Up Bubbles the Charter Schools Question

by Steve, September 16th, 2007

A discussion of Portland Public Schools neighborhood divestment has turned into a debate about charter schools. I don’t mind, really, since it’s a tightly related subject. But it is a topic I was pointedly not addressing. People feel very strongly about this issue, myself included, but for the moment, it is a little distracting from my point about how district policy is disproportionately distributing the public revenue it is trusted with.

But now comes Heather Straube, founder of a new North Portland charter school, getting very defensive about the relationship of charter schools to the teachers union.

As a “daughter of two teamsters and activists,” Straube insists “we are very pro-union,” but later explains that it wouldn’t make sense to have a union with only seven staff members.

What she doesn’t recognize (or chooses not to mention) is that these seven staffers, employees of Portland Public Schools, would otherwise be members of their respective unions. While her one little school may not seem a threat, the movement toward shutting down neighborhood schools and opening charters is a serious threat to union security in any school district.

Assurances to pay union wages “[i]f we can” ring hollow to anybody who has worked both with and without a union contract.

Straube catalogs some of the myriad problems in schools in PPS’ poorest neighborhoods, and goes to great lengths to demonstrate her “liberal” credibility. It’s not a “conservative” movement, she assures us.

Indeed, it is a libertarian movement, geared toward solving problems of small groups of families in isolation, without regard for the greater good. “Local control” is invoked without any context of how that term has been used historically to justify segregation. Those of us trying to make a difference for everybody are derided as playing “politics”.

While I have no doubt that New Harvest will be plenty “liberal”, I have to place it in the greater milieu of the charter school movement. It is indeed a form of privatization, and even if individual schools are “cool”, they are tools used by a movement with a nefarious project: the dismantling of our traditional, neighborhood-based public schools, and the unions that come with them. It bodes poorly for teachers and students alike.

49 Responses to “Up Bubbles the Charter Schools Question”

  1. Comment from BeaumontWilshireResident:

    I believe that charter schools, magnet schools, as well as most special ‘focus option’ schools are literally robbing from the neighborhood schools. They are sucking out monies that would otherwise go to strengthen and/or add to course offerings at the neighborhood schools. Not to mention the vacuum created by the would-be ‘involved’ parents at the neighborhood schools. Lastly, PPS needs to make a policy change on the handling of monies raised by each neighborhood school. All or most of the money should go into a fund that is doled out equally amongst all the schools.

    As far as unions go – I believe unions do have their place, and that sometimes they can also be a detriment when trying to get rid of the ‘dead wood’ in an organization. Some organizations with great leadership can treat employees well (pay & benefits) without a union. I say look to the leadership of the organization before you level charges of union-busting and cheapness.

  2. Comment from Zarwen:

    “I say look to the leadership of the organization before you level charges of union-busting and cheapness.”

    And your point (concerning PPS) would be?

  3. Comment from BeaumontWilshireResident:

    I’m saying that the non-union organizations like the charter schools mentioned may be just fine as non-union shops. Maybe some of them treat the teachers well or maybe better than the district would.

    If the district had better leadership on the teacher pay/benefit front, would there be a need for a union?

  4. Comment from Zarwen:

    On the previous thread, Amy wrote:

    “I fervently hope that one day all PPS schools are allowed to follow the community-based teaching models that public charters like Trillium and New Harvest use but believe this will never happen if these small schools are not allowed to prove that they work regardless of the socio-economic class of the students and the demographics of the neighborhood.”

    Amy, that is exactly what the neighborhood-school defenders have been trying to do all along. Don’t forget that Vicki Phillips punished neighborhood schools just for being small! The ones that didn’t get closed got their staffs cut. And these aren’t schools that have the means for $100,000 auctions to reinstate a teaching position.

    Amy and Heather, I can’t help thinking that you are not seeing the forest for the trees. If you look at one of my earlier posts on the previous thread, you will note that the PPS Board has closed FOUR neighborhood schools in North PDX and has three charters already operating there, with the possibility of opening two more, including yours. (And the Southwest Charter would make it THREE new charters opening in the same year. I ask again, is this good long-range planning?) The charge of union-busting is based on the big picture. Apparently the District is happy to allow small schools to operate in poor neighborhoods as long as they don’t have to budget for them at the same rate per pupil as at other schools. Do you see the inequity here?

    You can say “it’s not about politics,” but then why are people like Broad and Gates so busy spending their billions promoting charter schools? Can we ignore “politics” if this kind of money and power is part of the issue?

    Had your charter been the first, or even the second, to open in North Portland, I would not be posting here, because I would not be overly concerned about the issue. While I completely understand a family doing what they think is best for their children, the big picture, which we MUST NOT ignore, shows that this new school is one more in a series that is helping the District to de-fund education in North PDX. Check out Steve’s map on the previous thread if you haven’t done so already. And look for a more detailed map of the Jefferson and Roosevelt clusters later this month (thanks Steve!)

