A Leftie School Groupie Hits the Wall

Marc Abrams

Word is, Portland Public Schools wants as much as $1.4 billion for a facilities bond. When I served on the PPS board, and we went out for the last (and much smaller) bond, I used to say on the stump that the average school building in the District was ten years older than I am, and I was falling apart. The better part of a decade later neither the schools nor I are in much better shape.

That having been said, unless there are significant changes between now and November, I will be voting NO on a PPS facilities bond.

My reasons are simple, and do not include my ability to pay the additional taxes, although, between the Sam Adams street tax, the presumed PPS bond and the presumed PCC bond (to pay for expansion of an entity that has lost 1/4 of its attendance!), my taxes will rise at least $600 in 2009. I am a Portlander and Portlanders, as a rule, are not tax averse. 27% of the taxes on my bill last year were ones voted on by the people, and I voted for them all. No, I will vote against the bond because the current Portland School Board simply has not shown the political will to make tough choices in school closure and building sales, and when you run an operation with far too many buildings in operation and far more than needed as cost-incurring surplus, please don’t come to me crying for cash for buildings.

The school population has shrunk from 54,000 in 1995, the year I went on the Board, to 46,000 today. That’s 15% fewer students. In that time, PPS has closed several elementary schools, but not 15%. It closed only one of 17 middle schools (6%). And high schools? Fuggedaboutit! School closure’s a tough thing to do, particularly, as I have written before on Blue Oregon, when the only logical choice is Jefferson – a school now with only 707 kids (Grant is two and a half times as large); five principals in three years; a history of countless shifts of deck chairs on the Titanic, none of which attracted any new students, and a record of bringing more politicians than successful education programs into the building. But the cry from community elders – none of whom has a child at Jeff – keeps open this "historically Black" school even as it fails Black students at twice the cost of teaching students even in low-income, heavily minority Marshall and Roosevelt.

Not only has the board not done a responsible job of closures, it has done an unconscionably bad job of demanding the District actually sell or lease closed schools. Schools sit vacant and vandalized or are partly filled with a handful of administrators, who then require a full building’s heat and electricity. Other buildings are left unleased because, according to PPS facilities director Bryan Winchester it would be a "tug of the heartstrings" to have to reclaim a building from a nice group of non-profit folks.

To this I say: "wake up!" Progressives believe in government, but when government officials undermine us with such poor fiscal decision-making, they provide fodder for conservatives and the Limbaugh clones. Believing in government does not exempt us from requiring it to be efficient for taxpayers, many of whom are working poor and whose property taxes are, in essence, a mandated repurchase of their single major asset. Keep one or two facilities for use while others are remodeled, but otherwise, get real! This process is nearing a decade old now, and simple has to lived up to the expectations of those who started it: the 1997-2001 Board.

I for one do not wish to pay to refurbish a building that, as a taxpayer, I should no longer own. I do not wish to pay to maintain failed programs such as Jefferson, because no one has the guts to "means test" the program delivered or the lack of customer interest in the product.

There is a limit to taxation, and I’d hate to have the voters hit their limit on something meaningful, needed and cost-effective. Safe buildings for our kids is meaningful, and it is needed. But until current PPS leadership learns to lead, and learns to make truly difficult choices that they volunteered to make, I will not assist them in taking the easy way out simply by saying to the voters "Please, sir, may I have some more?"

  • RNinOR (unverified)

    Do you support selling off closed schools or just closing them and putting them in mothballs. If the population of kids ever increased, we might need the land/buildings.

  • (Show?)

    i have a lot to learn about what's going on in Pdx, having been gone since late 2001 and only returning mid-2007. i do know you can't simply correlate number of bodies to number of seats; down the road, when the ratio turns around, do you then go and ask for $300 million to replace the schools you got rid of when things were down?

    anyway, if Grant is so large and Jefferson so small, can't there be some way of balancing the two? can't we find some way to utilize the facilities at Jeff so we don't lose ownership? we'll need the place again one day, and a long-term investment is cheaper than full replacement in a single purchase.

    just curious is there is some kind of creative way to keep ahold of property we will want in the future while dealing responsibly with current circumstances.

  • MrEduTEE (unverified)

    Thank you, Marc.

    The teacher's union and PPS bureacrats will punish you for this kind of straight talk. I've had the same conversation with administrators and parents, and they are resistant to the benefits of right-sizing (especially if their snowflake's school is on the short list).

    As a PPS insider, I believe you're straying off the progressive reservation: Good for you!

    Sadly, I think you're about to get eaten alive at B/O.

  • THartill (unverified)

    1.4 Billion? As in $30,000 per student? As in 14.1 million per school?

    Couldn't they just tear all 99 schools down and build new ones for that kind of money?

  • (Show?)

    RNinOR: the numbers aren't going up. We've had demographic studies galore done. Lower birth rates, selection of suburbs by familes, etc., have us stabilizing in the 45-48K range. Regardless, if that's the concern, we can go for 5 or 10-year leases, so you still have options to reclaim the schools.

    TA: It's not just about equalizing the populations by shifting boundaries. Jeff doesn't work, hasn't worked in almost 40 years. We won't ever need it, and can combine it's population with Roosevelt, also only 700 but more funcitonal and without the stigma.

    MrEduTee: I would hope the PAT would SUPPORT this, as you spend on bricks or you spend on teachers. I believe a school is parents and teachers and kids and far less a building.

    As to 30K/student, that's only the case if you assess 100% of the value to the current students, and much of this would render these buildings effective for 50-75 years. At this price, the whole megillah is 1/3 the I-5 bridge cost of $4.2 billion, but, yes fixing old buildings or building new ones is not a cheap proposition. I could be sold, but I want to see the Board exhibit some tough love on themselves (and us) first.

  • lin qiao (unverified)

    PPS school closures would have to be handled sort of like military-base closures, I think, or else the better connected one is and the more time one has to lobby for one's local school, the likelier one is to "succeed" in keeping My Little Suzie's neighborhood school open. I certainly saw this play out with my neighborhood K-3 (Hollyrood) in NE Portland (after my kid was no longer a student there, I ought to say).

    Selling off old properties to get rid of the maintenance costs and to raise some $$ makes a world of sense! Why isn't the school board pressing for this? The demographic studies, as Mr. Abrams pointed out, indicate enrollment leveling off (it may in fact already have done so), not rising

  • Nicole (unverified)

    Wow! Here we go again. If only Marc Abrams and other past and current school leaders could put half as much effort into supporting Jefferson as they do into justifying ways to reconstitute, reorganize, reconfigure, and otherwise experimenting on, maligning, or destroying the school!

    The Jefferson attendance area has more high school students in its attendance area than every other PPS high school except Marshall. We have plenty of students, what we need is a school board and district administration who are committed to providing the same educational opportunities to Jefferson neighborhood students that they provide to students in whiter, wealthier neighborhoods. Only under the most regressive, uninformed policy analysis could a decision be made to close Jefferson.

    There are so many inaccurate, misleading, and offensive statements made in Mr. Abrams' latest blog calling for the closure of the school that I can't even waste the time responding to them. But I invite anyone who is interested in finding out the truth about the school to contact the Jefferson PTSA (Parent, Teacher, Student Association) and get familiar with our ongoing efforts to lobby the school board to rectify years of school district policies that have undermined schools in lower income and minority neighborhoods, including Jefferson and others.

  • Joe (unverified)

    Mr. Abrams:

    Lincoln's current neighborhood high school population = 1395 Jefferson's current neighborhood high school population = 1751

    Add to that all the young "gentrifying" families with babies and toddlers now living in the Jefferson cluster (soon to become school age), and your assertion that "we won't ever need it" [Jefferson] is completely unfounded.

  • Nancy Rawley (unverified)

    From Mr. Abrams, who needs his spell- (and grammar-) check working: "Jeff doesn't work, hasn't worked in almost 40 years. We won't ever need it, and can combine it's population with Roosevelt, also only 700 but more funcitonal and without the stigma."

    Where to begin... I'm the Community Outreach Coordinator for Jefferson High. The Jefferson cluster needs some equity, for sure, as do the clusters of Roosevelt, Madison and Marshall (Go, Demos. Go, Roughriders. Go, Senators. Go, Minutemen). But we don't need your insults, and your whole, "I'm not giving in because they're not giving in" attitude toward the school board and the district. We're all trying to work together here, to make a better future for our children. We're not always going to agree.

    I don't really care, sir, if you don't need us. We don't really need you We've got each other. Jefferson is rising. With or without or current building, with or without you -- we are strong, proud and rising.

    I would appreciate, please, if you would remember that our students -- not just from Jeff, but from the other schools who are equally insulted and run-down, do read the blogs.

    Most of them are much more diplomatic and thoughtful than you are, so they don't always spout off. You may not realize that they are here -- but they are here.

    I want you to please think -- how would you feel, hearing people call you a failure, and tell you they don't care if you're spit on, torn down, and left behind? That you won't ever need them or their "stigma," as you call it? We do need them. We do not need you, I repeat.

    I would like you, please, to put yourself in their shoes.

  • Steve Rawley (unverified)

    This free market nonsense of "lack of customer interest in the product" is what got us here in the first place.

    If PPS would simply agree that every neighborhood high school needs to be comprehensive and equitable in programming, we wouldn't have the shameful state of things we have today. With the changing demographics in the Jefferson cluster, it's a sure bet enrollment will rebound, if only the district would rebuild the programs they've destroyed at Jefferson over more than a decade of attrition.

    Schools are not businesses, and shouldn't be expected to compete for "customers." My children are not customers, and it is insulting to them to tell them that their school will be closed because it wasn't competitive in the marketplace.

    If we're going to close two high schools, as has been broadly hinted at, we need to first commit to equity in every neighborhood high school, talk about what the boundaries should look like based on demographics (not where students have ended up), and then discuss the best way to serve those students -- in their neighborhoods.

