I moved here from SW Portland when my children were in 3rd and 6th grades. It was incredible -- they could walk to school! It was safe! (Yes, there were sidewalks for them to walk on. All the way!) They had friends up and down the street, around the corner and more within just a few blocks. The quality of my life improved by quantum leaps, I was freed of the endless child-taxi role that living in SW (where it is not safe, ever, to let your child walk to school, unless you live across the street..), or other more suburban areas REQUIRES of a caring parent. My children walked and rode their bikes everywhere. The quality of their lives was also improved.

    Now my oldest is starting at PCC, he rides the bus with confidence anywhere in the city. My youngest moved on from Abernethy, and is now at Hosford, where he shares classes and friendships with kids who speak, oh, 17, 19? different languages.

    The kids in this neighborhood have a route to Hosford every morning -- Mike comes to our house, he and Parker go to Isaac's, a few others meet them there and then they start out to the next friend's house, picking up their friends along the way. At the end of the day, they reverse it.

    These kids know their neighborhood. These kids understand something intrinsic and very important about WHAT a neighborhood is. Long after they are grown and gone, this place will hold a special space in their hearts – the place where you “know” what home means.

    Hosford now has a full 2 year Spanish program (my son, a child with an acerbic and biting sense of humor, really likes his teacher, btw) and has won several grants and awards for academic (math and science, in particular) and cultural achievements. Cleveland High is now in its second or third year offering the only other International Baccalaureate program in Portland, outside Lincoln High School.

    There's great stuff to work with, and for, here. I wouldn't trade the tree-sheltered sidewalks, the back alleys, the kids -- walking, biking, skating and scootering, safely, to school every morning, for any old SUV-taxi ball-and-chain suburban lifestyle.

    And, Portland is actually doing BETTER than many of the ‘burbs at funding schools. We have a friend who's a principal at a 'burb high school. He's got no plans to move his kids out there... And that isn’t likely to change...

    Your best chance, and best bet, are here. Don't give up, you are exactly the kind of parents the system (and all those thousands of kids in it) need, to succeed. You've got anger and frustration and enormous gratification to come if you stick with this city's schools. And, at the end, satisfaction at the pure value the hours you contributed turned out to be worth. Every volunteer opportunity should have so much to offer...

  • Anne Dufay (unverified)

    PanchoPdx, you write "Why not help form a charter school at the old Abernethy site? A dozen motivated parents volunteering on a local school board could probably outperform PPS at that school anyway."

    With all due respect, what BS is this? You clearly have no clue what you are spouting. For one thing, just in general, charter schools have been turning in a very checkered and wavery report card, in the real world. For another, Abernethy has way more than "a dozen motivated parents" AND has the scholastic record, going back, reliably and consistently, for years to back that up.

    This is not a school in need of "fixing". It just needs decent funding so it can keep on doing what it does so well -- educating children to a high standard, regardless of their background, year after year after year.

    Any idiot who can't grasp the value of that contribution to our city needs to go back to elementary school.

    A better one than the one they, clearly, attended.

  • Anne Dufay (unverified)

    OOPS! I wrote "Close it? Not if they don't want to see pitch-forks outside District headquarters... "

    I meant "not if they WANT to see pitch-forks outside District headquarters."

    Sorry. Het up and in the moment...

  • Anne Dufay (unverified)

    I should also clarify that Hosford is the (small, friendly, family, neighborhood) middle school that kids from Abernethy go to, after Abernethy, before moving on to Cleveland High School.

  • Mac Diva (unverified)

    I think there are higher priorities than keeping certain schools open. Portland has a drop-out rate of about 30 percent, higher for minority students. Children of color as a group are still lagging behind in educational achievement. Furthermore, the national trend of spending less money on schools with high numbers of poor students is still present. After these problems are solved, I might have some concern to spare for advantaged people with complaints. As it stands, I have no objection to an underutilized school being closed if the funds saved are used toward solving one of the these crucial problems.

    Last night, I was on a bus when a young, white famly with three children boarded. The youngest child was in an expensive running style stroller. The father became upset when the driver told him he could not block the aisle with the stroller. He then moved it to a position where it blocked the back door of the bus. The man probably went home and wrote a letter to Tri-Met complaining about not being catered to by public transit. The entitlement complex of such folks amazes me though it shouldn't, after so many years of observing it.

  • Anne Dufay (unverified)

    Steve Schopp writes "On tax subsidies for the expensive condos. I doubt whether many of you understand how widespread and corrupt this really is. They have been handed out like candy. It's not only condos. A recently completed upscale apartment high rise in the Lloyd district has a ten year property tax abatment. Guess who picks up the slack when the condo and apartment owners do not pay their fair share? Families who bought homes around Abernethy Elementary along with all of the rest of the folks who do not get tax exemptions."

    I agree with this concern. These exemptions do put a burden on the rest of us - whether you are a resident of an established SW neighborhood - without basic street amenities, who is getting hit twice to put in streets for future residents in the latest and greatest and bigger and better new "Pearl" -- I say, twice, because if you look at your current property tax bill you'll see a line item to PDC, and because your taxes pay for the schooling (and fire and police and...) of the kids in those tax exempt properties.

    I'm not against using the tools we have to make a better, brighter city. But the balance has become skewed too far in the favor of those prospective new citizens, against the needs of those of us here and now.

    We have elderly and disabled folks walking on busy streets in established neighborhoods, because there are no sidewalks, we have kids who cannot safely walk to school, all over this city.

    It's time to take care of them, now.

  • lars (unverified)

    can someone...perhaps Randy...explain how $11,000 and then some (all funds budget of pps divided by the student population) not be enough to educate Oregon's children? the good private schools do it for half of that. and don't you dare blame the special needs kids...because the average spending per student (total student population) for special needs is $1300 bucks. could it be out of control spending? too many highly paid administrators (the NYC Catholic Archdiocese runs a district of 110,000 students (more than twice the size of the Portland district) with 28 front office folks. Portland needs nearly three times that many. do the math and tell me...if $11k+ ain't enough...then how much is? Lars

  • Randy Leonard (unverified)

    Lars- As my Dad used to say, you don't get something for nothing.

    I am not sure about your numbers, but lets say the cost is X. If expenditure X leads to high class room size, the elimination of band, sports and other programs for kids, if the school year is shortened because X does not provide enough money to have an entire school year, then X is not enough.

    Maybe you would have the teachers work at a subsistence wage, without adequate health insurance or without a proper level of pension benefits. In fact, after hearing you attack the minimum wage today as "too high", I suspect that is exactly your goal.

    However, "dumbing down" pay and benefits is no way to attract good teachers needed to provide children with an adequate education.