  5. Comment from Zarwen:


    If all employers treated their employees fairly, there would be no need for unions anywhere. The fact that the unions exist proves otherwise. And education is a comparative newcomer to being unionized, too. I suggest you check out Steve Buel’s post regarding union benefits on the previous thread.

    I don’t disagree with your comment about charter schools, but how does it contradict my point about union-busting? If you close four union schools and replace them with five non-union schools where the employees are paid less, how can that not be union-busting?

    I should add that PPS is not new at union-busting activity. Do you remember back in the 90’s, when Jefferson and Humboldt were “reconstituted” in violation of the PAT teachers contract? And what about in 2003, when PPS teachers agreed to work 10 days for free just so they could keep their health insurance benefits intact?

    Nothing new here, BWR. It’s just that Gates and the charter schools movement have made it easier for them.

  6. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    This is in response to the comment left on the other post by the New Harvest School director:

    “As a founder of New Harvest I have to let you know that we are very pro-union.”

    Yet you have no union. Charter schools are union busters. If you open up enough charter schools you can run the neighborhood schools out of business. How many charters are open now in North Portland alone? How many others are we talking about adding?

    “Politics, Politics, Politics. What about real people, in real places, caring about their real kids and the kids of others?”

    Who the hell do you think I’m talking about? I’m not in this for any kind of political thrill. I’m trying to make it better for the greater common good — including my kids, the neighbor kids, and kids citywide. As far as being a real person — I am. Wanna see my tits?

    “Many poorer schools in Portland get more public money than richer ones…”

    We’re bleeding money here in North Portland. Go look at the charts on this blog.

    “Not everything is about politics. Sometimes it’s about people.”

    That’s what I’m saying.

    “I have no time to blog normally — I am busy working with kids.”

    Me, too. See — we do have something in common.

  7. Comment from marcia:

    I’d like to point out that before there was Trillium or New Harvest, or any other charter schools…there was MLC …some thirty years ago…started by innovative teachers with great ideas…and they worked within the existing system. Why not try that, instead? The history of how MLC was formed, and the programs it sustained, are very interesting. Also interesting is how the school has changed under NCLB. Will charters have the same test-driven mania to adhere to as other public schools?

  8. Comment from marcia:

    And Wacky Mommy, do I need to post the Boobs A Lot link here?

  9. Comment from Zarwen:

    Also interesing that MLC and Access are categorized as “alternative schools” and thus exempt from the lottery. As Benson and other programs did before, they are still allowed to set their own admissions criteria.

    Why and how did these two get off the hook? Not that I’m objecting, I just wanna know. It would be great if Benson and some other programs could get the same “alternative” designation; might solve a lotta problems.

  10. Comment from marcia:

    Zarwen….I have long wondered how MLC got off the hook with a lot of things….Don’t ask me…Perhaps because it is listed as an alternative school? But you’re right..Equity would be nice. I also can’t see the district allowing any school to form that is as creative as MLC was in its early days, given the new agenda of treating teachers as script readers, not innovative, creative, thinking adults.

  11. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Zarwen, speaking of union busting how about the custodian firings. Pure, unadulterated union busting. No ifs, ands or buts.

  12. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    I already offered to show everyone my tits, so yes! By all means — here’s the Boobs A Lot link:


  13. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    re: boobs. This one is my personal favorite. Thank you, Marcia. My Sunday is now complete.


  14. Comment from Zarwen:

    Thanks for the reminder, Steve B.! And more recently (like last spring) the district was floating an idea to privatize the cafeteria service. This was AFTER the ruling came down on reinstating the custodians WITH BACK PAY. And if memory serves, they belong to the same union!

    Yep–business as usual in PPS.

  15. Comment from marcia:

    The DCU contract just negotiated had some folks wondering if this is a move to try to get rid of those workers, in a more roundabout way than they did with the custodians. People were scoffing at the 1% and saying they believed the district just wanted those folks to quit. Here is part of the documnet:
    “C. On January 1, 2009, a 1% increase to all the classifications represented by the DCU to salary effective on the first pay period in January of 2009. unless mutually agreed by the District and DCU to have the cash equivalent increase applied to a tax deferred option.
    D. On January 1, 2010, a 2% increase to all the classifications represented by the DCU to salary effective on the first pay period in January of 2010, unless mutually agreed by the District and DCU to have the cash equivalent increase applied to a tax deferred option.”

  16. Comment from AmyS:

    The union-busting comment above suggests that PPS is somehow in league with the charter schools. “You close four union schools and replace them with five non-union schools where the employees are paid less” Who is the “you” in this sentence? Maybe PPS closes 4 schools, creating mega-schools and several charter schools are initiated as a response to the untenable kindergarten classes with 28 students.