    Remember, Marc, it's the free market mentality that encouraged the self-reinforcing cycle of white flight and program cuts at Jefferson. To punish us in the Jefferson cluster because of this mentality (that goes back even before your tenure on the board, but seriously took root under the Phillips/Gates Foundation regime) is not just racist but absurd.

  • (Show?)

    In the town I grew up in, in Massachusetts, the baby boom peaked late. My high school class ('76) was the largest, those just before and after close. The high school, built for 1300, had 1900 in only 3 grades, we had "open campus" because they couldn't provide study hall space for everyone in their open periods or feed everyone in the lunch room; two 7-9 Jr. Highs built for 600 had 900+, and were social hells as a result.

    By the early 1980s there was a massive bust. The school administration moved into one previous elementary school. Three or four others were closed and turned into housing, mostly low-income housing for elderly folks. The Jr. High I had attended was leased to the State Police for a police academy. I think some other schools were leased.

    In the 1990s, the school population rose again, though not as high. The school system ended the lease on the Jr. High and put three elementary schools in it -- distinct entities physically separated from one another.

    The point being that a creative combination of sales & leases is possible. In responding to Chuck's criticisms I would start with his points about empty buildings. Assuming Marc's right about his population projections, it seems that a judicious combination of sales, combined with some leases in case something unexpected happens, seems like it would be possible and make sense.


    Beyond that I have more questions than opinions. In response to Nicole, the question to my mind is partly what all the parents in the nominal Jefferson catchment area who apparently are sending their kids elsewhere think? Do they back the current PTSA positions so that if they went through, more of those who are going elsewhere would return or come to Jeff? Is there really such clear unity? The impression created in the media, which could of course be quite wrong, is that at least some of the "experiments" come at least partly out of community initiatives.

    On the other hand, my reading of the stats suggests that Benson isn't doing so hot either, despite having a putative tech focus that ought to be a priority, one would think. If we're going to talk about closing high schools it really ought to be in an overall context and with some view about where the students would go.

    There are also some real complexities that I don't think you address, Chuck. The neighborhood school where my child goes (Lewis) in innner SE PDX was marginal under Vicki Philips' ideals for total numbers of students in schools. At one stage it looked like the way it could go would be to K-8. I had concerns about that, & the only way I can imagine it happening would have meant moving some high-special needs (severely handicapped) classes somewhere else, closing the music room, shrinking the library & I still don't know where the other two classes would have gone (assuming 2 per new grade). This quite apart from safety & educational concerns about K-8 model.

    But there was a lot of resistance to closing Sellwood Middle School which is generally successful and feeds into Cleveland H.S. also seen as generally successful. So then there was consideration of closing one of several schools in the general area. Grout got excluded from consideration apparently because of some special program stuff they do there. In the end a proposal was reached that adjusted a number of the elementary school boundaries to relieve some pressure on a couple of overlarge schools, & thereby bring some added students to the marginally smaller ones.

    Now despite snotty, snide and really quite nasty and uncalled for remarks about "little snowflakes" etc., there are some real questions here that don't turn on preciousness or a sense of privilege. The two most marginal schools population-wise are highly successful in standardized measures and also less tangible ones like school morale, parent support, etc. The buildings were relatively new & in good shape. These aren't the poorest schools in the system but by no means the richest either. Small overall size doesn't necessarily reflect what happens inside -- my kid's 3rd grade class was 26 at the beginning of the year & will be 27 this term & next, not impossibly huge (at least with a student teacher involved) but hardly ideal; the other 3rd grade is combined 2nd & 3rd to accommodate a large 2nd grade cohort. Students are not being "overserved" in terms of classroom space nor is the school overstaffed in the sense of student teacher ratio.

    At the end of the day before we get into closing successful schools I'd like to be clear about what that means in terms of issues like class sizes. I'd like to have discussions in principle about school crowding and how that affects issues like bullying. I'd like to have discussions about what we'd like kids in any of our schools to have access to by way of curriculum, and facilities, and then ask questions about what shape the facilities should take and what we might be willing to pay to achieve those goals. I'd like those conversations to include not only current parents but also people whose kids have gone through or who send their kids to private school for religious or other reasons, but who still are committed to strong public schools. I'd like them to include the putatively rapidly growing class of relatively young immigrants attracted to Portland for various reasons, who may not yet have kids but might soon.

    Also in school closures there are complexities introduced because of specialized schools or special language focus or other special program focus -- should those be given higher priority than neighborhood access? Should that be just assumed? When our schools advisory group was formed, they were told by fiat that Grout and perhaps one other potentially included school were off the table before discussions started. Why? I don't know. Could be good reasons, or bad, we weren't told. I do know it's an older building compared to some under threat of closure.

    Personally I'd like the discussion to include the possibility that smaller schools might actually be worth paying for.

    Which brings me back to agreeing with Chuck that a good place to start would be focusing on unused buildings from the point of view of cutting costs and raising revenues.

  • (Show?)

    For some reason (similar pose in head shot? Developing undiagnosed neurological disease? Not enough sleep? Simple stupidity?) I misattributed authorship of this article to Chuck Shetekoff in my mind. Please convert all references above to "Chuck" to "Marc". Thank you.

  • Terry (unverified)

    Hey Chris Lowe! Who's Chuck? And while you're at it, perhaps you could explain to me your definition of "successful" school?

    That said, I must agree with you that smaller schools may indeed be worth paying for.

  • chris (unverified)

    Isn't Marc Abrams one of the folks on the board at the time of the financially irresponsible and morally reprehensible decision to contract out the custodians? (I think he voted against it in the end, but he chaired the finance committee at the time and should have killed the proposal there). I wouldn't put much stock in his opinions on the best way to spend school district money.

  • Jen (unverified)


    I couldn't disagree with you more. Successful schools are the ones that parents are buying homes to be near, or those that receive more petitions for transfers from outside their boundaries.

    Sadly, many parents are voting with their feet and enrolling their kids in private school, or moving to suburban districts that have rising enrollments, smaller class sizes, and newer buildings/equipment. Just like a poorly managed business, PPS has been losing potential clients left and right (our only child attends private school because they expect more from Snowflake), despite giving their product away for free.

    Marc is suggesting the "just float another bond issue" approach is no longer sustainable if PPS is going to compete with several other bond issues while ignoring legitimate cost reduction strategies. He's right, but that doesn't mean the edu-lobby is ready to listen.

  • Will Miller (unverified)

    Yes Chris, Marc has turned over to the dark side. With the current Board having 12% less funding to work with than when he was on the Board he is promoting the Bill Sizemore/Don McIntire school of economics. Lower taxes will encourage the School Board to make better decisions . . . a tough love that isn't.

  • Nancy Smith (unverified)


    You asked several insightful questions, including:

    (1) "what all the parents in the nominal Jefferson catchment area who apparently are sending their kids elsewhere think?

    (2) Do they back the current PTSA positions so that if they went through, more of those who are going elsewhere would return or come to Jeff? Is there really such clear unity?

    (3) the impression created in the media, which could of course be quite wrong, is that at least some of the "experiments" come at least partly out of community initiatives."

    Having served on the Jefferson Design Team as a Jefferson High School PTSA representative, I am happy to respond.

    (1) Research conducted by the Jefferson PTSA over the last couple of years, surveying literally hundreds of Jefferson families/students who attend elsewhere, revealed that overwhelmingly families/students would prefer to attend Jefferson and stay in their own neighborhood, but because of the pitiful curricular and educational opportunities available, transferring is viewed as their only viable option.

    (2) Absolutely. With all things being equal, most families/students prefer to attend school in the communities in which they live. Very few high school students prefer to travel across town daily to access the same level of educational quality they can receive at home.

    If course offerings/programs were offered equitably throughout PPS neighborhood high schools, our students would overwhelmingly choose to stay at Jefferson. And, as the district even acknowledges, transferring out of one's neighborhood to attend school is detrimental to academic performance - not to mention the horrendous price these students often pay in terms of negative health, social and emotional outcomes.

    (3) There's a reason the PR staff at PPS increased dramatically under Vicki Phillip's watch; they did quite a job of misrepresenting Jefferson design-team outcomes as having been created and supported by the community.

    In truth, the specific outcomes, including small separate academies and single-sex schools, had been predetermined in a Gates grant written by Vicki Phillips and Cynthia Guyer (formerly of the Portland Schools Foundation) and awarded months before the design team was formed. This grant named Jefferson as the "pilot school", but neither the design team nor the Jefferson community had knowledge of what Phillips and Guyer promised Gates would occur at Jefferson.

    Jefferson students, families and residents publicly and overwhelmingly opposed the supposed "design-team recommendations". Literally hundreds publicly expressed opposition via packed meetings at Jefferson, letters, public testimony, petitions etc. Yet the school board unanimously approved them all.

    But the opposition has continued. Thankfully under Carole Smith's watch there is now a recommendation to the board to merge the two co-ed academies back to one Jefferson High School.

    Clarification regarding "nominal Jefferson catchment area": For the past two years Jefferson had the largest number of high school students living in it's attendance area in all of PPS; this year Jefferson dropped just below Marshall, with Jefferson having the second highest number of high school students in its catchment area.

    Thank you, Nancy Smith, President Jefferson High School PTSA

  • RM (unverified)


    It's difficult for many schools in PPS to be "successful" because PPS has cut courses and programs to little or nothing in schools/neighborhoods that serve high minority and/or low-income students. Understandably the majority of the transfers out are from families living in these neighborhoods and would not be occurring but for the racist, classist policies of PPS.

    The district is continuing to punish our public school children based upon the color of their skin and/or the income level of their parents - neither of which these precious children can control. PPS policies have created a catch-22 situation that has resulted in either terrible neighborhood schools for these children or none at all, due to declining enrollments then closures.

  • Disgusted (unverified)

    Mr. Abrams:

    Your arrogant comment "I for one do not wish to pay to refurbish a building that, as a taxpayer, I should no longer own" in reference to Jefferson is appalling.

