In budget cuts, Portland Public Schools targets programs working on achievement gap

Jo Ann Hardesty

Young women from the Harriet Tubman Leadership Academy for Young Women (LAYW) made an appearance at City Hall on Friday. As social justice advocates gathered to see Dante James introduced as the first Director of the city’s new Office of Equity and Human Rights, articulate young women worked the room, alerting us to the fact that their ambitious curriculum for college-bound girls is about to be dismantled. They were bright and articulate kids.

In the past year, Portland Public Schools (PPS) has adopted a Racial Equity Educational Policy. The school district hired a Chief Equity Officer to lead its own Office of Equity. As late as January, PPS was touting equity work being carried out at 10 ‘Beacon Schools,’ designated pilot schools sent to the forefront of addressing racial disparities in educational outcomes.

The other school being closed in June? Boise-Eliot. It is in its second year of designation as a ‘Beacon School.’ Both K-12 campuses are in North Portland about a mile apart. PPS leaders have decided, with little community input, to not only blow a hole in a neighborhood like the food desert that appears when grocery stores pull up stakes, but also to dent all the reasoning that supported the millions of dollars spent preparing to reduce the achievement gap between white and minority students in our city. Enrollment at Boise-Elliot is about 90% non-white. Almost all the children qualify for free or reduced meals.

What else has PPS targeted? The Center for Intercultural Organizing (CIO) reports the district intends to eliminate all four bilingual-bicultural family engagement staff. This 100% reduction in manpower will terminate PPS attempts to build a culturally competent and diverse workforce. These cuts will have a huge impact on immigrant and refugee communities and condemns a certain population to less effective home/school collaboration.

You’ve heard me say that, “When the U. S. economy catches cold, Black People get pneumonia.” Unemployment among people of color runs deeper and lasts longer than for Whites. Here we have another corollary: when budget planners fail, and funding cuts become attractive, Portland puts institutions that best serve disadvantaged populations on the chopping block. School administrators consume countless hours of volunteered community input to design equitable solutions for race-based disparities. When PPS steps away from these social covenants, they do so like autocrats … without community participation … having come to behind-closed-door conclusions that the poor must do without in tough economic times.

PPS is due to settle on a new budget on May 14, however the School Choice Lottery closes on April 13. Moving briskly – as if dismantling educational opportunities for those on the downside of power is already a done deal – PPS will rush LAYW parents into a meeting on Tuesday, April 10 to usher them through a field of broken promises as they disrupt the educational trajectory of these exceptional young women.

Perhaps the race-based gap in the educational achievement of our schoolchildren bothers you. You don’t have to be smarter than a high-achieving young woman on the Harriet Tubman campus to see how these funding cuts are targeted. Despite having layers and layers of equity planners, it might be up to Blue Oregon readers to get involved and demand that we exit this seemingly endless spiral of offering some children better opportunities than others, and basing this decision on who has political clout, economic power or the preferred skin color.

CIO will hold a press conference on Monday, April 9 at 4:30 p.m. at Cleveland High School, 3400 S.E. 26th Ave. It would be a good time to sign up and testify at the PPS budget hearing that is to follow at 5pm. PPS will also take your testimony Wednesday at 6 p.m.; at Roosevelt High School, 6491 N. Central St. Otherwise email your testimony to [email protected].

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    Just a quick clarification: The superintendent is recommending the consolidation of Humboldt and Boise-Eloit PK-8 schools. Humboldt students and staff would move over to Boise-Eliot -- leaving Humboldt as the vacant building.

    Also, there is another opportunity for the public to weigh in specifically on the Tubman closure and Humboldt consolidation, 6:30 p.m. Thursday (4/12) at Humboldt PK-8 School, 4915 N. Gantenbein Ave.

    Matt Shelby PPS Communications

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    Inequality is built into the way in which problems are solved. A walk around the Pearl or other Portland locations that have changed so much in recent years it is hard to imagine the subsidy gifts to the holders of wealth at the expense of social justice.

    I have learned that I live in the south. It is all the south below the border with Canada. Efforts to move ahead are being hampered by the one percent. Look what Iceland has done on the Democratic Underground today.

    And expecting BO readers to do something is fond hope. What do we do about the Coal Trains from Montana to China which will soon be passing through Portland on the way to Coos Bay, past the Capitol in Salem. At least six other terminals are planned. Warren Buffet has invested five billion in this. Both d and r have accepted big contributions including DeFazio. This is not intended as an off-topic but as an example of how effective BO readers can be.

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    Jo Ann, I don’t think anyone likes the over $20 million in cuts that PPS has to make. They really hurt. You would like to keep as priorities funding for the Harriet Tubman Leadership Academy for Young Women, for both Humboldt and Boise-Eliott schools, and for the four bilingual-bicultural family engagement staff. Fine, I might agree. But where else would you cut to get funds for those programs?

    I, too, think PPS has a few of its budget priorities wrong. It should allocate $240,000 for a pilot high school study abroad programs and some limited funds for expansion of Mandarin and Japaneses immersion programs (including for minority students). PPS could save money by aggressively expanding the use of online learning programs (taken apart from school buildings), and probably save enough not only to pay for the programs I want but for the one’s you want too.

    See some of my blog posts on these issues: Comments on PPS’ proposed general fund budget for 2012-13, On Early Learning in Portland Public Schools, and Should poor, African-American student learn Mandarin, for examples.

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