    This thread seems to be heading down the conspiracy-theory road…

  17. Comment from Steve:

    AmyS, to the extent that charter schools are funded by PPS, they are PPS.

    There is no conspiracy theory required to see the connection between union jobs lost due to neighborhood school closures, only to be replaced by non-union jobs in charter schools.

    Like I mentioned in my post, how an individual charter school feels about unions is irrelevant. The movement as a whole is a threat to educators’ collective bargaining.

  18. Comment from marcia:

    Oui! There is a conspiracy, led by the Center for Education Reform. Check them out: http://www.edreform.com/index......SYEAR=2007

    Perhaps another solution that would benefit ALL kids, is to work for a law to cap classsize at 20?

  19. Comment from Steve:

    Perhaps another solution that would benefit ALL kids, is to work for a law to cap classsize at 20?

    Politics, politics, politics… benefiting children. This type of law recently passed in California, and it’s been a turning point for public schools there. Amazingly, we could learn something besides slashing funding from our neighbors to the south.

  20. Comment from marcia:

    Yes, I agree, especially as I wait to greet my 28th child to my kindergarten class tomorrow. It still is better than our half day K, which now will have 31. I attribute this in part to the new transfer policy that went into effect a couple years ago, which forces schools to say in the spring how many transfers will be accepted in the fall…It used to be they would wait until late in the fall and do a count before they would allow transfers. I also think it is because of closures of other neighborhood schools. BTW… Rosa Parks had up to 35 kids in their K classes last year before they were allowed to add a teacher.

  21. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    For kindergarten, anything higher than 22 is insanity, and I’m talking *with* an aide and parent volunteers. They need so much help with blowing noses, using the bathroom, all of that. I will be thinking of you.

    Steve is correct — charter schools are PPS. He’s also right that when you’re talking about an employer who’s bringing a slew of non-union workers into a union shop, you’re talking about ways to break down the union and make it weaker. This is known as “union busting.”

    No conspiracies here, and please don’t give me any of the “Can we all just be cool? I’m being cool! We’re thinking of the kids!!!” crap because really? It’s been a fucking long week, we’re rolling into what looks to be another one, and I’m not in the mood. It’s an insult when you intimate that someone is a conspiracy theorist. I know my shit. Do you? I want to know, how much are y’all planning to pay the teachers at New Harvest? How much are they getting paid at Trillium? The new Waldorf charter? My guess is: Not enough. In my book, teachers don’t make enough money period — private or public.

    But the charter school teachers are especially at risk financially since PERS (retirement plan — have you heard of it?) won’t be part of the deal.

  22. Comment from AmyS:

    If there is an initiative to cap classes at 20, I will knock on doors and harass innocent pedestrians to get signatures. Until then, if I can get my daughter into a charter with a student-teacher ratio of 16-1, I will. Call me what you whatever you like.

    And now I will leave you all to your discussion and keep my ears open for news of the 20-student-cap-movement.

  23. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Amy, I don’t blame you for putting your daughter into the best possible situation possible for her education.
    Every parent should do this and sometimes charter schools are the best one you can find. But darn it stand in there and argue your point. I am so tired of people, particulary Republicans, who are losing arguments just saying fine I won’t argue anymore, as if the other side is being unreasonable or if it is wrong to have a little disagreement.

    Instead you could say, the points you make on union busting do make a lot of sense. But darn, the system is so screwed up the union deal has to take a second tier to education for kids. Or something like that. Stand up for what you think is right if you really have thought it through.

    Good luck on your school.

  24. Comment from Steve:

    Just FYI, Astor and Chief Joseph had student-to-FTE ratios of 13:1 in 2006-07. Penninsula had 11:1. I’ll take my union teachers and support staff at a 13:1 ratio over 16:1 non-union any day.

  25. Comment from Zarwen:


    Unfortunately, those student-FTE ratios at Astor, Chief Joe and Peninsula are misleading, because they are including non-classroom teachers and non-teaching staff in that ratio. Secretaries, counselors, reading and math support teachers, “curriculum coordinators,” music, PE (if you’re lucky enough to have them) and whatever are all included. So the actual class sizes may be double or more what the ratio is.

    Amy, I’m with Steve B. If this charter looks like a better option for your child then I don’t blame you for going there. The only thing I am inclined to “call you” is a concerned parent. The point I am trying to get across is that charters, like magnets, should be supplements to, not replacements for, strong healthy neighborhood schools.

    And ALL PPS teachers should be entitled to the same compensation package. Doesn’t it seem a little out-of-whack that your daughter can get a better education from a poorly-compensated teacher? And what happens to that teacher in the event of a personal health crisis? After all, she’ll have no insurance! If these matters are of concern to you, please stay on the thread and let us know what should be done about them. I’m sure many of us on this blog are interested in your views.

  26. Comment from Steve:

    PPS counts non-certified staff as 1/2 when calculating the FTE. No, this doesn’t indicate class size. But it does indicate the overall ratio in the school. There is a clear advantage to having a neighborhood school vs. a small “boutique” school in this regard.