    If you'd done your research, you'd know that in the entire Portland/Metro area, those ZIP codes serving Jefferson High School are currently experiencing the greatest increases in property values along with highest correlating increases in property taxes.

    How dare you suggest that families living in the Jefferson cluster have no right to a neighborhood high school? When did Jefferson residents cease becoming "taxpayers" or cease funding "privileged" Lincoln High and all other schools throughout this city?

    How dare you presume to pick and choose which families and children in this city matter and which don't, or which should have to pay to get nothing and which get to pay for something?

    If you were the "lefty" you claim to be you'd stop this ridiculous, hurtful dialog. Instead you would do a shout out to all past and current PPS school board members to take full responsibility (and apologize) for the policies you supported that have left pitiful shells of schools that are (or have been) located in blacker, browner and poorer sections of this city.

    You would apologize for FORCING these families to send their children out of their own communities as the only means of providing them a decent education and shot at a successful future.

    And you would stop blaming the victims or the school buildings that house the victims.

    You're showing your true colors Mr. Abrams - and they sure ain't shades of blue.

  • (Show?)

    It's a shame -- and why I blog so infrequently -- that more of the responses here are to malign my liberaism, to reject my facts without offers competing ones, and to cast aspersions on my time on the School Board and my typing (yes, my keyboard was on the fritz and I'm not the world's best proffreader). To Disgusted, I don't know what gives you the right to say that because you disagree with me, I'm insufficiently "blue," and you don't identify a single policy I supported that "caused" this problem. I supported DOUBLING the funding to Jefferson until it was clear it wasn't ever going to function. As to my "market" approach, sorry, but PPS policy is "open borders." Unless you change that -- something my Board considered and rejected -- market forces are at work whetherwe like that or not. And merging Roosevelt and Jefferson WOULD keep kids in their neighborhood (many of whom, currently go to Benson, also in that neighborhood).

    As to Will Miller, I don't think funding is down from my time, when we had to cut six of my eight years, a total of one-third in spending. Even if it is, that doesn't excuse a failure to intellectually and financially means test every policy. That's really all I'm asking for.

    Chris, I opposed contracting out from the beginning, but the vote was 5-2. And we don't "kill" things in committee like Congress. They simply come to the floor recommended or not. Would that I could have done that.

    I have watched many of the debates on this forum -- particularly those on the AG race -- disintegrate into name calling. If you disagree with a policy, how about a non-insulting response? I presume that each of you cares. I'd appreciate the same in return (that means you, Nicole, Nancy, "Disgusted"). And if you have a specific disagreement with a fact I've put forth or a policy, I'm happy to continue the discussion about that.

    And I apologize in advance to those who will find more typos in this response -- I'm in a hurry this morning.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Marc Abrams is corerect. Wastful spending is neither a progressive, liberal or conservative issue. School Boards are notoriously ill-prepared for "watching the dollars" and lack the basics of fiduciary responsibility. Witness the Seattle School board that has "lost" upwards of $35MM over the past few years. They too, struggle with deciding the right level of buildings and infrastructure to support a dwindling student population.

    Or, keep it in state and review the current debacle of the Medford 549C bond. 14 months ago the local school board won by 300 "yes" votes for $189 MM in building projects. They recieved this narrow victory by promising something for EVERYONE. While not in the Portland price range, it is the largest ever (and perhaps last) for the Medford area. Currently the budget is totally busted with per project cost overruns averaging 45%. It has been discovered that those pushing the bond deliberately under reported asbestoes abatement, hazmat costs and fudged the numbers to under represent conditions of some buildings. The largest boondoggle to date is a new High School that is a staggering $83MM PLUS $3MM in wetlands mitigation. All of this in a school district that by their own numbers will see a continued decline in enrollment of over 400 students in the next 5 years and then flat enrollment going forward.

  • Nicole (unverified)

    Yes, Mr. Abrams, I disagree with your proposed policy of closing Jefferson. If you would like to continue a discussion about why, then please read this document prepared by the Jefferson PTSA first. http://www.neighborhoodschoolsalliance.org/node/470

  • (Show?)

    Nicole, happy to read it later and respond off-line in a few days if you provide an e-mail. It's 17 single spaced pages and has hundreds of assertions, most of which are conclusory. I don't expect everyone to agree with me. the funciton of a blog is to encourage intelligent discourse and respectful disagreement. I expect, in the end, we will continue to disagree. My issue is that you accused me of not supporting Jeff while on the School Board, whien the record is that I repeatedly favored shifting funds from West Side schools to Jeff until Jeff was getting more than twice as much per student, and that you, without backing it up, said my comments consisted of "inaccurate, misleading, and offensive statements." That kind of comment does nothing, and you note that, though I disagree with you, I have not responded in kind.

  • Joe (unverified)

    Wow Marc, hold on.

    Nicole did exactly as you suggested by submitting a respectful blog response stating her disagreement with your proposed policy about closing Jefferson High School, followed by a suggestion to continue this discussion, exactly as you proposed and promised.

    Your response, however, was to disagree with a proposal she put forth before even reading it - as you said you would "read it later"- followed by criticizing her for a previous blog on this thread.

    It might be prudent to take your own advice by providing "a non-insulting response", especially when Nicole did exactly as you asked.

  • Nancy Smith (unverified)

    Mr. Abrams:

    You are absolutely correct when you state that "PPS policy is 'open borders'", and "unless you change that..market forces are at work whether we like that or not".

    And changing that is exactly what the Jefferson High School PTSA has recently proposed to the PPS Superintendent and School Board, Mayor of Portland and City Council.

    Our proposal was prompted by a June 2006 audit of the PPS student transfer system conducted by the City of Portland's auditor, Gary Blackmer and Multnomah County auditor Suzanne Flynn, as a requirement of the previous Multnomah County ITAX.

    The audit is named, "PPS Student Transfer System: District Objectives Not Met".

    The audit determined that the current PPS student transfer system conflicts with several other PPS policies, including: -Equity -Student achievement -Maintaining strong neighborhood schools -Diversity (resulting in PPS neighborhood schools that are more racially segregated than the neighborhoods they serve) -Investing in poor-performing schools

    The auditors specifically directed PPS board members to define the purpose of the student transfer system, since it conflicts with so many other current board policies.

    Further, the auditors concluded that students who transfer outside their neighborhood schools suffer academic declines compared to their peers who remain in their neighborhood schools.

    The auditors' recommendation was that PPS abandon the current student transfer system and/or develop a new system that does not conflict with PPS goals of equity, diversity, student achievement, maintaining strong neighborhood schools, etc.

    The entire Jefferson PTSA proposal can be viewed at:

    The City of Portland/Multnomah County (Flynn/Blackmer) audit of the PPS student transfer system can be viewed at:

    Thanks, Nancy Smith JHS PTSA

  • Miles (unverified)

    Marc, you ask us to challenge you on the facts, but your post doesn't actually contain very many facts. Mostly, it contains assertions like the following: I will vote against the bond because the current Portland School Board simply has not shown the political will to make tough choices in school closure and building sales

    My two "snowflakes" will both be attending PPS in the next few years, so I paid close attention during the last round of school closings. That experience showed me that most of the arguments like the one you make above are totally lacking in factual analysis.

    You argue that school closures will save us money, but there's no evidence of that. PPS admitted during the last round of closures that it wanted to close schools not so much to save money, but instead to show "political will" so that the business community wouldn't oppose the funding measure that was on the ballot. You make a similar argument here.

    Why doesn't it save money? Because the only personnel savings you get are (roughly): One principal (about $130,000 with benes) Some (but not all) maintenance/custodial staff (let's say another $100,000)

    All the teachers obviously move to the new school, and most of the administrators do as well because you can't just add 300 kids to a school and keep the same admin. structure. Other than personnel costs, you save on utilities and some maintenance. I think $200,000 is a generous estimate of non-personnel savings. So all in all, closing a school saves something like $500,000 a year.

    What does it cost? Well, in hard costs every student who leaves PPS as a result of the school closing costs the district about $7,000. And that cost goes up every year if additional children don't attend PPS because they no longer have a neighborhood school. So if 30 kids transfer in the first year, the school loses $210,000. If PPS loses an additional 20 kids the following year, the cost is $350,000. AT BEST, school closures save a couple hundred thousand dollars each. At worst, they actually cost the district money in the long run.

    As for selling the district's assets, that only provides a one-time cash infusion. You may be able to use it to catch up on some deferred maintenance at another building, but you can't use it for ongoing operations or maintenance costs. Selling a school is like selling your car in order to make your monthly rent payment. It helps that month, but makes it a lot harder to hold down the job that's going to pay your rent over the next year.

    Talking about the district "getting tough" and making "difficult choices" sounds really good. But in the case of closing schools and selling them, it doesn't get you much in the long run. That's not to say that the district should never do it, but let's make sure that we only do it when the fiscal analysis shows that it's something worth doing, instead of using it as a facade to make the school board look tough.

  • Miles (unverified)

    We've had demographic studies galore done. Lower birth rates, selection of suburbs by familes, etc., have us stabilizing in the 45-48K range.

    Marc, this is at odds with what PPS is saying. They're saying stabilization at 42,700, followed by a slight upward trend. Plus, I remember seeing a chart during the last round of closures showing a significant upward trend starting in about 15 years.

    Most important than the birthrate, however, is the capture rate. You argue we should just close down the schools and sell them off. But what about using your market-based approach and actually MARKETING the schools to young parents? Rieke elementary found that a concerted marketing campaign brought in a significant number of new students. Citywide, there are thousands of parents paying thousands of dollars to send their kids to mediocre private schools. As most parents will tell you, the reputation of PPS is far worse than the reality (and that poor reputation is exacerbated by painful, emotional fights over school closures every few years). Spending our time and resources on marketing the incredible things happening in PPS schools, particularly the elementary schools, would pay off far more than spending our resources forcing closures that displace students and negatively impact neighborhoods.