    Attacking an adequately funded public eduction system is one of the most short sited and self defeating arguments I have ever participated in. A lack of a decent education has been shown to increase crime rates, unemployment, substance abuse and so on and so on. Underfunding education creates a spiraling down that unfortunately we in Oregon have witnessed since Measure 5s adoption in 1990.

    I say that we should pay what it costs to give every kid the tools they need to succeed in a world that demands the best education possible to succeed.

    If that means the community drinks less Brandy and smokes fewer Cuban Cigars...so be it.

  • Mike (unverified)

    Lars, Where do you get your $11K figure? Additionally, what "private" school does it for half that? Its easy to throw out numbers, but backing them up with a hyperlink or two would be great.

  • (Show?)

    While school funding is one of the most critical policy issues facing the state today, we need challenge ourselves to examine our public culture and priorities on many levels to ensure that kids are part of the civic fabric of the community. Everything from affordable housing to transportation to parks and recreation affect families' decisions about where to live. Public schools, in some sense, are the canaries in the mine shaft. If they die, families rightly see themselves as jeopardized and will flee the city.

  • Aaron (unverified)


    Just of couple of mistakes from your post:

    1. The Catholic Schools of NY has listed 33 officials with the Superintendent’s office with an unknown number of support staff for each of them and where within the state each of these individuals work at. Your statement of too many highly paid administrators and with 28 front office folks
    2. In New York City, 143 elementary schools educate 56,725 students; 38 high schools educate 21,385 students. Just a little less than what you stated: the NYC Catholic Archdiocese runs a district of 110,000 students—more than twice the size of the Portland district

    So do you have any hard evidence to back up your statements? Websites, known pdfs from that school district or state board of education..... I have on my numbers.

  • Scott Bailey (unverified)

    Good conversation. Some random thoughts:

    Before getting too upset about "34,000 missing kids", let's remember that demographics do matter. 1980 was the height of the baby boom, and we now have an unusually high number of 40 to 60 year olds. This, too, shall pass. Family size has also declined. These factors are affecting school-age populations across the nation.

    The third factor in the drop in school-age numbers, high housing costs, is something to be concerned about. It's clear that housing costs drive young families out of the city into the suburbs (still within the UGB, for what it's worth). The subsidy of non-child housing is at odds with the City's interest in retaining families in Portland.

    Closing small schools does not save much money--typically, just the cost of a principal and maybe part of a secretarial position. Teachers would move with the kids. Most schools are located in residential neighborhoods, with conditional use permits, and there are few economically viable alternative uses for the buildings. There are mothballing costs when a building is closed. If elementary students have to travel more than a mile to their new school, the District must pay for busing. I was on a task force a couple of years ago that ran the numbers, and the net savings was in the neighborhood of $150,000.

    I do agree with Pam that when a school gets too small, education can suffer because the school can't afford part-time staff for p.e., art/music, etc.

    Before selling a school, the District needs to look decades into the future to see how the demographic pendulum may swing the other way-- it's very difficult to site a new school in a city.

    According to the Oregon Department of Education, spending per student in Portland was a bit higher than the state average in 2002-03: $7,925 vs $7,559. However, almost half ($155) of the differential was due to Portland taking cash instead of services from the ESD, according to Jim Scherzinger. Also, the District is more aggressive in going after federal funding. When looking at General Fund dollars alone, Portland was about 1 percent above the state average. Portland spent $351 more per student directly in the classroom than the state, and $96 less per student on Central Support (administration). The total budget number that Lars refers to mixes in capital expenses with operating expenses, and counts a number of funds in the budget that are pass-throughs or reserves, and not actually expenditures.

  • (Show?)

    Welcome to Stenville. Let's tax-subsidize some more condo and luxury apartment towers, where kids aren't welcome! How about a hip new theater where the black turtleneck crowd can sip pinot gris and pretend they're in Marin County? And please, no more real parks -- only concrete fountains!

  • (Show?)

    Jack Bog's taking on black turtlenecks and pinot gris misses, I think, the point. And what's wrong with Oregon Pinot Gris anyway? Truth be told, we even sip it here in the Hosford-Abernethy neighborhood! We support our Oregon agriculture...or do you really NOT want to see agricultural success outside the Urban Growth Boundary?

    To address the original question...there are MORE families in this Nosford-Abernethy Neighborhood today then there were 17 years ago when I first moved here. This IS a great place for kids, as we have the infrastructure of neighborhood schools, and sidewalks to get there. Neighborhood schools are the KEY to keeping those families here and coming...and closing those schools in the name of "efficiency" is self-defeating and stupid. Let's tear that PPS budget apart to find some real "efficiencies" and not take it out on our kids (as we did by replacing their kid-friendly and dedicated custodians with contract laborers).

    Frank Dufay

  • Ramon (unverified)

    By any general comparison to other places, we do pay enough in taxes to adequately fund core services including public schools.

    Some threads are properly ID'd war-against-the-taxpayer public policies like Urban Renewal, PDC, and property tax abatements to high-price condo developers. These pull $$ away from core services and spread additional tax burden on remaining taxpayers to keep funding for schools, police, fire, etc. at-level. Overindulging on that kind of collectivism does hurt.

    However, the big stink in the tent is the uncontrollable costs of pensions and health insurance in the public sector. Remember PERS - that the legislature supposedly fixed? Right. The "benefits" runaway is forcing the cannibalization of public services all over Oregon. Is anyone looking at the numbers on this?

    The problem here in Blue Oregon is that collective bargaining doesn't work when you have collectivists on both sides of the table. It's kind of like the United Airlines management fiasco.

    The PERS structural problem has not been solved. The Portland Police & Fire Disability and Retirement Fund is only now being brought to light as the Ponzi scheme that it has always been. The health insurance giveaways, like for the PPS, defy common sense.

    If collective bargaining is not proving to be an effective mechanism to normalize these "benefit" costs and prevent them from decimating core services like public schoos - what else can be done?

    How can Oregon's Blue governments restore public trust in managing "benefits" costs responsibly?

    Is there a Neil Goldschmidt-type anywhere to step forward and broker a truce on this? How about Tim Nesbitt?

  • Steve (unverified)

    I think that we all need to make education a priority, but I get discouraged when I see that government holds schools hostage to fund the fun things they want.

    As an example, I looked at my prop tax bill and Police/Fire Disability Fund (not Police or Fire, just the disability fund) is now 10% of the bill (although Mayor Potter has said he will be looking closely at it.) This is a higher priority debt than schools (i.e. it will get paid and taken out of what is left for schools.)

    The school district itself spends about $500K/yr (by the time you add in the golden parachutes) on outside superintendents instead of internal promotions, not to mention the $900/month for health insurance funds.

    I get discouraged since educating students should be our top, not bottom, funding priority.

  • (Show?)

    Let's assume for a moment that Lars' 11 thou figure is accurate. Let's further ignore some of the salient differences between private and public school populations. Let's just compare.