    At Chief Joseph, for example, last year they had a music teacher, a PE teacher, a counselor, ESL, special education, a librarian, a speech therapist, more than one reading specialist, etc. So even if you have 25 kids in a classroom, that one teacher isn’t with all of them all day, every day, and students have various kinds of support and enrichment.

    (There clearly isn’t as much as there should be, but neither will there be at any charter school without some kind of private infusion.)

    These extra programs and support staff make a difference, and the FTE numbers are an important measure of that difference.

    Regarding personal choices, those who haven’t read my post on Resisting Divide and Rule should give it a quick read.

  27. Comment from marcia:

    WOW! Lucky Chief Joe…Astor, on the other hand did not have a librarian, counselor,P.E., art, music or other enrichments for years. We supposedly were giving up those luxuries to keep class size down, however, most years that did not seem to be the case. This year we have a P.E. teacher and a half-time art teacher, since we added 6th and 7th grades. Still no counselor, even though we begged the district after we had several tragic deaths in our community this summer. We haven’t made the magic number of 400 kids yet. Anyway, not sure how this relates to our given topic. I just wanted to rant I suppose.

  28. Comment from Steve:

    It relates to the topic we were discussing before the charter school question came up.

    My proposal is to equalize programs at all neighborhood elementary schools, then curtail neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers.

    I believe the discretion principals have to pick and choose how to spend their FTEs is one of the main reasons we have so many transfers, leading to so much inequality in neighborhood funding. It is a self-reinforcing pattern.

  29. Comment from howard:

    Steve: Two interesting posts. Nine clusters financially analyzed according to dollars lost or gained from student transfers. I would not combine Cleveland/Benson as a cluster. Benson was founded to accept students districtwide and is not located in Cleveland’s zip code.

    My suggestion would be to divide PPS into nine separate districts in line with the nine clusters you studied. That means nine new districts and nine school boards free to decide whether to stay with OEA, another teachers union, or hire certified non-union teachers.

    PPS, as currently constituted, and with its current teacher collective bargaining agreement is unmanageable. One small example: You do not want to permit student transfers between clusters. The CBA Article 10 locks in veteran teachers’ power to choose the cluster they will work in as openings occur. Yet students are denied that choice of schools.

  30. Comment from Zarwen:


    You exaggerate a bit. The same contract states that a principal is required to interview no more than 5 candidates for any open position, so applicants #6-whatever don’t even get an interview. Of those 5, the principal can choose whoever (s)he wants, and seniority does not have to be a factor. I have known many senior colleagues who have gotten frustrated over the years because they want to leave their current position, but they either don’t get interviewed or don’t get picked for any of the openings for which they apply.

    Another thing principals have been known to do is hold off posting their vacancies until Round I is over. Does it happen a lot? Sure. Does it violate the contract? Sure. Does the District do anything to these principals for violating the contract? Hell no!

    I think the influence of teacher seniority has been significantly exaggerated to the public.

    I also want to correct the perceptions of any folks who think “magnet schools get all the goodies.” My son attends a focus option that has no music teacher and no librarian. They do have PE and counselor, simply because the previous principal chose these two over the other two, and the new principal has not changed anything. The parents have fundraisers, but they don’t raise enough to fund a teaching position. I firmly believe that ALL schools should have all of the “goodies,” whether magnet or neighborhood. Where I am from back east, this discussion wouldn’t even be happening because all schools within a district get equal funding and FTE. Why? ‘Cause THE LAW REQUIRES IT!!!!!

  31. Comment from Steve:

    I don’t think PPS as constituted, with their current union contracts, is unmanageable. I don’t see any large benefit to devolution into nine separate districts. I think this would be incredibly chaotic, and many, many kids would be lost in the shuffle.

    Benson is one of several schools without an attendance area. It is physically located within the Cleveland attendance area, so it’s in-transfers represent extra public investment in that part of town. That’s what my map was intended to show. All schools without attendance areas were treated this way in my study.

    I don’t have a problem with special focus schools like Benson drawing students from all over the district. In fact, I wish the district would give Benson a fair shake. What I take issue with is neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers, which have proven to increase racial isolation and aggravate localized funding inequities.

  32. Comment from Terry:

    Nine separate districts? Reminds me of the 2003 school board campaign in which charter school proponent John Lilljegren advocated autonomy for every school.

    Charters are indeed union busters. The PAT stubbornly insists on some anti-school reform contract provisions –seniority transfers, for example– but the district without collective bargaining would be an absolute nightmare.

    Progressive public school backers like the NSA should sit down with union reps and talk about what’s good for schools and for students. See if we cant’ reach some compromise.