  • Sarah Carlin Ames (unverified)

    Hi all --

    Just wanted to check in and make clear that we at Portland Public Schools are in the middle of a process to develop a long-range facilities plan. I hope that many of you made it to one of the community meetings over the last couple weeks.

    If not, you can learn more and take a survey about school buildings in your area of town on our website: www.reshape.pps.k12.or.us (there's also a "Reshape Schools" link on the Portland Public Schools home page).

    Also posted: results of an exhaustive survey of the condition and educational suitability of our current buildings. And yes, as Marc noted, the vast majority are in advanced middle age (if not approaching senescence) and suffer from the building analogy of heart disease, arthritis, you name it!

    The public input and the building data will feed into priorities for a long-range facilities plan for our schools. The first take will be presented to the School Board in March, with further public review in April and possible adoption later this spring.

    It's far too early to say definitively when and whether the School Board will ask voters to approve a capital bond, and how much that would cost -- let alone to have people deciding whether to vote for it!

    The School Board has made some very tough decisions to close schools in recent years. This is true. There is still work to be done on our evolving portfoloio of high school options and work to do to make sure we adequate support high school students in the Jefferson cluster. Also undeniably true.

    Stay tuned. We'll be inviting the readers of Blue Oregon and others across Portland to participate in the high school discussion later this spring. I'm sure the debate will continue, and that we'll have more spirited discussions on the blogosphere. Thanks for tuning in and for caring.

    Sarah Carlin Ames PPS Communications

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    Nancy Smith, thank you for your response, and Nicole, thanks for the link, I will try to follow up.

    Terry, I confused Marc Abrams with Chuck Sheketoff I think because I had just looked at Chuck's recent post. Everywhere I said "Chuck," read Marc. Sorry Marc.

    As for a successful school, my definition as a parent is a school that encourages, supports and enables each student to do his or her best work, that communicates to students what good work is, that tells them that learning is valued and helps them see why it's valuable and enjoyable, and that teaches them values and habits about how to act in classroom and building communities so that everyone can learn and is safe. To achieve that I think schools need good teaching, including support for improved teaching, parent involvement, and strong teacher morale, for all of which strong building leadership by a principal is needed. Adequate resources and other forms of support from the school system play an important role.

    This has a complex relationship to standards & accountability. Personally I believe that accountability should be primarily at the school community level and that in effective schools teachers, students, parents and administrators hold themselves and each other accountable to themselvs and one another (in different ways according to their roles and capacities, obviously).

    An unfortunate effect of the relocation of so much school funding to the state legislature is that a different kind of accountability, to the legislature, has become paramount. Thus "standards" become established with a goal of allowing the legislature to compare a large number of schools to one another in standardized and inevitably shallow ways. These standards can conflict with local school communities setting effective local goals and standards for themselves, and state level accountability can interfere with school-site accountability. I'm influenced in my thinking about this stuff by Theodore R. Sizer, author of Horace's Compromise and other books.

    I'm ambivalent about testing and not too thrilled with No Child Left Behind's approach. Up to a point measurement is important, but it can reach a point where measuring and documenting can interfere with the substantive work (this applies to any organization, not just schools). I think test standards should be absolute, not by percentiles, i.e. it should be possible to decide that all schools in a system are doing well, or that all are not doing well enough, & same for students, despite the fact that there will always be a top !0% and a bottom !0%. With too much testing, or destructive threat-based "incentives", teaching to the test can be destructive of good education and can become an incentive to try to game the system or cheat.

    When I said the schools in the SE Portland area where Lewis is were successful, this was based on test results for comparative purposes, and my subjective experience of Lewis School according to the standards outlined above as a parent as specifically relates to that school.

  • Zarwen (unverified)

    Marc is right.

    Marc is right, but for the wrong reasons.

    A bond issue would have a far-reaching effect on the entire district, not just Jefferson, Roosevelt, or North Portland.

    Here are the reasons I will not be voting in favor of any bond (and Sarah Carlin Ames, I hope you are paying attention!):

    If PPS really does want to pass a bond to renovate schools, their timing couldn't possibly be worse. After ruining so many schools and neighborhoods, after exacerbating the overcrowding AND undercrowding problems, after spending all that money on curriculum materials that aren't getting used, after failing to deliver on promised "enrichment" courses, after engaging in these disrespectful "charrettes" that didn't include any non-PPS employees, and worst of all, after selling us a levy just last year, there are too many hurt feelings, too many families pissed off, and too many messes left for Carole Smith to clean up before they should be coming to us to ask for more money. Realistically, they need to wait 2-5 years before they should be asking for this. I know Vicki Phillips is the one who set this in motion, but if Carole Smith and company have any prudence whatsoever, they will set it aside until the fallout has simmered down some.

  • Miles (unverified)

    The School Board has made some very tough decisions to close schools in recent years. This is true.

    Sarah, where is the analysis that the school board promised showing the net savings of these closures after the lost students are factored into the district funding equation? It seems the only way PPS will ever be able to close a high school is by showing significant savings from past school closures -- something I'm skeptical it can do.

    Also since you're reading this, can I suggest that PPS never again hold a meeting where the school board shows up, makes a presentation, listens to testimony but refuses to answer questions from parents? That happened at the closure meeting at Wilson two years ago, and it was probably the most insulting thing I've ever witnessed. If the board is there, the board needs to answer questions, not just say "Thank you for your input."

  • Steve Buckstein (unverified)

    At the risk of introducing a "progressive" idea into this discussion, perhaps all the heat generated over the school transfer program and the value of this high school versus that high school pales in comparison to the discussion in this Education Week column:

    Let's Abolish High School

  • Steve Buckstein (unverified)

    Sorry, the correct link for the comment above is:

    Let's Abolish High School

  • TR (unverified)

    Having attended one of the public meetings PPS held to promote their luxurious package that involves a remodel or replacement to every school in the district only supports the outlook that no matter how much funding is available, the schools will never have enough money. The concept this time around in asking for more money attempts to lure the public into thinking that educating students is all about bricks and mortar, and that preparing students for the 21st century requires changing the layouts in schools. Personally I have a hard time believing that knocking down walls so classrooms are connected with a common area rather than a hallway in reality makes any difference at all to what is actually being taught inside those classrooms. There is no argument that schools need current instructional materials coupled with modern technology in the upper grades as along is the expectation is not to replace it every year, specifically since computer technology is developing so fast it can hardly be kept up with at any price. There also no argument that schools need to be safe and sound, and warm in the winter, but to suggest there is a need to replace everything the district wants to recreate is sending students the wrong message – that message being one of consumption in that everything has to be new, everything that is wanted can simply be obtained by having others pay for it, and a lack of appreciation for what already exists.

    When I went to grade school here in Portland, the building itself was approximately 50 years old. The gymnasiums were somewhat newer than the original school building, but were still in the range of approximately 30 or so years old. The only real changes to the made to the original building was the updated lighting in the classrooms. The building had an old intercom phone system between the office and the classrooms, and had a central clock that ran all the other clocks in the building which was kind of neat. Today the windows have been replaced in all the classrooms, walls have been added in the large hallways to make them into small work areas, the intercom system and the master clock are gone, and the school has also been closed. Therefore all that investment to make those changes in the last couple of decades has basically gone to waste as the building sits empty and unused. So what if the building is old. Educating students must also be about learning history and respecting things that are old.

    I currently live in a house that was built after WWII. Although the flooring and counter tops have been replaced in the kitchen and the bathroom, the cabinets are original with the appliances in the kitchen about 35 years old and still working. What I am suggesting by stating this is that what functions OK does not need to be replaced just because it is not of the latest modern or flashy design. Our schools fail to realize this thereby teaching students only replacement consumption. A reality check is needed. I am sick and tired of hearing about how old the schools are. This in itself is a turn off to any of the money requests PPS may make.

    Additionally, when I make a major purchase, like many people, I must look at how I can adjust and prioritize my personal budget to do that spending. Unlike the school district and the government that somehow think the public is an infinite source of dollars, many people are on a fixed or nearly fixed incomes with tight budgets and can not afford to have their resources extorted to fund such an extravagant school refashion program. The school district too needs prioritize and see where cuts to their budget can be made. The public for example should not have to shell out for both a highly paid Superintendent and a Chief Operating Officer. PPS needs to do a reality check by making some budget cuts, some administrative cuts and address the bona fide needs of building infrastructure rather than indulging in lavish desires. The people and voters also need an avenue not provided at the public meetings to shrink down and just say NO to some of what is being requested.

  • jaybeat (unverified)

    Why the heck do we insist that school districts always and only do the things that will save the most money?

    Do we really want to purchase our kid's educations at the Dollar Store?

    Smaller schools educate kids better than bigger ones. That has been proven over and over.

    The idea that closing schools is a good way to save money seems to have been called into question enough that we should not accept it as fact without proof, and not assume a proposed school closure will save money without hard evidence.

    And even if it DOES save money, we need to ask "At what cost to the education we provide to our kids?"

    And, I agree with TR in that it is folly to see our historic neighborhoods celebrate their history by lovingly caring for and restoring not only older homes but also business and commercial districts, only to see the historic neighborhood school buildings (built at the same time as the homes and businesses, to serve the same population) either torn down for modern monstrosities or turned into brew pubs. If it is good for my home, my business and my neighborhood, why isn't it good for my neighborhood school?

    Clearly, if students are deserting local schools because they can get better educational opportunities elsewhere, then we need to upgrade the educational opportunities available at our neighborhood schools. DUH. Anyone who disagrees with this would seem out of place on a blog for "progressive Oregonians." (Though lord knows that doesn't stop them from getting their jollies by fouling our air.)

