97217: The Neighborhood That Gives… and Gives… and Gives…

by Steve, August 26th, 2007

Note: this entry is part of a series on school funding inequity in Portland. Here I do further analysis on the data I originally reported in PPS Divestment by Neighborhood, Illustrated.

Anybody who pays attention to Portland Public Schools and doesn’t live in the “green zone” knows intuitively that PPS is a two-tiered, segregated system. But it is shocking and shameful to dig into the numbers and realize the full extent to which district policy robs literally tens of millions of dollars annually from our poorest neighborhoods and lavishes it on the richest, whitest parts of town.

The poor and working class neighborhoods of Portland showed some serious largess last school year, sending $32 million to the finest neighborhoods in town. The biggest single chunk of that came from 97217.

In 2006-07, Portland Public Schools open transfer policy encouraged a net 1,069 students to take $8.2 million out of that neighborhood. It would look far worse, if not for the fact that Beach’s Spanish immersion program put that school in the green column by $1.2 million. Also, the numbers for Ockley Green are a little fishy, showing over $800,000 in the green and a suspiciously low looking attendance area population of 327. (I’m not sure how PPS is figuring that number, since the K-5 attendance area overlaps with Chief Joseph. Perhaps that 327 is just grades 6-8.)

But the anomalies of Beach and Ockley Green can’t stanch the rivers of cash flowing out of Chief Joseph ($770,000), Penninsula ($191,000), or the biggest single contributor to our wealthier neighborhood schools, Jefferson High.

Yes, that’s right folks, the only majority-black high school in Oregon, serving the poorest neighborhoods of Portland, is giving $9 million annually to our whiter, richer neighborhood high schools across town.

How can we live with this? I’ve heard the argument that open transfers were needed to save the district. Maybe they did, but the district that survived is horribly disfigured, and the demographic trends have radically changed in recent years any way. More and more middle class families are moving into the red zone. It’s disgraceful what they will find when their children reach school age.

We need to scrap the open transfer policy now, before our schools are disfigured beyond recognition. We have the infrastructure and demographics in place for a first class, equitable, integrated school system in Portland. The fact that we have a two-tiered, segregated system is a result of policy. That policy must change.

School budget per student enrollment neighborhood PPS population +/-
Beach 5449 475 246 1247821
Chief Joseph 5278 359 505 -770588
Humboldt 6518 240 286 -299828
Jefferson 7614 566 1751 -9022590
Ockley Green 6973 442 327 801895
Peninsula 5320 299 335 -191520
97217 total: -8234810

Source: Portland Public Schools.

4 Responses to “97217: The Neighborhood That Gives… and Gives… and Gives…”

  1. Comment from Elizabeth:

    Interesting numbers. I live in 97217….and we homeschool. We’ve been kicking around the idea of our oldest attending high school, though, and sending her to Jefferson terrifies me. But I can see the validity of all your arguments for keeping it at home. I don’t know what the solution is (besides maybe keep on homeschooling?).

    I’m wondering about the $7614 per student that Jefferson spends according to your chart above. Why do they spend so much more than other schools, and does that amount go to the school that’s receiving the students from it’s district? I just don’t even have nearly enough information about Portland Public Schools (having 1. homeschooled for all of our kids’ lives and 2. just moved to Portland in 2005) to make a good decision right now, or have an opinion of what should happen with the system. So I guess I’ll keep reading.

  2. Comment from Himself:

    Budget per student is generally higher at schools in poorer neighborhoods for several reasons. First, there is federal Title I money in the mix, which in the case of Jefferson funds 1.29 Full-time Equivalent (FTE) positions. PPS also throws extra general fund money at poorer schools. Another factor is that with student population lower from transfers out, the ratio of administrators to students is higher, contributing to a higher cost per student.

    It is well-documented that it costs more to educate disadvantaged children, so it should be no surprise that we’re spending more per student in schools that are overwhelmingly populated with disadvantaged kids.

    But my study of these numbers isn’t about that; it’s about inequitable PPS distribution of state general fund tax revenue around the city. Even if you home school or send your kids to private school, this affects you. This money belongs in the areas where people live, but PPS transfer policy is robbing our poorest neighborhoods and giving it to the richest.

    This affects livability and property values for everybody, whether they have kids in PPS or not.

  3. Comment from Elizabeth:

    No, no, I understand your point and agree with it. I guess I was just voicing the things I’m not sure of. I wondered if the more money spent on Jefferson kids is for the usual reasons, or if there was some kind of corruption going on there, or what. And I wonder what they’re showing for it. But I think it’s a very valid point that we should be looking for ways to keep the money in the neighborhood, just as I try to buy local fruit and not fruit grown in Hawaii or even California. And my neighborhood would be better if we better educated the kids living in it.

    Just an aside….a cop car released a man who had been arrested, right in front of my house today. He’d been accused of attacking a woman and snatching her purse. Then it was found that they knew each other. “We could have hauled her in, too!” the policewoman said to me, by way of reasoning why they were letting him go. He’d run right through my backyard, I gather, in his pursuit to get away. Big sigh. Nothing like this ever happened when we lived in 97212…

  4. Comment from heath:

    I’ve just started looking into the problems that have been plaguing PPS. I attended Applegate – now closed, Ockley Green – now converted to K8 with an adult store across the street, and Benson – well…*just speechless*.

    I have a bit more research to do before I open my mouth too far, but for now I’m wondering how they come by these ‘budget per student’ figures. It looks to me that the 06-07 budget for PPS was upwards of $554M and enrollment at 46,348 students. That would make the average close to $12,000 per student. So, what’s not being taken into consideration and why? Is it just more palatable for the taxpayers to hear the lower figure?

    Thanks for the blog and your insights. More communication to come when I have a bit more time.