  33. Comment from Zarwen:

    Here is a link to an article in yesterday’s O recounting how the closure of a neighborhood public school in Lincoln County directly resulted in the opening of a charter. Some parallels with the situation in SW Portland. Especially noteworthy is the part about how the entire staff was replaced.


  34. Comment from howard:

    Oregon’s smaller districts do a much better job of budgeting and negotiating with unions than Portland does.

  35. Comment from AmyS:

    Wow, Steve, now I’m a republican? Such assumptions! Do I need to point out the time of my last post (7:04pm) and that I had said I have 2 young children? Do I have to state “I’m now going to get my 2 children ready for bed, put them to bed, read them 3 books, clean up the kitchen, make my lunch for work tomorrow, iron my clothes for work tomorrow and then fall into bed exhausted as I do every night so I won’t be spending any more of my precious time checking this blog tonight”? Seems a little wordy.

    Wacky Mommy, no need to swear at me.

    Re: PERS. Yes, I’ve heard of it. I’m vested in both Oregon and Washington and my husband in Oregon. You don’t have to be the member of a union to have PERS, it is not a union pension plan, it is a retirement system for public employees. Have you read the Oregon Revised Statutes regarding charter schools? Chapter 338 Section 135 Paragraph 5 states “For purposes of ORS chapters 238 and 238A, a public charter school shall be considered a public employer and as such shall participate in the Public Employees Retirement System.”

    Also, the Oregon Revised Statutes Chapter 338 (public Charter Schools) does not prohibit collective bargaining — just collective bargaining with the school district since it is not the employer of charter school employees. The teachers are free to form/join a union but then must bargain with the charter schools themselves.

    If you have problems with the way the charter schools are set up, I suggest that instead of blogging endlessly about it you take your information and opinions and go to Salem and lobby the Senate Education and General Government Committee, the House Committee on Education, the Ways and Means Subcommittee On Education of both houses and the legislators for you specific districts to amend our state laws or budget. Or start a Citizens’ Initiative. DO something.

    Now. I am clearly stating that I am going to get my son who is waking up from his nap, we will have a snack, pick up my daughter from pre-school, have a playdate, go grocery shopping, make dinner, eat dinner then leave town to attend to a family emergency (my young brother-in-law was hit by a car while riding his bike, is in the hospital with multiple broken bones and needs family support). I will be away from my computer for several days and so say goodbye.

  36. Comment from Steve:

    Point of order… there are two Steve’s posting here. Long-time teacher Steve Buel did not call you a Republican. Go back and reread his comment. He was offering you support. He’s a very intelligent person, with a ton of experience, and he was explicitly supporting you in your choice of a charter school vs. neighborhood school.

    There’s really no reason to get defensive. You tell us to “DO something”. We are. Some of us are working through grass-roots groups to change school district policy. We’ve even elected someone to the board.

    The school board is going to be evaluating district transfer policy this fall, and I will be there, participating in the process.

    The charter schools question is tangential to the school transfer issue, and I have pointedly avoided “blogging endlessly about it.” This was my first post on the topic, and will probably be my last.

    I disagree with the charter school movement, and question its motivation. But I’m not taking it on as a cause. To do so would be too divisive. I do think PPS should stop approving new charter schools in the “red zone”, at least until they fix the broken transfer and enrollment policy.

    AmyS, thanks for participating. And like the other Steve said, stand in there and fight for what’s best for your children. We’ve got a lot of frustrated parents in Portland, and we’re all trying to do what’s best for our children.

  37. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Amy, sorry if I misunderstood your signing off as being disgruntled. I have been trying for 32 years to bring equality to Portland’s lower income neighborhoods and have spent thousands of hours trying to help the situation. This and Terry Olsen’s blog have been incredible for keeping me informed about issues in PPS. Wish we would have had these blogs years ago. Hopefully some good will come of it, but I am betting every person here has stories about how they have tried to make things better. The legislature doesn’t get the stuff going on in Portland. Heck, they don’t get education much at all really as far as I can see.

    My older brother Ron, the founder of Willamette Week and certainly one of the best connected political people in Portland went to the last session with a plan, sponsored by Ben Cannon, with work by Merkley, and Jefferson Smith of the Bus Project, with a terrific plan to set a floor for education funding in Oregon which would have bolstered up k-12 and helped the colleges, so that never again would we be subject to the kinds of devastation we have had in the past and would have also improved immensely the immediate situation. A great plan. What happened to it? The OEA killed it. Really. The OEA killed it. It is not that easy at the legislature, but you can get directly at School Board members and hope for some improvement.

    Hope your brother-in-law’s leg is all right.

  38. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    Amy, sorry, I do cuss like a sailor it’s true. I, too, am sending good thoughts to your brother-in-law. Hope he gets well soon.

  39. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    (following Steve Buel around, taking etiquette lessons.)

  40. Comment from Steve:

    You should hear how she talks to me.