    So, while the political intricacies of the PPS soap opera may escape me, these principles seem pretty clear. Do we really need someone thumping their chest and proclaiming that they are no longer going to vote for a PPS bond because the district hasn't shown adequate willingness to close MORE schools?

    It would seem, rather, that we need to focus on the things that will increase the QUALITY of the education offered to all district students, and then, if there isn't enough money, it should be a simple matter (In politics? HA!) of showing voters what they will get for their money.

    And since smaller schools have been widely shown to directly correlate to better educational outcomes, the exact OPPOSITE of Marc's recommendations seems like a pretty good place to start.

  • WhynotMinot (unverified)

    If smaller is better, then let's replace those tired elementary schools with Neighborhood Yurts. That would allow PPS to retain ownership of all their existing properties for the next (be here any decade) rising enrollments. The construction trades might be a bit unhappy, but we're educating kids, not courting unions.

    Then we can concentrate our remaining resources on curriculum, and (most importantly) teacher salaries, benefits, and pensions. Because we all know that highly compensated teachers are the best way to make kids learn.

  • Steve Rawley (unverified)

    Marc complains of people who "malign" his liberalism, but let's really take a look.

    The attitude that a school is a business and should compete for students is indeed liberal, in the sense of liberal markets. This neoliberal outlook is not just common in the modern Democratic party, it is dominant, so I guess it's not really fair to question his Democratic stripes.

    The trouble is that this type of economics is fundamentally illiberal to the extent that it is effectively a form of institutional racism and classism when applied to our schools.

    The evidence is plain for anybody to see: After nearly 15 years of market oriented education policy in PPS, we have two kinds of high school in Portland. Comprehensive in white, middle class neighborhoods (Lincoln, Grant, Cleveland, Franklin and Wilson) and racially and socio-economically segregated, balkanized academies in our working class neighborhoods.

    And now this mindset says we should close the schools this survival of the fittest model has nearly starved out, thereby punishing my kids, who are several years out from high school. Can you tell me again why my kids should pay for this?

    Again, it is racist and absurd to suggest that one of the largest high school clusters by residence in the district (which just happens to have Oregon's largest concentration of black citizens) should not have a high school.

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    It has appeared to me for some time that PPS is on path that leads to eliminating most schools from the most racially/ethnically diverse and poorest neighborhoods in the city.

    Now it appears that you have explicitly endorsed a policy to that effect.

    I understand the frustration with the repeated failures to improve the bottom line at Jeff and other schools but it seems to me that what you are suggesting will only lead to a worse disaster in the larger context. We are not going to cure high dropout rates or a dearth of functional social support systems by making poor children, children of color or immigrants travel four or five or ten time farther to school than the average middle-class white kid.

    You have given up on Jefferson as a failure. What do you see as the essence of that failure? Is it a function of the building? The location? The community? The students?

    I'm just a community member on the outside looking in but what I've seen from my vantage point is a string of boards and administrations made up of well-meaning and intelligent people but with little real respect for the community they supposedly serve. One after another they have instituted various trust-us-we're-the-experts reforms while failing to look at the larger context or to get real input or buy-in from the community. Then one short tenure after another they have left and made way for the next wave of failed "reforms".

    It seems to me that what you suggest amounts to throwing up our hands and proclaiming that we just don't know how to educate children in poor or diverse neighborhoods so we are going to quit trying.

    I find that even less acceptable than throwing away tax dollars and I'm no more fond of that than you are.

  • Steve Buel (unverified)

    What really bugs me about this post and the ensuing comments from Marc is that when he was on the board I sat, looked him in the eye, and told him we needed to straighten out the middle schools in lower economic neighborhoods or the students in that part of the city were in deep trouble. His answer, as a school board member, was no different than any other member of the school board in the last 20 years (except Doug Capps). Too bad, too dang bad. Nothing was done or is being done and we now have an incredible mess in every neighborhood except Lincoln, Wilson, and parts of Grant and Cleveland.

    The unvarnished truth is that Portland's school board has been controlled by the organizations Stand for Children and the members of the Portland Schools Foundation and board members kowtow to their agenda, which has over the years only included real improvement for upper middle class schools, and has hired superintendents who only care about those politically strong area schools. (Hopefully the new supt. will not be of the same ilk, but I am not holding my breath.)Marc, as much as I like him, was no different and his calling for the closure of Jeff based upon the number of kids attending, a fact brought about by his policies and the policies of the people who have controlled the school board for the last few years, is pretty hypocritical.

    In the meantime, kids in lower economic neighborhoods in Portland attend schools which are massively short changed and left to flounder on their own. So what if PPS policies contribute heavily to kids dropping out, doing drugs, becoming alcoholics, getting into gangs, becoming criminals, having early pregnancies, and generally becoming noncontributing citizens of our city. Heck, it isn't the kids of the people on the school board, nor Stand for Children, nor members of the Portland Schools Foundation, nor the city council etc. etc.

    P.S. Benson Tech was recognized as one of the top technological schools in the country. The school board made a couple of changes and bingo, there is a problem. Close it? Heck no, fix it, return it to the place it held -- a bright, shining opportunity for kids who don't have a lot of them. Geez.

  • Michele Schultz (unverified)

    This discussion highlights much of what I heard in my recent campaign for Portland's School Board. So many folks care deeply about public education, but that deep feeling can also be coupled with deep frustration. One of my thoughts is that public education is an investment - pure and simple. I think applying for-profit business concepts to a social service is only somewhat helpful is that in a social service, like public education, you are investing in an unknown future. You have little control over your investment and it is a long time before you truly see results. (And I am not talking about generic test scores - I like how Chris talked about education in an above post.)

    I know there are lots of good people working in the district. Their goal is to educate the next generation, and I know they want to do that in a fiscally responsible way. I also know that we have race and class issues in Portland that cannot be ignored. I am not sure what should be done with the high schools - and if more closures are needed. They might be. But I know that every high school could do a better job in providing a safe environment for our teens to be - and every high school could impove their "test scores" - and every high school is also achieving tremendous results for some students. So, as always, how do we build on our strengths and learn from our mistakes?

    I feel that the community involvement with these facility discussions has been an improvement over the community involvement process that happened with school closures and reconfigurations some 18 months ago. I am hopeful that lessons learned through all of this will help create more and better community involvement in the months and years to come - because the next issue and set of decisions is right around the corner.

    I have just joined the Citizen Budget Review Committee and am eager to do my part in providing strong citizen input in making sure there is fiscal oversight for the district. I know how important that is. However, all of these details can become overwhelming.

    So for me, it is a question of what kind of citizen do I want to be, and what kind of legacy do I want to leave? I believe that the quality of our public education system defines who we are as a community, and that students deserve to go to school in a decent building and that custodians and teachers and staff deserve decent pay and that every one has a responsibility at some level to help make that happen.

    So, I hope as we make decisions about how much we spend out of our pockets for PPS in the future we also take time to lobby for full-day STATE funded kindergarten, make our feelings known about the federal No Child Left Behind Law to the Congress and Senate in Washington and keep doing what we can to help all our Portland schools become the schools we want them to be.

  • Nancy Rawley (unverified)

    Anyone who would like to volunteer to say, read with a student, shelve books in the library or help out as a classroom aide or cafeteria monitor is more than welcome to call me in the main office at Jeff -- I'm not hard to find.

    We do have 707 wonderful students who will tell you, you extend a hand to us, we will gladly do the same for you.


  • (Show?)

    I think that the idea that closing a school in the "largest cachement area" is inherently racist assumes that there is some magic in the way the lines are drawn. There isn't. Portland's "capture rate" for students is still the highest in the US for a major city, but Jeff's is abysmal. That's a parental choice, so we're stuck with a "market model" whether we like it or not, unless you reverse the open transfer policy, which I believe NCLB requires. The problem is that, despite some of the caring folks who are working hard to preserve Jeff, they have failed to close the deal with the parents who choose where their children attend school. That's how I would define "failure." There is not, despite some of the comments above, "community buy in."

    And to Steve Buel, your memory is faulty. I agreed with you. But you had the luxury of serving on a pre-Measure 5 board that could fund what it wanted. I would have loved to focus on the middle schools -- particularly Whitaker and Tubman -- but we didn't have the cash your ideas required. In any event, again, my post was NOT inherently about Jeff, but the logic of this bond measure, and what I supported or did not in my tenure on the really doesn't relate.

  • JJ (unverified)


    It's impossible for those "who are working hard to preserve Jeff" to "close the deal with the parents who choose where their children attend schools". These folks do not set PPS budgets or policies.

    It's up to the district to provide equitable course offerings throughout PPS so parents don't HAVE to send their kids elsewhere (whether it be transferring out of Jeff, Marshall, Roosevelt or Madison).

    There's actually a great deal of community commitment to improve Jefferson. The fact is, however, until there are decent offerings, the exodus will continue.

  • Steve Rawley (unverified)

    High school attendance boundaries are actually pretty evenly distributed and sensibly centered around the schools in PPS. That's not magic, that's a fact. So yes, closing the school that has the highest concentration of black students would be effectively racist.

    NCLB does not require open transfers on the scale of the radical, effectively racist system that PPS maintains. Policy makers are very fond of waving their hands around about this, but it is a dodge.

    If you doubt the "community buy-in" in the Jefferson cluster, I invite you to attend a PTSA meeting at the school, and see for yourself. The black community, the white community, the Hispanic community, the students, faculty and alumni all want comprehensive course offerings.

    Nobody wants to commute across town to get a basic education, and it's absurd and racist to expect the young adults of North and Northeast Portland to pay the cost of 15 years of failed market-based experimentation in our enrollment and funding policies.

  • Steve Buel (unverified)

    Marc, my memory is fine. I made several proposals, not all of them took a great deal of money or even any at all, just some will, effort, and energy directed at those lower economic schools. I know you said you agreed with me -- just didn't do anything about it or follow through on it. There was money available from several sources, just took a little will, effort, and energy directed at those lower economic schools. You shouldn't feel badly, no one else who has served on the PPS board for several years has made any serious effort to help lower economic schools. Just a byproduct of the Stand for Children and the Portland Schools Foundation members' politics.