    Catlin Gabel According to Catlin's website, tuition covers 85% of actual costs. Here's the tuition figures:

    $13,350 - Beginning School (pre-k and kindergarten) $15,750 - Lower School (grades 1-5) $17,450 - Middle School (grades 6-8) $18,150 - Upper School (grades 9-12)

    Jesuit High

    "the full cost [to educate each] student is $9,385."

    St. Mary's "The actual cost per student of a St. Mary's Academy education this year will be $11,000."

    Oregon Episcopal School $ 8,765 - Pre-Kindergarten (8:00-12:30, Includes lunch) $13,330 - Kindergarten (8:00-2:45, Includes lunch) $ 14,380 - Grades 1-3 (Includes lunch) $ 14,545 - Grades 4-5 (Includes lunch and activity fee) $ 16,650 - Grades 6-8 (Includes basic fees and lunch) $ 17,370 - Grades 9-12 Day Student

    Eleven grand? Seems about average for the market. (Except, of course, for the issue of those different populations....)

  • (Show?)

    Wow. Folks sure pull their guns fast in these parts.

    Before the concrete sets on this notion that families with kids are avoiding Portland, for whatever reason, let's not lose sight of the role of demographics.

    The same trends that are straining every retirement system in the country, public or private, are probably also at work wrt the declining enrollment in our schools. There is no information on the PSU site about the average age of the "head of the household", or some similar measure. This isn't to rule out that it's harder for the average family to afford a home in Portland--there is no doubt that this is the case--but it makes sense not to assume that 100% of this effect is caused by the decision of families to move to the burbs.

    Plans like PERS and FPDR are in the crosshairs these days. While every discussion on a retirement plan yields lots of nuances, the slug of retirees produced by the Baby Boom is often left out of explanations for why these plans are coming under strain. A lot of this same rhetoric is clouding the discussion on Social Security.

    By the way, FPDR does not pose a threat to either the $5/$1000 school cap, nor would it affect the state income tax contributions to schools. The FPDR levy would only compress non-school local government expenditures--basically city and county--in cases where compression applies. In my opinion, the 40 cents of every dollar that the Portland metro area sends to other Oregon schools deserves as much attention as any other problem.

    Health benefits for teachers: another frequent target, but if you look at total compensation Portland teachers are in the middle of the pack. Their benefits may be better in most cases, but their wages lag behind other districts.

    As for Jack's desire to see more affordable single family homes constructed in Portland, what vacant land do you have in mind? What source of funds and/or inspiration should we use to deliver a $180,000 new home affordable to a family at median income? Do you believe that the River District poses a long term loss to the city? My boss voted against the deal, because he didn't think it did enough for affordable housing, but I don't doubt that in the long term the City's financial picture will be improved by the existence of those buildings.

    In my opinion, thoughtful discussions on school funding inevitably lead to discussions on tax reform. Over the last fifteen years, Oregon has bricked itself into a complex and difficult tax system. Measure 5, Measure 50, the school funding formula, and the Multnomah County I-Tax all add up to a labyrinth that no one has yet successfully navigated. Maybe it has something to do with the snipers in the crows' nests, but I'm pretty sure that sniping won't get us to any solutions.

  • (Show?)

    Rich makes some excellent points. And to be fair, Wendy and I didn't mean to point out any one person or issue that was causing this problem, only to draw attention to our worries about the future. We are well aware that it's not just about school funding, or affordable housing, or urban renewal districts, or pensions, but maybe about the interrelationship of all of those plus many other factors, including demographic trends.

    Our goal was to point out that as the numbers of kids decline, we (and many families we know) are feeling a little nervous about our future here. We're not sure what the answer is (it's probably an issue that deserves further and more detailed study, as Rich points out) and it would probably also help if there was a strong and public discussion among citizens about the future of families in the City of Portland.

    Last, we're not ready to leave yet. We love it here and I hope that our post conveyed that. There are still many things to be valued about raising kids in the City of Portland, as Anne Dufay and many others have pointed out.

  • (Show?)

    Well, Leslie, I didn't mean to imply that I thought your original post was off base. Though I'm 33 and have not started a family yet, I feel the same fears acutely from time to time. The reasons are simple: I love this city and feel deeply committed to it, and I wouldn't want to see Portland lose its greatest asset, its public schools.

    Those same kinds of fears and hopes were manifest a few years ago when statewide funding fell apart. When we were looking at the potential collapse of the school year, City Hall was literally inundated with hundreds of concerned parents and students themselves. The private concerns that everyone has--related to not losing what we value to highly--were galvanized into public demands. There was an overwhelming sentiment expressed that we have to draw the line and take our fate into our own hands.

    In the background, everyone is aware that the Portland metro area heavily subsidizes the rest of the state. No one wants bad things to happen to those schools, but there is a simmering feeling that if Oregon as a whole can't get its act together, then Portland parents are unwilling to let their kids educations sink with the ship.

    I think it makes sense to be concerned, but, in my opinion, translating that concern into a multi-level action plan is the best prescription. This kind of strong civic action is probably more responsible than anything else for bringing about the things we love about Portland. I think we can fix our problems if we steel our resolve and keep our eyes out for good partnerships.

  • Betsy (unverified)

    And what I'd encourage parents to do is to think outside traditional definitions or their own school experiences (such as geography) to determine what makes a good school community, and what's really worth preserving.

    I was stunned to find when I moved here years ago, for example, that none of the kids on our block went to our neighborhood school. The school friendships my kids developed ended up being with kids from outside the neighborhood, for the most part - inconvenient logistically, but incredibly enriching in other ways. And from talking to other parents with school-age kids from all over Portland, our experience is increasingly becoming the norm, and not the exception.

    If you have a strong neighborhood school and it provides an important sense of community - that's great. But don't assume that other options aren't equally as valuable (or more so, in some cases) - both for you and for your child(ren).

  • Sid Anderson (unverified)


    I still think the neighborhood school is the best way to build community because the school becomes the focal point of the neighborhood, which make the neighborhood more effective in dealing with neighborhood issues. A bad school brings bad problems to the neighborhood.

    It's a pretty simple equation.

  • Aaron (unverified)


    THen how do you get "busy parents", as well, seniors and young childless adults; in the neighbhorhood to be proactive with the issues and the process, instead of the same old reactive mob mentality? What is the overall vested interests of the childless adults to work proactively with the schools and the parents of the child enrolled within the schools, when these two groups have totally a different base of needs then the school group. I do not disagree with the neighborhood school framework, but there is alot of big and litttle issues to bridge all the groups together to work with each other.

  • the prof (unverified)

    I have to say, this is one of the most productive and encouraging discussions I've read since I've been on this blog. I can't contribute much to what has already been said except for a few reactions.