  41. Comment from marcia:

    An e-mail from Heather who is too busy to Post:
    Thanks, Marcia. We will do PERS and benefits. They may not be at par but we will also provide free/sliding scale alternative health services as we are a health focused school.

    I hope this helps.


  42. Comment from Anthony:

    Anecdotally, I can state that the two charter schools my wife worked at in Minneapolis treated their teachers like shit. One of them fired her right at the end of the first semester for getting too many complaints from parents. What were the parents complaining about? That she made the kids work too hard, gave them too much homework, and that she wanted to involve parents in their kids’ education–some parents felt that was the exclusive realm of the teacher. Then my wife had trouble getting her last paycheck, and had to threaten a conciliation court (small claims) lawsuit before finally being paid. Hmm, I wonder if any of this had to do with the fact that there was no union protection…

  43. Comment from Rene:

    Hi Steve

    I have a question that may be a bit off the track, but having read a few of these threads I didn’t see it addressed. My apologies if I missed it:

    How does the number of special ed (iep) students play into the money bleed and charter issue?

    As you know, historically lower income schools have higher percentages of spec. ed students, for numerous reasons. I have been told it ranges from higher percentage of foster children in working class areas (I was told by one DHS worker that their stats show working class parents are far more likely to foster or adopt than upper class parents, and so we have clusters of foster parents in areas like North and Gresham and less in LO or NW), as well as cultural and physical causes of delays, including higher degree of lead poisoning in areas like North, environmental deprivation, etc. As a footnote I am NOT saying all foster kids are spec. ed, but I am noting they are more likely to be so. Many foster kids, for instance, are drug or alcohol effected. Or suffer shaken baby syndrome, ptsd from abuse, etc. So in an area like North, where there are a lot of foster kids, a lot of poor kids, you are going to have more special ed students.

    As the parent of a spec. ed child myself, I know it costs a lot more to educate them, since my daughter requires resource room help, one on one assistance, and so forth. She attends Ockley, a red zone school. I have been very impressed with the quality of her education at Ockley, by the way, precisely because she has teachers who have experience with her needs.

    So…does the district allot enough extra funds to pay for these students or does it come out of the already threadbare hide of our already poor school? I’ve been wondering about this for ages. I had a teacher tell me once that certain schools, especially those in North, are tagged as spec. ed schools, and the district buses kids from other areas whose schools are not willing to provide for them. So the school then gets even more spec. ed students which drive up the costs, while the better funded schools get rid of their higher-expense students. Has this factored into your research?

    This is one reason I have difficulties with charters myself, because I have yet to see one that has the training or resources to educate a variety of children, including those my like my daughter.

  44. Comment from Steve:

    I don’t have a ready answer for this. If there is additional money that follows IEP kids when they transfer, it is not broken out in the enrollment profiles published by PPS each October. I do know anecdotally that families with IEP children are refused admittance to some schools and get bounced around by the district.

    There is no question that poverty-affected children are more often identified as special ed. There are many factors here, including cultural bias in tests and the legitimate factors you cite.

    It would be an interesting study to look at the percentage of IEP kids at “red zone” schools vs. the district at large. I’m guessing we’d see a much higher percentage.

    I know one family that has their IEP kid at a charter school, because they were not happy with the services they were getting at their neighborhood school. Their son is diagnosed with autism, and is fairly high-functioning, yet the school refused to mainstream him, despite the fact that he is reading above grade level. Instead, they warehoused him in a contained classroom with very low functioning kids.

    They spoke with the director of the proposed New Harvest charter, who initially told them they did special ed. The parents, confused, thought she meant it was a special ed. charter. No, said the director, all kids are special.

    Obviously, she doesn’t get it. While there may be some charter operators that do get it, it is unlikely they would be willing to divert precious funds in the amount required to properly handle IEP children. They’ve found another charter that seems to be doing a better job than the neighborhood school, but it’s far from ideal.

    Again, I don’t know how the funding works. I do know that some families that go to private school come into public schools for services, so there is obviously some kind of mandate. Whether it comes with funding, I don’t know. I’d recommend calling the district office on this one.

  45. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    Rene, you already know most of what I’m going to write here, most likely. Sorry I don’t know more, but I’ve just recently started digging into this topic. I don’t know about the money part at all, but I’ve heard the district gives $7,000-$8,000 per student for kids who are special ed, compared to what, $5k-$6 for a typical kid? Does anyone have exact numbers? Sarah Carlin Ames, are you out there?

    (I’ve also heard that the the district is allotting $12,000 per student to the girls at Tubman. I was wondering, if you have a kid who is special ed, and they’re at Tubman, then is the amount raised? Does that equal more help and services? Aides?)

    I also know parents who have fought to get in-class aides for their kids, and who have brought in lawyers to help, and sometimes even that isn’t enough. Non-white kids, as always, especially those without monied parents, get pushed to the bottom of the heap even more quickly if they’re special ed.