  • mrfearless47 (unverified)

    All this handwringing about the PPS is based on a flawed, in my opinion, assumption. Since arriving in the Portland area in 1969, I've heard great claims about PPS from all its admirers. After teaching for about 10 years at PSU, receiving the products of the PPS, my respect for the quality of education offered diminished significantly. PPS offered nothing of consequence that compared to my experience in a California public school from the late 1940's to the early 1960's. Oregon's universities were second rate then and have deteriorated to third or fourth rate since. Same with PPS. By the time my oldest was ready for High School, our neighborhood high school (Jackson) closed, and our daughter was ticketed for Wilson. I objected to the quality of the curriculum, the open campus, and a variety of other elements of the Wilson (PPS) curriculum. We moved to Tigard and my oldest graduated from Tigard High School and thence from the University of Minnesota. Our second daughter would have gone to Tigard but for a divorce and an ensuing change in custodial arrangements. We found ourselves confronting a second daughter going to Wilson. She fared poorly at Wilson, gaming the system in every way she could. I caught Wilson with its hand in the cookie jar (state funding) about midway through my daughter's sophomore year. I pulled her out of Wilson and enrolled her in the PCC High School Completion program. By the time she officially graduated, she had 60 college credits under her belt. She then left for UO and graduated 3 years later. By the time our last (adopted) daughter reached school age, we decided to go private. Our previous experience soured us completely on public education in the Portland area. Our youngest went K-8 to OES. We then moved to Lake Oswego. Instead of sending her to Lakeridge, we decided to pay tuition to Riverdale. Why? Lakeridge still has outrageous student-faculty ratios and is a long way from our house. Riverdale is physically closer and has faculty/student ratios of about 15:1, ideal for effective learning at the high school level. Next year, we'll get Lake Oswego to release our LO tuition dollars to Riverdale. After our daughter has been at Riverdale for about 6 months, I already understand why their test scores are highest in the state. It isn't a statistical fluke; it isn't teaching to the tests; it is the faculty/student ratio that affords the kind of attention high school students should have. It's the kind of attention I got when I attended high school in California. It isn't about having tons of electives; it's about teaching the core curriculum well. The rest of the curriculum is icing on the cake.

    Jeff parents would be wise to go for low faculty/student ratios and concentration on the core curriculum. A "full" curriculum is just a diversion from the central issue. Will the students get a quality education in the areas that matter most?

  • Steve (unverified)

    If, like Marc, you are disappointed by the low rental and sale income created by public school lands, I have compiled a list of 10 School Closure Pointers:

    1) Do not start by closing the youngest, best-sited and efficient schools. By closing these schools BEFORE closing substandard portable trailer classrooms and poorly built school annexes, people get the impression that you care more about rental income than about maintaining a safe healthy student environment. 2) Follow the established closure process, which mandates necessary timing and reporting. By not following established processes and instead rushing closures in a matter of weeks and not documenting the intended outcome, citizens may feel they are not respected and you are avoiding future accountability. 3) Base your decisions on robust population forecasting that establishes maximum potential pupil population, taking into consideration the current rate of housing infill. By not doing this, people suspect you are setting the citizenry up for future disruptive boundary changes, substandard portable trailer classrooms and hasty built school annexes, when the next baby boom hits. 4) Do not eliminate the choice of a traditional Middle School for some folks and eliminate the choice of an elementary school to which students can easily walk of bike for other folks, while you are saying you support “school choice.” 5) Make a diligent effort to find PUBLIC neighborhood supported uses for unused classroom space. 6) Do not expect to get a maximum per foot price for your rental school while you are avoiding urgent maintenance (like a leaky roof) on the same building. 7) Do not expect to get a maximum per foot price for your rental school when the school is tucked into a neighborhood and it is hard to reach by car and specifically sited to make the adjoining streets lower traffic dead-end streets.
    8) Do not expect to easily rent a school when the neighborhood feels like the school belongs to them and will not welcome your renter. 9) Do not expect to get broad citizen support for your closures, rentals and sales when many citizens feel you are reinforcing and validating the inequitable curriculum resulting from a discriminatory Open Transfer Policy. 10) Do expect to lose many of your most engaged families to other districts or private alternatives if you do not follow the above recommendations.

    With Portland Public School population now rising in critical early grades, and with Portland recently declared “The Best Cities (in America) to Have a Baby” according to Fit Pregnancy Advisory Board, and with a national baby boom underway, perhaps we should take a more optimistic stance toward Portland’s future student needs. Do not subscribe to the notion that the more people we have in Portland the fewer school lands we need.

  • (Show?)

    Steve (no-initial),

    Seems very sensible to me. TR's comments above are pollyanna-ish, or maybe panglossian, about the actual condition of the many of the schools.

  • Miles (unverified)

    Mr. Fearless, your experience with PPS is completely different from mine, even though I went to Wilson in the late 80s. It was a very good high school, with a solid core curriculum (including lots of AP classes) and an extensive array of "electives" like art, music, drama, etc. (you know, the things that make us human). It offered great freedom to its students -- and demanded reciprocal responsibility -- with an open campus and open "modular" scheduling. A few students were unable to deal with the freedom, but for the majority it was beneficial.

    The reason I praise PPS is that I went to a small liberal arts college on the East Coast, where about half of my classmates were private or boarding school graduates. My public education at Wilson was better, hands down.

    PPS has some real weaknesses, but it also has great strengths that should be touted.

  • mrfearless47 (unverified)


    Glad to hear of your experiences at Wilson. I do know that some students succeed at Wilson, but even our dentist (Wilson '76) remarked that it was the most overrated school in Portland. As for your education being better than most at a private liberal arts college, I can say only that when the focus is on the core, experiences tell us that performance in college will be better. I rode through nearly four years of UCLA on the strength of my high school education, and virtually all of graduate school at UO on the strength of my UCLA education. Both in high school and in college the focus was on the core of education. Electives were limited; the curriculum was prescriptive. EVERYONE took Biology in 10th grade; EVERYONE took Chemistry in 11th grade. Only in 12th grade did we have some options: Physics or Physiology; Advanced US History or World History; American Literature or English Literature. college preparatory writing or advanced writing. There were classes like shop for boys; home ec for girls (hey, it was still sexist in the early 1960's). At UCLA EVERYONE took Art History, everyone took US History, everyone took American Government, everyone took Western Civilization. There weren't 50 ways to fill a requirement; there were substitutions galore.

    At Riverdale, where my daughter goes to school now, there are only a few electives. They increase as you progress through school, but each term she gets only a single elective, unless you count the choice of a language as an elective. Take French and the rest of your schedule is constrained. In Calculus in Grade 10 and your schedule is constrained.

    I do not believe that public (or private) schools today need a complete chinese menu of options for students. The pendulum has swung too far away from a central, core curriculum and the consequences are everywhere. The reason our students are less well-prepared for the kinds of competition they face from the rest of the world is that we've given them too many choices, and they are unable to make choices that are beneficial. Students need a clear grasp of World History. Students need to understand how American Government works. Students need modest fluency in a non-native language and an understanding of the culture of the peoples who speak that language. There is a baseline level of literary understanding required. Math literacy is essential. It goes without saying that students should be able to read and write in their own language - English, that is.

    In my opinion, based on 33 years of active teaching at PSU and from experiencing a large number of PPS graduates, these students are poorly prepared for college and even more poorly prepared for the life beyond. Over my last 3 years I taught Freshman exclusively, by request and by desire. At the beginning of my year-long course, I always collected information about every student - where they went to high school, when they graduated, etc. In three years, not ONE of the top 5 students in any class came from any PPS. The best work was always done by students from a suburban school or, frequently, from a student attending as an out-of-stater.

    Regardless of your experience at Wilson, which was more than 20 years ago and before Measure 5, the present focus of PPS does not lead to outcomes that I regard as desireable. The problem is deeper than at Jefferson; the problem isn't about money. The problem is about the curriculum and how it engages and interacts with students. My personal experiences with my own children are merely datapoints in a long collection.

    I'm glad you had a good experience. Unfortunately, you are one of the few Wilson grads I know who has anything positive to say about the school.

  • Neisha (unverified)

    Marc, please don't call for more closures. Where I live, in the inner east side, schools are crowded! And my guess is that it's not much different in other parts of the city. We're looking at kindergarten classes of around 30. Apparently, enrollment is up in the early grades, and way up in kindergarten and pre-K. It will be interesting to see what happens next year when schools all over the city add 8th grade, while trying to squeeze in more kindergarteners.

  • Miles (unverified)

    Regardless of your experience at Wilson, which was more than 20 years ago

    Gawd, that makes me feel old.

    based on 33 years of active teaching at PSU and from experiencing a large number of PPS graduates, these students are poorly prepared for college and even more poorly prepared for the life beyond.

    I think PSU is a great institution, but is it possible that the students you got at PSU were middle and lower tier PPS graduates? In my experience, the kids who went to PSU were the ones who were marginal on whether they were going to college at all. I'm not sure you got a true cross-section of PPS grads.

    The problem is deeper than at Jefferson; the problem isn't about money. The problem is about the curriculum and how it engages and interacts with students.

    But why isn't it about money? Funding for PPS after Measure 5 was harder to come by, and class sizes went up. At Riverdale, are they really spending less per student than they are at PPS? As for core curriculum, in my experience what prepares a student for college (and beyond) is a well-rounded curriculum that includes art, music, and sports. Not at the expense of core academics, but I don't think we should be forced to choose between the two.

  • mrfearless47 (unverified)

    Miles asks:

    "At Riverdale, are they really spending less per student than they are at PPS?"

    Yes. They have a younger faculty and so both health care costs and pension costs are significantly lower. Both translate into lower costs per student. They are also dealing with only two schools - a K-8 school and a recycled PPS elementary school converted into Riverdale High School.