    First, I dearly hope that Cmmr Leonard and Lars Larson is able to forward the bulk of this discussion to decision makers in Portland, Multnomah, and state governments. The state of the family in Portland, and the state at large, crosses partisan and ideological boundaries.

    The sentiments of Anne, Leslie, Wendy, and others are heartfelt and sincere expressions of commitment to, but also worries about, not just the public schools, but the long run viability of Portland as a place to raise their children. The powers that be in Salem must heed their call.

    I have four children, one in middle school, one in high school, and two more under five. Since I moved back to Portland five years ago (I lived here for a few years in the late 70s), I've frankly been shocked at the changes to what I had always perceived as a family friendly city with strong public schools.

    If I were to do the move all over again, I think I would have probably chosen to live in North Clackmas County or Lake Oswego. I can't say that I'd suggest anyone with a family locate in the city boundaries -- there is just too much unpredictability. While we love our home in the city, the higher taxes, cash poor schools, and constant worries about what will happen next year have become wearying.

    Look at Clark County and Washington State. Everything they seem to be doing right with respect to schools, we seem to be doing wrong.

    And I did move from an area in the SE with much higher poverty rates yet seemed to fully fund schools and maintain programs.

    I don't want this city to become another San Francisco, but along with others, that is the direction that some seem happy to take us. I'd hate to see it happen.

  • the prof (unverified)

    One factual correction on demographic trends:

    Public school enrollments are at a 15 year peak nationwide. The children of the baby boom are now having children; in addition, the nation has been experiencing high levels of Hispanic immigration, and Hispanics have more children (on average) than White or Afro-american residents.

    Link: http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=22

    Portland has become one of the five most childless cities in the nation (link: http://www.joelkotkin.com/Politics/NR%20Parent%20Trap.htm) , so something is going on unique to Portland, and not nationwide.

  • (Show?)

    The initial comparison was to 1962. In that context, there is no doubt that the high water mark of the Baby Boomer years is a factor.

    PPS's enrollment was up slightly between 1990 and 2000, according to the full report from Professors Lycan and Edmonston. While housing prices were no doubt a factor in the movement of families with children to the suburbs, the authors also cite a very large in-migration of young people who do not yet have children.

    The Kotkin article that you cite states that San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Manhattan and Portland have the lowest percentage of children in the country. I know that each of these areas experienced dramatic increases in housing prices in the 1990s. I also suspect that the percentage of young adults is higher in these cities than in other places. Perhaps there are higher numbers of younger couples without children here in Portland than in other places. I can't say.

    In any event, I think we need to do everything we can to ensure that families can afford to live in Portland. Given the attraction that people feel for Portland and the very strong West Coast housing market, this is not an easy thing to do.

    A few years back, a group of bankers, developers, housing advocates, and government officials worked on this problem, as well as the problem of very low income renters. They concluded that a regional approach to home ownership and safe, decent rentals for seniors and the disabled needed to be a top priority. We've sought the authority from Salem to implement this regional approach and create the fund to make it feasilble. We'll be back this session seeking that local authority.

  • Aaron (unverified)


    Your link from Joel Kotkin’s article is awesome, it on touches a lot of issues.

    As Cmmr. Leonard stated: Since the passage of Measure 5 in 1990, schools within Portland have taken a disproportional financial hit that was compounded when the republicans gained control of the legislature in 1995 and further reduced the amount Portland schools received. Unfortunately, there is no relief in sight from the upcoming legislative session.

    Is truly, why school districts, that is within in the city proper: of Portland, David Douglas, and Park Rose; and for the overlapping districts of Centennial and Reynolds--have been declining. The lack of stable and reliable school funding is from the declining state's general fund and the lack collection of the county's property taxes and state and county income taxes. This then drives these families with schoolchildren out of the city of Portland and sends them to Clackamas and Washington counties or across the river to Clark County. The school funding issue will not be solved for at least 4 years to the soonest, that means we need to work on finding now for the support of the extending the county income tax for the support of the school districts with in the count. However, Cmmr Leonard the real question is for you-- Why give up large discounted multiyear tax revenue and fee sources that would help schools and other social services, to get only 5,10, 20 jobs here and there and not really making a huge impact on the region's unemployment rate; and/or build high-end condos, for low chances of these buyers has school aged children that would go to public and not private schools? Because of the later is fueling the idea of Portland is converting in to the next Manhattan and San Francisco.

  • Mac Diva (unverified)

    The comments have really gotten away from what I read as the main point of the entry: Relatively privileged middle-class parents upset because an underutilized neighborhood school might be closed. Again, I don't believe coddling them is a top priority with the serious problems plaguing Portland's public schools. Educating the children who have no option but to attend public schools in Portland is much more important.

  • Randy Leonard (unverified)

    Aaron- First, this is one of the best discussions I have read since I have first become involved with blogging. Keep it up.

    To your excellent points, Aaron.

    I do believe the city needs to sharply curb tax abatements and other financial tools used to create development. While I have supported some and understand how they work, the political reality is that those powerful economic tools are often obscured to the hardworking, taxpaying public.

    A tax abatement for a project somewhere within Portland causes the property taxes to be forgiven for a specified period of time (usually 10 years). On the school portion of a property tax bill ($5 compared to $10 for local govt.), dollars not paid is money that would otherwise be sent to Salem to then be distributed amongst Oregon's 199 school districts (that number could have changed in the last two years). In other words, when Portland grants tax abatement for a development project the $5 per thousand that the developers do not pay for schools is money that would have been distributed over all of Oregon’s 199 school districts. That amounts to a very small impact on Portland Schools.

    The economic impact of tax abatements on local government services (the $10 per thousand of your property tax bill), however, is very direct and very real.

    Notwithstanding the fact that tax abatements as applied to the school portion of your property tax bill have a minimal impact on our local school districts, it is my opinion that the erosion of faith in local government caused by awarding abatements to developers often times outweighs the long term economic benefit of the development encouraged by the abatement granted.

    Therefore, I would support eliminating abatements for all construction except low income housing. I do believe the public understands and supports the forgiveness of property taxes as a way to create home ownership for those who would otherwise never be able to buy their own house.

    I hope I have answered your question, Aaron.

  • Aaron (unverified)

    Cmmr. Leonard,

    Thank you for your quick response and the issue of issuing tax abatements and the real impact of issuing them for and on the local schools and other public services.

    So I think, that we here on BlueOregon should be more proactive with the PDC commissioners (and as well, the city and county commissioners) policy proposals and decisions and understanding them, on the issuing of tax abatements and planning; and have open discourse of these proposals and decisions with each other and with the public. Because if we know about these meeting, do not show up, and have imputed in the process, we then should not complain about the decisions that were made; showing up to these meetings does not guarantee that we will influence the process of the proposal and/or decision.