    Kids with special ed needs who have single parents who are low-income, and too shy to advocate for their children? Too tough for words.

    One parent told me that she was told by school staff that her son, who has Asperger’s, would never have an aide, so don’t bother asking. She asked me, “Some kids have aides? Is that true? I thought there were no aides.”

    Another mom I know (this was several years back) had a 12-year-old daughter who is severely autistic and low-functioning (needs help in the bathroom). The mom (single, not much money) was trying to find a lawyer who would take her case pro-bono — her daughter’s teacher was having other students help her daughter in the bathroom with personal things. She needed an aide — not a peer.

    All I know is what I’m hearing through the grapevine, but it seems that many of the neighborhood schools are doing away with special ed classrooms (or “contained classrooms” (I’m not crazy about that term) and trying to segregate the special ed kids at several schools, instead.

    In N/NE, we have Peninsula, Alameda, and King all with contained classrooms. I’m sure there are others, but these seem to be the schools where most of the special ed kids are being herded. Back to the need for equalization across all neighborhood schools — if you’re a family that has typical kids, and one child with special needs, and you’re having to drive the one kid to this school, for services, and the others to another school, and there’s no time to walk because your schedule is tight or you have to be to work — it causes stress.

    Especially when the schools’ arrival/dismissal times are exactly the same. Yes, sometimes school buses are available for kids with specialed, but someone needs to be there to get the student on and off the bus. I would like to see a contained classroom in each neighborhood school.

    (For those of you unfamiliar with special ed, contained classes are a student’s main classroom, and are not to be confused with Resource Rooms or Centers, where students meet for one-on-one sessions with special ed teachers.)

    I’d also like to know more about how/when kids qualify for occupational, physical and speech therapy, and where they get these services, if anyone has any information on that.

  46. Comment from Rene:

    Hi Wacky

    Thanks for the numbers! I doubt the difference makes up for the cost.

    I can answer a few of your questions, being a parent who has fought for an IEP, and trust me, it can be an ugly battle.

    First of all, there are parents and advocates who feel PPS is reluctant to give IEPs because they give parents more power. As a parent I can push for the “necessary and appropriate” education for my daughter with an IEP, but if I didn’t have one, I would have much less power.

    You ask about OT, PT, speech, etc. Theoretically PPS offers these services. But the truth is they are seldom provided because they are so hard to get. When my daughter was at Chief Joseph she should have qualified for OT (Occupational Therapy). However, there was not an in-house OT. The OT travelled school to school. I requested several times for her to do an assessment. The ball got dropped. Months passed. I asked again. I was told the last OT had left and there was a new one. I asked again.

    Finally the new OT managed to observe my daughter. A full year had passed. She didn’t even do a real assessment: she watched her in class. She reported back (another long wait) that she didn’t feel my daughter needed help. This was an irony, because my daughter had previously received years of OT at Providence and trust me, they felt it was needed. Had I pushed it, there was no place for her to work with my daughter, and so the woman would have taken her on the playground for therapy, where others could see. My daughter did not want to get stigmatized this way.

    By this time it was all moot, because I had gotten tired of waiting (children can’t wait, sorry) and began taking my daughter to a clinic where I knew for sure she could be seen weekly, though our insurance did not cover it and it was a huge dent in our budget. Most families could not afford to do this.

    Another point: the schools are excellent at identifying which students are behind, but they do not offer any diagnostics as to WHY. At best they will give an IQ test, which offers a limited picture. We had to spend thousands outside of PPS to get the diagnosis for our daughter, which included multiple learning disabilities, dyslexia, vision problems (saccades), sensory intergration disorder, and other issues. Poor parents can’t do this. But getting the diagnosis was the only way to get the IEP, under the “other health impaired” category. If we hadn’t spent the money, no IEP. You see the Catch 22.

    There are a lot of kids who are failing and no one is trying to find out the real reasons why, which is so sad, because some can be treated. Often schools shove them in SMART under the assumption that the parents are probably the problem and not reading to them at home.

    I agree with you, all community schools should offer contained rooms as well as resource rooms, counselors and psychologists equipped to help IEP students.

    Steve: I think parents often hope that charters will be more friendly and open to IEP students but I know of several who have had to leave schools like Trillium because the staff was simply not trained on addressing their needs. It is easy for untrained teachers to assume a student isn’t trying. As Diane Malbin says, we need to “try differently, not harder.”

  47. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    Thank you for explaining the OT maze — now I know what the staff means when they tell me, “We’re looking into getting OT for him/her.” I’m thinking they mean, “Be quiet, Wacky Mommy.”

  48. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    They’re discussing charter schools, pros and cons, over at UrbanMamas, if anyone wants to weigh in.