    The demographics of the teaching faculty in PPS drives the high pension and health care costs. In addition, so many of the teachers at the top of the pay scale that personnel costs have to be significantly higher. Add to that NCLB, mainstreaming, a declining census, and a fixed number of buildings to maintain and the cost per student at PPS has to be higher than anywhere else in the state. I'm pretty sure it is.

    To be fair, Riverdale has a fantastic school foundation that probably raises as much in an 800-student district as PPS raises in its entire district. This makes other activities covered from donations, not from per student expenditures. These numbers don't get factored into the per student cost.

  • Terry (unverified)

    I appreciate your comments, Miles, but I must take exception to your characterization of PSU students.

    I matriculated at Portland State College in 1964 and I must say that some of the people I encountered there were as intelligent and sophisticated as any folks I have met since. 1964-65 was also the year that PSC shattered all the existing College Bowl scoring records.

    Times may have changed, but I think your stereotype of the typical PSU student is way off base.

  • Steve (unverified)

    Mr. Abrams mentions that he was a school board member, but he fails to mention he was a member of the Steering Committee that worked to establish the Real Estate Trust. The Real Estate Trust was created by the “Innovation Partnership” within the Portland Schools Foundation by a group of Portland business “leaders” based on the vision that a private group could more easily liquidate large valuable public school lands.

    In a 11/20/01 document entitled "Real Estate Trust: Business Plan Work Group Report," they refer to Portland’s cherished schools like this “The Work Group does not have enough information to offer the predictions today on which pigs may become silk purses and which, if any, will become bacon." Referring to our schools as "pigs" shows you the type of mindset these school groupies have.

    In their document entitled “Real Estate Trust Structure Work Group Report: November 20, 2001” they state “Trust could quickly get bogged down in community process slowing progress toward goal of providing financial return to the District if the Trust had to weigh the public good versus financial gain.”

    In their February 28, 2002 “Hotsheet” the Innovation Partnership shows pictures of the playgrounds of Smith School and Kenton School with the caption above saying “Portland Schools free up 500,000 square feet of buildings and 60 Acres of land.” The caption below the pictures says, “Portland Public Schools has 60 acres of underused land adjacent to active schools that can be developed for housing or other uses.” This type of document created rampant rumors about Smith and Kenton closing, exacerbating low enrollment as parents chose to avoid the targeted school.

    It is time we dissolve this ill-conceived Real Estate Trust group and return these school lands to the direct management of the Portland School Board, and the full daylight of a public institution. Do not liquid the bricks and mortar inheritance created by the good planning and hard work of past generations to make-up for the past few years of mismanagement and deferred maintenance.

  • mac winter (unverified)

    Full daylight of a public institution?

    Like OHSU? Or the Tram Scam? Or the PDC?

    I'm not sure daylight and public institution belong in the same sentence around these parts.

  • (Show?)

    Mac, your examples are of organizations that skirt the public/private line, and a project that the two of them pushed forward. The Land Trust that Steve describes sounds similar.

    "Public-private partnerships" have been a trendy buzzword and superficial panacea for a while now. When they are problems, the problem is not with the public side, but with taking things out of the public realm and converting them to private benefit.

  • Sarah Carlin Ames (unverified)

    Miles wrote: "can I suggest that PPS never again hold a meeting where the school board shows up, makes a presentation, listens to testimony but refuses to answer questions from parents? That happened at the closure meeting at Wilson two years ago, and it was probably the most insulting thing I've ever witnessed. If the board is there, the board needs to answer questions, not just say "Thank you for your input."

    The School Board schedules citizen comment at board meetings and community hearing generally in 3-minute increments, and they don't offer their thoughts or answers as they listen.

    As Miles wrote, that can seem really odd, uncomfortable and even disrespectful -- to ALL parties. I can tell you that Board members themselves, as well as district staff, have to fight the urge to engage in a debate during those hearings, whether to answer, cheer or challenge what they're hearing from folks.

    Why don't they respond? If they sought, on the spot, to engage in discussion of the issues raised by each speaker, they'd never get through the meetings. Fewer folks would have a chance to present their point of view to the School Board and fewer voices would be heard.

    Are the School Board members really listening? Do they care? Believe me -- they are, they do, and they take notes. Judging by the informal conversations many of them have after the meetings, their response to the many, many citizen emails they get, and the discussions and questions board members then present to staff, they really value the community comments. They just can't respond at the time and get out of the meetings before midnight and back to their homes and families. . . .

    As Miles noted, it doesn't always feel right, but there's a reason for the board protocol.

    I probably won't check back again on this thread, but you can always reach me via email at work.

    Sarah Carlin Ames PPS Communications [email protected]

  • Steve (unverified)

    I understand the 3-minute limit and the lack of conversation at the board meetings, though these “rules” are often applied unequally at the board meetings.

    On the other hand, when the district calls a meeting a “conversation,” as in the 2006 Reconfiguration Conversations, there should be actual conversations. I attended several of these conversations. The citizens would voice there concerns about the destruction of their neighborhood, a moderator would interpret (or misinterpret) the concern, and then they would move on. No conversation.

  • Steve (unverified)

    Here is a nice comment (apparently from Ruth Adkins, current school board member) reprinted from Mr. Abrams last school closure blog in 2005:

    Ruth | Feb 22, 2005 4:56:10 PM

    We've been making cuts at PPS, both at the central office (which is down to an ultra-lean 3% of their budget) and in the classroom, for years. Enough already. These are schools not widget factories. Bigger is not better. And focus options do not a school district make.

    Why aren't focus option programs ever on the chopping block? Why aren't these programs ever criticized for being too small or inefficient? Neighborhood programs are always the first to go, yet I would argue they are the true heart and soul of our public school system.

    I disagree with Supt. Philips that fully utilized, relatively low cost-per-child programs such as Edwards and Smith should be closed, especially given that the District's ostensible mission is high achievement and both these schools are doing that. It is a different matter (though still very difficult for the community involved) if you have a very small population inside a very large older building. This is not the case with Smith and Edwards.

    Yes, the schools they would be merged with are also fine programs. But the benefits of elementary schools with less than 300 students are well proven by the research and by the experience of families in those programs. When these excellent programs are located within "right-sized," newer buildings with strong neighborhood support, it does not make sense to close them.

  • Miles (unverified)

    As Miles noted, it doesn't always feel right, but there's a reason for the board protocol.

    Let me be clear, it's not that it just doesn't "feel right", I'm arguing that it isn't right. Steve says it well, it's not a conversation when someone just listens and takes notes.

    I'm sympathetic to the time contraints on board members, but if they really can't take the time to listen and respond then they probably shouldn't be on the board. There is nothing more insulting than talking to elected officials, asking questions, and getting nothing in return. They'd be better off not holding the public sessions.

  • Student (unverified)

    It has been pointed out by many in this thread that students do read blogs like this and might be insulted by some statements made here. I am a PPS graduate, currently attending college in Michigan. I make no claim to be an expert on the subject or even well informed. However, I think it is only fair that I share my point of view. Not having read the PTSA plans or the submissions to the boards by the Parents and Administration at Jeff, I can still say with some certainty that I am saddened by much of what was suggested here. When I was in elementary school, I attended a 3rd,4th,5th mixed living history program at Chapman-yes I was in the Lincoln cluster, but we'll get to that in a moment. This program was special, extraordinary you might say because it drew the best out of young minds and showed them there was more to school than rote learning. But what truly made this program special were its teachers, these women paid for field trips and extra programs out of their own pockets because they were shunned by the rest of the school who felt they shouldn't get special treatment because their curriculum was different. Forced to work in a hostile environment these teachers created a program that accepted everyone equally regardless of race, ability, or wealth. in my years in the program I never met one student whose test scores didn't improve, and who didn't have fun in the process. This program eventually became a full k-8 program housed elsewhere. By that time though I was at the Winterhaven magnet program on the east side. I can state for a fact that as a product of that program I was better prepared for high school than I thought possible. Again the program accepted all comers. I went to Lincoln better prepared by my experiences in diverse schools. Everyone feels attachment to their neighbor hood schools, and Jeff has served honorably and well for a long time, but is the answer to the problem really a new tax to support a system that is crumbling? I know what the Jeff families are going through, I would fight tooth and nail to save my old schools, but with district populations falling as Marc suggests and a failed but honest effort to resuscitate Jeff perhaps now is the time to move on. Furthermore despite what you may think of Marc and his time on the school board, let me just say this. Contempt prior to investigation, or more simply put, you weren't there so don't knock those who were and who did their best under harsh circumstances while being harangued for their efforts.

  • Steve (unverified)

    I have had the pleasure of being a homeowner in Portland for the past 16 years, so I have been there through Marc’s time on the board and more.

    I was there when the board removed popular programs from our neighborhood school. I was there when the board moved a magnet school into an adjacent school, making our neighborhood school the smallest elementary in our cluster. I was there when the Real Estate Trust posted our neighborhood school’s property on their “hotsheet,” creating panic and rumors of closure and driving families to the protected magnet school. I was there when the board didn’t follow their stated closure process and rushed closures with cherry picked data. I was there when the board closed the best elementary school I have known. I was there to see hundreds of new family homes completed in our neighborhood since the school closed.

    I was there to see the closures hoped savings disappear and instead I have seen losses from families driven to private schools and driven out of the district by bad schools planning. Do not support the destruction of schools without investigating the true short-term and long-term costs.

  • student (unverified)

    pardon me steve, when I said "you weren't there" I meant that it is impossible for anyone to know everything that went on in every subcommittee meeting and that it isn't fair to so bitterly denounce those who were, I never claimed expertise in the matter and diatribes do not help the situation in the least. I simply posted my views and my support for Marc in this forum because to my understanding what he was saying made sense. I would appreciate it if in response you forwarded some new idea rather than turning your vitriol on me. I had hoped the input of an actual student might improve the tenor of this dialogue but I can see that I hoped in vain, this isn't helping our schools, Marc was right, help by realizing that at the end of the day the answer isn't easy and get off the high horse.