  • Steve Schopp (unverified)

    Randy, You need to be a little more accurate. First, tax abatement money would NOT have been "sent to Salem". That would be illegal. Property taxes cannot be shifted to Salem. Second in the case of distribution to the 199 districts that is also inaccurate. Without the tax abatements the money would STAY in the district saving the State that portion. It is no small amount. Further, it is not only the tax abatement amount. Urban renewal dollars are in the same boat. Every time you create Urban renewal district school dollars get siphoned off. In Portland that's many millions every year. Statewide, with all of the other Urban Renewal Districts doing the same thing the collective damage to school funding is monumental. This mechanism which undermines our schools is even more egregious given hat many of the Urban Renewal Districts and Tax Abatements are benefiting those lease in need of public support. I honestly believe you are contributing to a process which misleads the public, diverts and devours desperately needed public resources and promotes more of the same for years to come. With other fiscal detriments to police, fire, libraries, sidewalks, parks and social services, the use of urban renewal and tax abatement needs a fresh look at legitimacy to better weigh the public cost and benefits of such policies. With a new year and fresh city council I hope you recognize this need.

  • (Show?)

    Mac Diva states: "The comments have really gotten away from what I read as the main point of the entry: Relatively privileged middle-class parents upset because an underutilized neighborhood school might be closed."

    While you are right that at a microcosmic level we are concerned about our neighborhood school closing, the discussion here is exactly what I was hoping would happen from a macrocosmic perspective. We're not just worried about our school, we're worried about why there are fewer and fewer families with kids in Portland, as the Prof noted. Schools are just one part of the equation. If we didn't make that clear in our post, I want to do so now.

    (And Prof, I'm most interested that this appears to be a local and not a national trend. This confirms what I had suspected was happening.)

    I (and I hope I can speak for Wendy) see it as a larger problem that touches on housing costs, support for education, job creation, parks and a whole host of other factors.

    Just having this discussion has given me more hope that we might reach some solutions. Thanks to everybody for giving me that hope!

  • Randy Leonard (unverified)

    Steve- The dollars spent by a local school district are part of the formula used when the legislature distributes funds for schools. The effect is the same as if the dollars were sent directly to Salem.

    Thus, the dollars raised by every school district in Oregon through their $5 per thousand is lumped in with State General fund dollars in determining a total K-12 budget.. Those dollars are then divided equllay amongst the 199 districts in Oregon.

    That formula causes Portland schools, as I alluded to in an earlier post, to pay more per student locally than other districts, say like Tualatin, and get less back in State General fund dollars.

    Finally, if you read my entire post you will see that our conclusions are the same.

  • Aaron (unverified)

    I know that the full repercussions on tax abatements are not telling until well in the abatement period. That is why I stated: So I think, that we here on BlueOregon should be more proactive with the PDC commissioners (and as well, the city and county commissioners) policy proposals and decisions and understanding them, on the issuing of tax abatements and planning; and have open discourse of these proposals and decisions with each other and with the public. Because if we know about these meeting, do not show up, and have imputed in the process, we then should not complain about the decisions that were made; showing up to these meetings does not guarantee that we will influence the process of the proposal and/or decision.
    This is how we can deal with the chronic exploitations of what Cmmr. Leonard’s statement: … it is my opinion that the erosion of faith in local government caused by awarding abatements to developers often times outweighs the long term economic benefit of the development encouraged by the abatement granted. Because the more scrutiny on these tax abatements is voiced in concern, the potential of them passing is slimmer. If the powers to be, that might have total disregard of citizen involvement and voices of concern, still gives these unnecessary abatements; then they should be afraid of a potential voter revolt when issues that truly matters fail.

  • the prof (unverified)

    This discussion gives me a chance to congratulate Cmmr. Leonard for his initiative to significantly reduce the approval period for housing permits (at least if accurately described in a recent Oregonian story).

    Let's hope Mayor Potter gives Leonard the same sharp knife to apply to the business permitting process, the other thing I heard long and impassioned complaints about during a long weekend run with a business relocation expert.

    Not directly apropos to schools, but part of the process of increasing the tax base.

  • the prof (unverified)

    Another fact check:

    Abernethy has 31% of children on free or reduced school lunch, placing it 18th among 61 public schools. The district wide average is 49%, but the data are clearly bimodal (lots at the high end, and lots clustered around 20-30%).

    Link (ain't the web wonderful): http://www.pps.k12.or.us/depts/nutrition/images/fr20032004.pdf

  • Lindsey McBride (unverified)

    As a very active neighbor in my Inner Southeast community, I see all of these school children.

    What I don't see is their parents. The key to thriving schools is active, involved parents who make their children's education and their community a priority.

    This means dropping your kids off at school and picking them up, joining the PTA or at least attending meetings, creating and attending activities, events and fundraisers that strengthen and connect the community. Raising and donating money for community-based projects, like the Playground at Abernethy where a core group of volunteers actually raised more than $100,000 in cash and in-kind support. It also means participating - not just in the rhetoric of involvment but in reality; not just gathering to "take" from neighborhood events but "giving" to them and contributing to those groups made up of a few dedicated neighbors. It also means making it a priority to participate with your kids and your neighbors - whether it's painting the hallways in the school, innoculating elm trees or pruning roses in Ladd's Addition City Parks.

    Why is that volunteers from Starbucks, most of whom don't have kids or even live in the neighborhood, come out on their own time, but so many "alarmed" progressives don't?

    Strong schools and communities are comprised of people who know each other, who participate and who walk their talk right here on the streets where they live.

    Once you begin to participate you'll realize that it's the same few people who are doing the heavy lifting. Many of those people in our community are growing weary. They will be moving on to other challenges. Who will take their place? Will you?

    I suggest that neighbors look around, get off their cell phones, come home from their jobs and focus more on their kids, their community and make choices that prove how they value children, education and community.

    When you do that - you'll look around and see all of those missing kids and perhaps some of their parents who have re-evaluated their priorities.

  • Steve Schopp (unverified)

    Randy, If you'll read my entire post you'll notice my emphasis is on the collective magnitude of diverted resources coming from both Tax Abatements and Urban Renewal. And not just in Portland. The Tax Abatements are bad but Urban Renewal Districts represent a much bigger problem. Especially when most of downtown and so much of the city is within one.
    Yes, of course the diverted money which would otherwise go to the local districts would have been included in the state funding formula. However, it is somewhat disingenuous to play that issue, (with only tax abatements and Portland in mind) so that you can cast the issue aside as "a very small impact on Portland Schools". The collective impact is enormous. The obscured nature of the districts and their adverse impacts is unforgivable. The PDC with it's 200 employees, huge Urban Renewal District funded budget and mounting concerns over conflicts of interest must have a review. There are additonal commitments on the table right now which need legitimizing.
    It would be helpful for all concerned if you would assign city staff to compile an assessment of the total impact. Here's a good start. http://www.saveportland.com/

  • Jesse (unverified)

    Just a brief opinion on tax abatement:

    While I definitely agree with Randy that "the erosion of faith in local government caused by awarding abatements to developers often times outweighs the long term economic benefit of the development encouraged by the abatement granted," I do want to point out that I think there is another philosophy driving this abatement: growth management.

