It’s Official: PPS to Pay Out $14.5 Million for Custodian Debacle

by Steve, July 23rd, 2007

A federal judge signed off on the class action settlement today. Do you think this might serve as a lesson learned for PPS as it refuses to continue negotiations with the DCU?

Don’t count on it. Portland Public Schools negotiators seem to be doing everything they can to break the union in this one.

School Segregation: Where are Portland’s Civic Leaders?

by Steve, July 23rd, 2007

Steve Brand’s Op-Ed in the Oregonian last week (covered here, on Terry Olson’s blog and on Amanda Fritz’ blog) spurred quite a bit of community discussion on the issue of segregation in our Portland Public Schools. But why aren’t our civic leaders weighing in on this critical issue of Portland’s future?

For the school board, race seems to be one of those topics that aren’t discussed in polite company. Anyway, if they did, they might have to admit that their open transfer policy has encouraged segregation. Make no mistake; this is not an issue of demographics. No neighborhood in Portland is majority black, yet some schools are. This situation is a direct result of public schools policy. If we want to change the situation, we must begin by examining that policy.

Tom Potter, who ran for mayor as a supporter of public education, has been silent on this. So has the rest of the city council.

I engaged erstwhile city council candidate Fritz on her blog, and she still wants to blame families who take advantage of district policy for the problem. She also wants to blame No Child Left Behind, but refuses to go far in discussing the open transfer policy that goes well beyond what NCLB mandates. “School transfer policy is a question of degree,” writes Fritz, “and of where to draw the line with giving choices that keep families in Portland Public Schools instead of private or suburban ones.” (I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised that someone who “studied Ayn Rand thanks to Rush” would be loathe to take a position against “free choice”.)

This harks back to the original rationale for opening up transfers to keep the middle class from fleeing Portland for the ’burbs. But recent demographic changes, with massive influx of middle class families to the inner North and Northeast neighborhoods, cry out for reexamination of this policy.

This policy has resulted in divestment from public schools in neighborhoods now teeming with middle class families. As an example of this divestment, there are 655 students at Jefferson, and 662 students living in the neighborhood going to different neighborhood high schools. With funding at Jefferson averaging $5547.14 per student annually, that represents a public divestment of over $3 million dollars a year at Jefferson alone. This figure more than doubles, to more than $7 million, when you figure in the 457 students in special programs/focus options and 232 students in “Community Based Alternatives”*.

Fritz writes “I’m confident Ruth Adkins will provide needed rebalancing on the School Board, with her stance that every neighborhood school should be good enough for parents to want to send their kids there as their first choice – while also recognizing that some magnet and specialty programs can enrich the city’s educational menu offerings.”

Well, first of all, I’m a big supporter of Ruth, but I’m not so optimistic that she alone can change the strategic direction of the board, which has repeatedly and consistently shown itself to be enamored with foundation-sponsored, market-based school reform.

Secondly, this is exactly what I’m talking about in my New Deal for Portland Public Schools. (I’m going to publish a second draft soon, ammended to include a place for magnet and special focus programs.) But the only way to get there is to take a look at the open transfer policy that has taken us away from this sort of school system and continues to divest millions of dollars annually from our poorest neighborhoods.

Why won’t our civic leaders talk about this?

*Source: 2006 PPS School Enrollment and Program Data for Jefferson – Academy of Science and Technology and Jefferson – Academy of Arts and Technology. The $5547.14 figure is an average, since the two academies are funded separately.