  • Steve (unverified)

    Student, you said we were showing “contempt prior to investigation” and the new point of my comment was that WE lived through these school closure processes first hand, and WE have seen the damage first hand, and it is clear to US this damage was unnecessary. I will not apologize for being passionate when I see the ongoing segregation of our schools, first hand.

    The people in Portland continue to have there head in the sand regarding the deep inequities in Portland Public Schools. I am so happy that you went to nice schools; I wish they were all so nice.

  • Earl (unverified)

    Student, you say, “I know what the Jeff families are going through.”

    Student, you are a product of the Odyssey History Focus School, the Winterhaven Arts Magnet and Lincoln High School. You are the product of some of the best-funded, most advantaged school programs in the Portland area, the vary programs that have drained talent from less well-off schools. How do you know what the Jeff families are going through?

  • go blue? (unverified)

    Michigan student, following in Marc's footprints?

  • student (unverified)

    Steve and Earl: I sorry you feel that any school drains talent from another, I had hoped you would see that it isn't a matter of one school hurting another but that the board does its best under harsh circumstances. And Earl, I do know what the Jeff families are going through, I watched for years as people unsatisfied with the situation tried to destroy those programs rather than improve the general educational quality of students at large. I watched as a petty beueracrat of a principle played internal politics with the odyssey program before it was anything other than a pair of underfunded struggling teachers trying to do their best by their students. Also Earl, Winterhaven was a science and math magnet, not art, we didn't have an art program, it was cut by budget slashing! I continue to hope in vain that this thread will turn from personal attacks to a reasoned debate, I can clearly see that this isn't going to happen anytime soon.

    to go blue: no i am not attending university of michigan, I attend kalamazoo college on a scholarship.

    Furthermore, Steve: I heartily disagree with you that closing Jeff would be a further segregation. Indeed if Jeff were closed the overall black student percentage at other schools would go UP! and the mass enforced segregation of black students trapped in a failing school. I am sorry you take umbrage at my statements but again I would remind you that I simply stated that it was impossible for anyone to know every decision from every meeting not that you were ignorant of the condition of our schools or generally ignorant. So again I ask that you debate the issue and not my character or that of Mr. Abrams by accusing us of racism.

  • Steve (unverified)

    I said "The people in Portland continue to have there head in the sand regarding the deep inequities in Portland Public Schools." How is that "accusing you of racism?"

    Why, when I talk about the many issues above, do you take it so personally?

  • Common Sense (unverified)

    No less than The US Department of Education declared that the PPS school closures INCREASED racial segregation.

    Increased segregation was the federal government's stated reason for pulling at least 1.1 million from Portland's Federal Magnet and Desegregation Grant. WW Link: http://wweek.com/editorial/3343/9520/

  • Steve (unverified)

    Here is one of my favorite quotes from Lloyd T. Keefe, Portland City Planner. Mr. Keefe was one of the architects of Portland’s Neighborhood Schools Plan and is a longtime resident of Portland.

    “With proper forethought, schools can do very much for the community, more than the all-important function of educating children. The elementary school, particularly, is one of the keystones in the arch to better social and physical environment for urban homes. Creation and maintenance of good neighborhood environment in any city is a difficult task, demanding the whole-hearted participation and co-operation of all local governmental agencies, as well as the real estate profession and the State Department of Transportation. Most large cities have failed -- in truth, never tried –and are only now partially waking up to their sorry plights. The underlying cause of this deterioration is an accumulation of public decisions -- or lack of them -- in the name of economy and expediency coupled with an almost universal attitude by public agencies that their responsibility for community well-being stops within the narrow confines of their particular single-purpose function.

    Added to its function of education, the public elementary school is an important device for creating and maintaining an environment favorable to good home living. The school is basically a service element to a group of homes. Inside a city, no cleavage in the form of a heavy traffic arterial, industrial district, business strip, or topographic barrier should separate the school from any section of the residential group it serves. The school attendance district boundary should be placed at these cleavages, barriers and separators. The pupil capacity of the school should be scaled to the size of the residential group it serves. No more classrooms should be built than are necessary to do this.”

    These are important words to consider, as we are considering spending millions to expand certain chosen elementary schools into larger 300 to 600 student schools, which will most likely result in the closure of smaller quality mid-century schools.

    Support Portland’s existing, neglected Neighborhood School facilities and planning standards. Maintaining and remodeling classic bricks and mortar schools will differentiate Portland from the suburbs and will cost less than siting new big-box schools.

    Maintain and Reopen Our: - Schools to which more children can walk or bike - Schools designed to fit growing neighborhoods, with room for art, music, computers and PE - Well sited schools, adjacent to parks, with playfields meeting Oregon’s State School Acreage Standards - Schools damaged by the PPS Open Transfer Policy

  • student (unverified)

    to steve: I apologize if my frustration with the overall tone of this thread bled through in my response to you and seemed overly personal, Also I happen to agree that improving neighborhood schools should be a priority particularly atthe elementary level, I wen't to just such a school. However I also believe that doing so while disregarding overall district educational quality is shortsighted.I welcome further debate along these lines.

    to common sense: I am familiar with the article, and while your point is well taken, it should also be considered that federal funding is frequently politically motivated rather than allocated in the best interest of the students. Indeed the reduction of the grant is not the first time the federal government has influenced PPS policy with its checkbook. For a prior example I suggest you research the history of military recruiting in PPS high schools. Recruitment was even banned by the board during the period Mr. Abrams sat on it. The board did so because of the military "don't ask don't tell" policy which was against PPS rules against discrimination. The feds threatened to pull all federal funding until the board backed down.

  • Steve (unverified)

    As a frequent visitor to such threads, I am sometimes surprised by the tone, but I think it is an inevitable part of unfiltered public discourse. I look at it as representing real raw emotions, and I usually prefer it to the filtered, diluted, often Pollyannaish discourse on the O’s editorial page.

    I know some of these commenters are extremely frustrated over political leaders and media in Portland paying lip service to equal access to education, while supporting the status quo, year after year. It is particularly painful against the backdrop of the avalanche of political attention and money pouring into mass transit, bridges and other infrastructure downtown.

    How can we best provide equitable access to education across all neighborhoods?

    I believe strong neighborhood schools in every neighborhood best provide the equal access to education require by law. Current inequities in programs and lack of diversity in schools are often a result of school catchment boundaries and administrative policies:

    Boundaries Many PPS school boundaries result in schools that do not reflect the diversity inherit in Portland neighborhoods in which the schools are located. A good example of this is the relative diversity between neighboring schools like Stephenson Elementary and Markham Elementary. The relative lack of diversity at Stephenson is a result of the boundaries between Stephenson, Markham, Capital and Maplewood Schools. Once established, these boundaries are difficult to change. If policy changes are comprehensive (across all neighborhoods) and are framed in the proper context, with enough political energy, boundary changes and other policy changes could be viewed as a long overdue effort of leveling the playing field for the common good.

    Administrative Policies Instead of listing the issues with our current policies, I would like to focus on the policies of the Beaverton School District. Equity is a core value at the foundation of Beaverton’s policies. Superintendent Colonna assures reasonable equity between schools, whether raising private funds, providing curriculum choices or even printing promotional fliers. Their policies reflect these core equity values. Here are a couple examples from their web site:

    “DISTRICT FUND-RAISING ACTIVITIES” “Instructional Programs and Activities Supported through Fund-Raising – Procedures”

    “The district will determine the conditions of comprehensiveness and equality under which the activities and programs will be conducted. Applicable state and federal laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title IX will be included as criteria for making this determination.

    Approval will be based minimally on the following conditions:

    a. Programs/activities provide for equal access for all district students; b. Proposed programs/activities recognize the demand placed on the community by increased fundraising activities; c. Proposed programs reflect the district's desire to maintain a comprehensive educational program by submitting plans that provide for equity among programs; d. The scope of the proposed program is within the norm of similar programs/activities governed by the Oregon School Activities Association and/or other school districts.”

    Link to policy: http://www.beaverton.k12.or.us/pdf/staff_IGDFAR.pdf

    “ADMINISTRATIVE DECISION MAKING IN THE SCHOOL DISTRICT” “Equity must also be an important consideration in decision-making. Clearly, not every student has identical needs, so equity should not be interpreted as uniformity, but the District should provide opportunities for each student to optimize his/her potential.”

    Link to policy: http://www.beaverton.k12.or.us/pdf/dist_school_board/dist_sch_board_CFAA.pdf

    Unfortunately, Portland Public Schools has entangled its’ policies and practices regarding private fundraising and assurance of reasonable program equity with an outside group, the same Portland Schools Foundation (PSF) who created the Real Estate Trust. As I have indicated above, I am very bothered by the lack of public oversight and other conflicts of goals and administration that are a result of this public / private relationship.

    I think the most ironic consequence of the PSF fund raising and Pollyanna PR juggernaut, is that the schools of the well-off and well-connected are insulated from the dismal state schools funding and our narrow PPS “core curriculum.” As a result, our city leaders have an overly rosy view of our school system as a whole, based on their limited personal experience.

    So back to facilities and “Reshaping” schools. What I hear people saying is facilities should be designed and maintained to support educational and neighborhood programs. How can we upgrade certain school facilities, before we fix our underlying boundaries, policies and resulting lack of diversity and inequitable distribution of programs? We are putting the billion-dollar cart upgrade before the ailing horse.

    Many public figures have pointed to the “tough decisions” required to follow the wishes of our business “leaders” and close our small schools. I feel truly tough decisions are needed to fix our school boundaries and policies and enable the PPS School Board to replace the PSF with a new leaner organization, an organization in which generous parents and businesses can feel their best about supporting.


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