    With our region expected to grow around .75-1 million people by 2040, density is a consideration. Currently, only inner Portland has land value rates high enough to warrant profitable higher density developments, and even then, subsidies are usually needed. (Especially if aesthetics and design standards are something we seek.) This issue of density costs becomes even more relevant as we move out to other parts of the region.

    Developers lose money on high density developments as long as land values remain where they are. Tax abatements help encourage higher density development. However, I think their prevalent use needs some reigning in. And, to be honest, I think we need more folks who aren't afraid to raise kids outside the norm of single family homes that, quite frankly, are expensive. To couple this, I think we need family-friendly developments with 3-4 bedroom high density units complete with child-care, dry cleaner, health clinic and, of course, an ice cream shop.

  • Big Gay Anonymous (unverified)

    So this has to be said: you don't want Portland to become like San Francisco. Hmmmm. Let's see what is it I like so much about San Francisco? Oh yeah. It's that it's a QUEER FRIENDLY city. Frankly, after this last election, hearing the majority of this state say things like I'm not fit to be a parent, I'm not worthy of protection of my relationship, children would be harmed in my household, I am immoral, and that I can be loved but "not my sin", I'm pretty much done in wanting to shell out more and more of my tax dollars to continue to provide "quality public schools" for the breeders. Until we can provide equal protection under the law, the gays shouldn't have to pay to support the kids. How's that for a bee in my bonnet? BTW, I'm a big gay liberal. Or am I anymore?

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    Things I think. One:

    New revenue from, and spent for, the UGB. By charging a toll to enter the UGB, and with two waivers included at the outset -- 1, exemption for intra-state traffic, and 2, exemption for traffic on foot, bicycle, trains, boats and planes, and for cargo (truck) traffic 'passing through.'

    1: no toll for entering the UGB from Oregon. Result is that the only toll booths are on the Interstate and the Glenn Jackson bridges, southbound -- the only inter-state UGB entries.

    1. no toll for boats arriving, planes arriving, trains (and commuter rail) arriving. Delivery trucks coming into Portland could be hard to tell apart from longhaul trucks passing through -- if it matters then ideas can work it out.

    And some thought has already been given to 'sharing the franchise' with Vancouver, extending the UGB around the west-north-east sides there ... but the thinking is details piled on speculation piled on politics and ... skip it for now.

    Bottom line: For 100,000 southbound 'cars' across the two bridges (combined) daily, at $1.00 per axle, during 350 days a year -- it's $70,000,000 (million). In fact I think it is four or eight times that many cars on some days. Anyway, use the money to build 'improvements' inside the UGB, pay for land annexations, and things that occur to us later, toward the purpose of having an attraction worth charging admission to, (free yellow bicycles inside the UGBzone?, jobs and commercial pursuits?), and then collecting admission.

    All to address two 'problems.' Create a UGB funding source. And have some re-balancing instrument for the disparity in economics pressures (taxes, land values, workforce) on opposite sides of the Columbia, which, as things sit, polarizes people to buy homes in WA and commute to work in OR.

    Metro? Anyone? ... anyone? ... anyone? ...

  • PanchoPdx (unverified)

    Ummm...Hate to break it to you Tensk, but Metro doesn't have the authority to charge tolls on FEDERAL freeways.

    Maybe you could get City Hall to pass a tax on cell phone roaming fees for out of state drivers who pass through our fair city. Many of them won't even know they are paying the roaming tax until they get their bills a month later. That should help us scrape up some dough.

    Why don't you go ahead and work up some revenue projections for us?

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    (P.S. Not to belabor a point, nor to miss it, perhaps the 34,000 school kids are enrolled in Washington.)


    Canby passed a school construction bond in November. (Some comment above cited "$7+ million" and "build a new high school" and -- stickershock! -- that ain't enough.)

    BOORA's design could include photovoltaic and wind-generated (micro-hydro and more) electric power supplying the school. An early target was 100% of electricity produced on school property, however later consideration thought to aim for 150%. In any event, sell the excess (nights, weekends, summers -- when school is vacant) through the Canby Utility Board, (a PUD 'island' in the PGE 'ocean'), into the power grid for the community.

    First: It is a means to develop school property to provide a revenue stream. This is the fundamental principle of property -- that it is a base of production of 'crops' which capitalize the landowner labor. (Electricity is a crop?) This ancient fundamental got lost in abstraction right after Lewis and Clark, by invention of 'federal' paper currency, invention of interchangeable parts and thus factories and piecework and thus (wage) time became money, (always before property was money), and so forth -- Karl Marx thought about it; in the silver/gold/float developments of the 'basis' of money, land gained a new speculative value entirely disconnected from its productive value, (first along navigable waterways, then invented railways, highways, and airport-waysides); and, mass-production begat mass-distribution which begat mass-marketing which begat our nation of consumers. All in less than seven generations, (Randy Leonard: 'my 4-great's-grandparents') or 200 years. For all history, a country was the king's realm and its subjects -- nobody 'owned' land, they 'kept' it, for the monarch. Whatever. And for all that democracy and equality under law was a great invention, it didn't really have the bugs worked out for the untried 'private property' process in version 1.0. Compare, too, the Native Americans' understanding of 'buying' land in exchange for 'valuables' (money) -- how foolish: a human or a deer or a wolf cannot 'own' land, but only 'work' it. The 1842 Morrell Act funded the surveying of the Great Plains (and America) into 6 mile-by-6 mile 'townships,' numbering the 36 square miles (or 'sections') in certain order, and stipulating one (or two) of the sections to provide revenue for -- another contemporaneous great American invention: public schools. (School funding not by selling the section but by working it, producing from it.) (All I've said about this Morrell Act thing was taught to me in the second grade in a small eastern Oregon school about fifty years ago -- the lesson and my recall may either one be shabby and shy of the facts of the matter. I still go long stretches between people who know what a 'section' is, and that it contains 640 acres, nevermind talking township; our schools don't teach it anymore, but a lot of Oregon farm kids know it cold.) Somewhere along America's way the worth of land got off-track and debased, and without being able exactly to express how, somehow I have a feeling that could be where the 34,000 school kids disappeared. Somehow. Land is wealth. Labor is wealth. Currency (money) is not wealth. "Wealth is the number of forward-days a system can be maintained" -- R. Buckminster Fuller, in lecture.