  49. Comment from Kaaren:

    Hello, I’ve worked in public education my entire career, the past six in the public charter school arena. I direct Oregon’s Charter Schools Development Center, a state-wide non-profit that provides technical assistance to charter developers, operators and district sponsors, as well as policy/legislative work (www.chartercenter.org/or) . I have a daughter who is nearly four, and regularly read Urban Mamas, which is how I ended up here. I posted some comments on charter schools on the UM website, as well, so I will not duplicate those comments here. Given my professional work, I know a lot about charter school issues, so would like to make a few comments based on this strand:

    1. One of the posts here cited that PPS spends $9442 per student. Let me clarify that charter schools DO NOT get 80% of $9,442! Charter schools get 80% of the basic State School Fund, and the total PPS spending includes more funding streams than that. The PPS charter rate (for 2007-08) is $5,942 (http://www.ode.state.or.us/ser.....08-hrs.pdf). This means that $5,942 is the “starting point,” i.e., charters receive $4,754 for students in grades K-8 and $5,645 for students in grades 9-12. This means that charter students receive approximately HALF the funds that students in other public schools in PPS receive.

    2. Oregon’s charter school law (ORS Chapter 338) requires that ALL charter school employees participate in PERS. Charter school employees receive the same PERS benefits (i.e., rates) as other public school teachers and other public employees.

    3. ORS 338 stipulates that the resident district is responsible to provide all special education services for students (i.e., IEPs) and that they retain the funding to do so. The district where the child lives keeps the special ed funding and the responsibility to provide the services within the IEP. A couple of districts in Oregon contract with charter schools to provide special ed services, and pass through some of those funds to do so. However, the vast majority of districts keep the special ed funds and provide the services outlined in IEPs. PPS sends special ed specialists to the charter schools they sponsor (FTE levels and types of specialists depend on the # of students with IEPs and the nature of the services).

    The feds fund special ed students at twice the per-pupil level as regular ed students; however, districts may only receive the double-funding for a maximum of 11% of its students. Special ed is complicated and fraught with legal and implementation issues. The way it works with charters is not necessarily ideal or consistent across the state. This is an issue that comes up in nearly every meeting I’m in (and I spend most of my life in meetings!). One issue that needs to be solved: Most students on IEPs in Oregon have learning disabilities, which don’t typically include pull-out services by specialists, rather involves making accomodations and modifications within a “regular” classroom…so, while charters don’t receive funds (or, often even training) from the student’s resident district, they are expected to properly meet the needs of learning disabled students in their classrooms.

    4. Charter school employee participation in a union is voluntary, but not mandatory (as it is in traditional public schools); this is the key difference in terms of the union. Charter school staff may form their own collective bargaining units (so it would be impossible for a developing charter to already have a union UNLESS it had formal arrangements for its staff to be employed by its sponsoring district…which about 1/3 of Oregon charter schools do, but none that are sponsored by PPS).

    5. PPS doesn’t have the same type of “control” over approving new charters as it does over closing its own schools. ORS 338 prescribes specific processes and criteria that district boards must use to do a “good faith” evaluation of a proposed charter school. If the district denies a charter school, the charter developer can appeal to the State Board of Education and if the State finds that the charter meets the legal criteria, it can sponsor the school directly (and then the district must pass through 90% for kids in grade K-8 and 97.5% for kids in grades 9-12)…and the charter agreement/contract is then with the State and not with the local district board…so the district has to use the legal criteria or it could end up paying more and having less control. So, my point is that, while it’s definitely frustrating and confusing to see the district opening charters while closing neighborhood schools, it isn’t as cut-and-dried as it may initially seem.

    Once a district receives a charter proposal, if it includes all the information required by law and district policy, the district must review it; it can’t simply choose to ignore it or dismiss it out of hand without an in-depth, “good faith” review that aligns with a legally required process.

    338.055 (2) The school district board shall evaluate a proposal in good faith using the following criteria:
    (a) The demonstrated, sustainable support for the public charter school by teachers, parents, students and other community members, including comments received at the public hearing held under subsection (1) of this section;
    (b) The demonstrated financial stability of the public charter school;
    (c) The capability of the applicant, in terms of support and planning, to provide comprehensive instructional programs to students pursuant to an approved proposal;
    (d) The capability of the applicant, in terms of support and planning, to specifically provide, pursuant to an approved proposal, comprehensive instructional programs to students identified by the applicant as academically low achieving;
    (e) The extent to which the proposal addresses the information required in ORS 338.045;
    (f) Whether the value of the public charter school is outweighed by any directly identifiable, significant and adverse impact on the quality of the public education of students residing in the school district in which the public charter school will be located;
    (g) Whether there are arrangements for any necessary special education and related services for children with disabilities pursuant to ORS 338.165; and
    (h) Whether there are alternative arrangements for students and for teachers and other school employees who choose not to attend or who choose not to be employed by the public charter school. (this one applies only to charters that convert from existing public schools).

    Hope this clarifies a few things. Certainly a great topic for parents and other community members to dialogue about!