    Second: For Canby's new school to be standing and delivering education for twenty or thirty years it has to generate its own electric power because: a.) earth's oil is about to run out, or b.) electricity from a central generating plant (hydro, wind, nuclear -- doesn't matter) is about to be too expensive to buy, or c.) political control is not about to let electricity go anywhere without political coercion and political compliance. (In east coast cities, when I parked my car and got out, if a street kid stopped me and said I should pay him a buck to 'protect' my car while I went inside, I paid him, knowing full well the only danger of damage to it was him. Bush's new Homeland Security is the same way. There are no terrorists (et preq.) -- Islamic, communistic, or otherwise. There is no threat or enemy that Security keeps us secure from. Still, when your municipality has a nice shiny new school you can be so proud of, it sure would be a shame to see something happen to it. Better hire a couple of certified Republican Homeland Security cronies -- 'we'll send 'em over' -- just to be safe.)

    Third: Schools should teach children the skills and knowledge suited to the needs, economy and society they will work and live in when they are adults. Such ten- to twenty-year lead times are more difficult to project accurately when we see the rate of complete change of things transpiring in half-decades. So putting homemade electricity generating units on the school playground, where kids can climb on them, clean them, maintain them, experiment with new kinds and combinations, is perhaps the strongest vocational training environment that can be designed -- hands on.

    In other words, the world in the future when today's Social Security solvency runs out, or when today's thirty-year mortgage is paid off, or today's pre-schoolers want to go to college, might be unimaginable. The plans and problems for Abernethy School are created far beyond, and far beyond the power of, local Oregon agencies to set or solve. Federal politicians in Washington, D.C., disappeared the 34,000 missing children. One well-informed Long Range Projection suggests that all the parents' hopes or fears for their children, and 4-great's-grandchildren, could be decided tomorrow, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2005, by Congress challenging the Ohio vote count, discovering the ballot fraud, arresting the thief who is trying to get away with a second term, and inaugurating instead the duly elected winner.

    Oil production will begin its decline in 2007 or 2008. At that point repression, both at home and abroad, will begin in earnest. The economy will soon collapse completely (if it does not do so before 2007). People will feel the crunch, and they will become desperate. If you are not prepared in a supportive community intent on transitioning to self-sufficiency, then your chances of surviving are drastically reduced.

    Beyond economic collapse followed by civil unrest, it is hard to say what will happen as energy production declines. But the world population will have to contract by 2/3s, and the US population will have to contract by 1/3. The loss will not happen all at once. It will start out very gradually, but it will develop into an exponential curve, similar to the curve of population growth following the introduction of hydrocarbon energy. Once the loss of energy production passes some critical point, the population will inevitably crash.

    Pop quiz:
    What's the US population? How many is 1/3 of that? (Answers are not in the back; ask your kids, especially if there are 3 of them.)

    Remember: If Florida 2000 had been challenged Gore would be president and 9/11 never would have happened.

  • Mac Diva (unverified)

    Big Gay, I am feeling you. Despite the comments diverging into other topics, the gist of the entry is relatively privileged people wanting to be even more privileged. An underutilized school should be kept open because they want it to be. Never mind the much more pressing issues impacting most Portland public school students. Part of the reason Democrats lost the national election is because they believe they can take minority voters for granted. People of color and gays are supposed to vote for Democrats despite the selfish attitude of so many middle-class, white liberals. Some minority voters chose to stay at home instead. This entry is an example of the kind of attiude that has alienated them and is starting to alienate me.

  • Jud (unverified)

    Tensk, My toll for entering the UGB is the Oregon state income tax I pay for the privilege of working in downtown Portland. :-)

  • Aaron (unverified)

    [Off-topic comment about 9/11 and the Bush/Florida recount deleted. -Ed.]

  • David Wynde (unverified)

    Thanks to all for a good discussion. Please stay involved. Right now the most important thing to do is to tell your state legislators that they have to do whatever it takes to find additional funding for K-12 education over and above the woeful level proposed by the governor.

    As I read it, the original post implies a false message: 34,000 kids leave PPS.

    That makes it sound like there are that number of kids whose families have opted out of PPS. Not so.

    Bottom line is population has decreased for all the reasons talked about. Despite all of the budget crunch, and Lars figures are ridiculous, there has been no significant switch from PPS to private schools.

    Small schools: it does save money to close schools, and it makes sense to consider instructional benefits too. For example, it might not make sense to have four adjacent schools with a total enrollment of 800 kids, when we could have two schools of 400. 400 is less than three classes per grade, which is not that big, and it allows more staffing flexibility for PE and art. It also means that you have an alternative if your kid doesn't get along with his third grade teacher. Kids adjust remarkably well to many of these changes; sometimes it seems like it's the parents who can't handle it. We are looking at enrollment data trends and a whole array of other information, including student achievement, to see if it makes sense to make any changes. This is sound management - both in terms of fiscal responsibility and to improve student achievement for all kids in all schools.

  • the prof (unverified)


    I'm not as convinced as you are that the post conveys a false message.

    The Edmonston report says that data on capture rates are "conflicting." The PPS report on enrollment describes capture rates as "constant."

    Do we have better information now on capture rates?

    Do we have information on out-migration to surrounding areas (suburbs, Clark County) that may result in enrollment declines, and may be caused by poor funding and uncertainty regarding the PPS, but would not be reflected in the capture rate?

    Do we have any ancillary evidence, such as growing demand for enrollments in Catholic schools (most in the SE area where I live are trying to expand as fast as they can, and they may be able to absorb more children in five years than they can now)?

    Link to Edmondston report:http://www.upa.pdx.edu/CPRC/publications/workingpapers/PATH%20AHEAD%20October%202001.doc

    Link to PPS planning document (powerpoint): http://www.pps.k12.or.us/depts-c/communications/enrollmenttrends_10_11_04.ppt

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    [Off-topic comment about 9/11 deleted. -Ed.]

  • (Show?)

    [Off-topic comment about 9/11 deleted. -Ed.]

  • Ruth (unverified)

    David, as you know, closing a school doesn't save much money -- pretty much just the salary of the principal, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the huge shortfalls PPS is facing. And, the district does not have good options for re-using school property.

    I'd like to see the School board put as much energy into reaching out to private/home schooled families and boosting enrollment as it does to school closure.

    Portland has the last great urban public school district in the country. It is great and it is worth fighting for. Many thousands of parents have dedicated themselves to this cause. But we are on the brink. Short-sighted closure of successful neighborhood schools is destructive.

    Lars can spout all the misinformation he wants, but the fact is PPS has made deep cuts in administration. It spends just 3% of its budget on central administration. They have already closed 4 schools. Their focus should be on quality education for all children. Not on maximizing efficiency as if our schools are factories turning out widgets.

    Smaller neighborhood schools are a smart investment in quality--quality of education and quality of life for the surrounding neighborhood. They are also the best learning environment for at-risk kids. We aren't going to close the achievement gap in consolidated mega-schools.

    Thanks for this excellent discussion.

  • David Wynde (unverified)


    I agree that we have to do everything we can to fight to preserve what we have in Portland - a good public school system (which is great for some kids and not so great for others). We have a board and a superintendent who are united in striving to make it even stronger and to ensure that the quality of education and opportunity is there for every child in every neighborhood.

    The board IS putting energy into a broad array of subjects and policies. On the specific point that you raised about efforts to attract students back into PPS, since this board took office we have done several things including a relocation and expansion of the environmental school, the relocation and expansion of the Odyssey program, addition of full-day kindergarten to six more schools, conversion of three high school campuses to small schools, modest additional resources at Wilson to boost AP offerings, and we are working with the superintendnent and her staff to find other ways to do exactly what you suggest - all against a backdrop of very tight budget conditions.

    On another topic that is recurrent in this stream of postings, we have not proposed any school closures yet, and certainly not of any successful n'hood schools. What we have initiated, in conjunction with the superintendent, is a review of enrollment data. We want to look at schools where enrollment has dropped over the last year, and the last five years. We want to look at schools where a majority of the kids in that attendance area choose to go to another PPS school. We want to understand which buildings have significantly fewer kids in them than the buidling can accomodate. School size in and of itself is NOT a criterion that triggers further analysis, unless that size results from one of the three factors I've just described.

    Having identified these schools, we want staff to do further more detailed analysis of student achievement data, enrollment trends, transfer patterns with other schools, the relationship of a school with its surrouding n'hoods and other schools, and a number of other factors including the physical characteristics of the buidings. Then we want the superintendent to make recommendations for actions IF any are warranted, which could include a range of things including boundary changes, program changes, new language immersion programs for local ESL students living in a n'hood, addition of full-day kindergarten, conversion to K-8, and, yes, school closures.

    This isn't treating schools as factories: it's managing a school district. Educational and instructional objectivess are very much part of the analysis - not just budget considerations. It's work that is long overdue and it should happen each year. It's not driven by economics, it's driven by wanting strong schools for all kids in this city. For example, if more than half of the kids in an area are choosing to go to a school other than the n'hood school then we should be asking why. Not because it's an excuse to close that school but because it might imply that there's an educational issue that needs to be addressed. We need to look deeper, and we should have been doing it every year for the past decade.

    And, Ruth, an elementary school of 450 kids is not a mega-school.

    The figures I've been given for savings on school closures are more substantial than just a principal's salary, but that is not the primary point here. We do have to make some tough decisions when the budget is as tight as it is likely to be going forward but we're committed to making sure that educational concerns are at the forefront of how we set priorities when we make decisions.

  • Betsy (unverified)

    David -

    Other than working for more funding from Salem, what would you suggest concerned families do to help the district as it does this deeper review? How can people best stay informed about progress, or share their concerns?

  • Mike Miller (unverified)

    David, I wonder about the savings information data you reference above in your response to Ruth.

    When you close a school, the only savings realized is connected to the staff you displace, UNLESS the building is also closed and/or sold. PPS' recent track record regarding closings reveals a woeful lack of planning. No savings have been realized. In most cases, buildings have been appropriated by focus-option schools or other district programs, with the net effect of adding overhead to the district rather than reducing it.

    The informed observer would conclude that school closings are more a matter of show than substance -- they are designed to demonstrate to Salem our fiscal prudence. The cost of that show has been dear for the communities affected.

    I applaud and agree with this Board's desire to "manage" the district and its infrastructure. I would hope that this would involve boundary adjustments, analysis of demographic shifts, resource adjustments, etc. before any closings are entertained

    I personally would like to see the District devote its attention to nurturing strong and stable neighborhood schools. The last few Boards have been infatuated with focus option programs, believing they help stem the loss of students to private schools. Unfortunately, the awful truth is that these great focus option programs only succeed at the expense of neighborhood schools -- they frequently suck the heart out of the very schools that most need our attention. The Board's infatuation with focus options has made neighborhood schools the schools of last resort -- the ones you go to when you don't have any choice. It is disturbingly antidemocratic.


  • Ruth (unverified)

    Thank you very much, David, for your thoughtful and detailed response.

    I know and appreciate that our volunteer Board is working extremely hard on a whole range of issues and I think they're doing a great job.

    Also, my "factory" remark was not aimed at you but at the Lars types of the world who seem to think PPS needs to run at peak "efficiency" without regard to educational quality.

    The analysis process you describe sounds reasonable, and is certainly preferable to the previous Board's closure process, which as far as the public could tell was based on pulling names out of a hat from of a list of schools with less than 300 kids.

    You're right, 450 kids isn't a mega school. But at the same time, 250 kids isn't too small.

    Adding full day kindergarten is an excellent, much-needed step as is creating the smaller high schools.

  • Pearl Tax Payer (unverified)

    Wendy, Leslie, I apologize for getting off topic, but I must set the record straight. I live in the Pearl District. My apartment is about 650 square feet, and I paid about $3000 last year in property taxes. I live in one of the smaller units in my building, but lets assume, that everyone in this building is paying a minimum of $3000 a year. I am not sure of the exact number but lets assume there are 140 units in the building. That is $420,000 a year in property taxes on a one acre lot that 10 years ago was an unproductive rail yard. In addition I paid about $3000 last year in home owner fees which went to pay for the security guards in the Pearl that reduce the burden on the Portland Police by responding to minor issues like noise complaints, alarms etc. It also paid for trash collection of the various garbage cans around the neighborhood and street cleaning, both of which are not paid for by the city. This growth has all spurred opening of various stores that all pay taxes as well. On top of this, I gladly voted for the Multnomah County Tax, and I am happy to pay that tax each April so that your kids can go to school. I have no kids, and use very little of the city’s resources, certainly far less than I put in. I deeply resent the comments suggesting that people like me do not pay our share, when this is obviously not true. And as for the Pearl being unfriendly to kids? Tell that the 100+ kinds and parents who come to Jamison Square Park on a daily basis during the summer to play in the “concrete fountain” a park that my tax dollars paid for.

  • Steve (unverified)

    Pearl Tax Payer

    Go to portlandmaps.com and type in 625 NW 11th. This is the official City of Portland website to look up taxes and permits on property in Portland.

    Unfortunately, your developer wasn't good enough buddies with the mayor.

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    A heartening example of school property productivity (as my earlier comments addressed), accomplished through the dedication of Friends of Portland Community Gardens, as reported in today's Portland Tribune.

  • Jonathan (unverified)


    Sorry to be just one of many addressing you directly, but I am concerned about looking at "enrollment data" when evaluating possible school closures. My neighborhood elementary school is certainly on the slate, but enrollment data would not reveal the remarkable number of new families in the neighborhood, who have preschool and toddler children. Does the District use some method of measuring the elementary school children who haven't yet enrolled, but will soon do so?

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