PPS Lowballs Rehired Custodians

by Steve, October 15th, 2007

laborAfter being forced to rehire the custodians they illegally fired, Portland Public Schools has decided to try to cut their pay by nearly 30%.

In negotiations for a contract that expired June 30, PPS proposes reducing starting wages from $14 an hour to $10.70 and forcing employees to absorb future increases in health care costs. This is especially insulting, since many of the rehired custodians left other jobs to return to PPS based on the current wages.

This is an obvious pattern in PPS labor negotiations.

At the school board meeting last week, Linda Hush-Loomis, the wife of a PPS custodian, testified “My husband left a job paying nearly $13 per hour, the cut would leave him around $11 per hour.”

PPS just approved a bond to payoff the approximately $15 million settlement with the illegally fired custodians. Now they’re using the same tactics that eventually led to the illegal firings in the first place. Does PPS have no institutional memory? Or are they just ethically bankrupt?

There is a petition (32KB Microsoft Word document) available to print and gather signatures if you want to show your support of these hard-working, under-appreciated employees.

PPS: Stay and Fight or Cut and Run?

by Steve, October 9th, 2007

schoolsMy talk about seriously checking out Beaverton real estate and schools continues to draw disbelief from everybody I talk to. “NoPo Parent” urges me to stay and fight for the greater good, like MLK or Gandhi did.

But how do I explain this to my children? Sorry kids, your education isn’t as important as fighting for everybody else’s. I’d really like to help you with your homework, but I’ve got to crunch these numbers to show the school board how devastating their policies are to your neighborhood.

Seriously, when my daughter enters 9th grade in six years, how much better are the course offerings at Jefferson going to be? The current policy trend is balkanization, splitting schools in poor neighborhoods into narrow academic silos. A simultaneous trend is shutting down in-transfers at comprehensive high schools in wealthier neighborhoods. I don’t want my kids to have to commute across town anyway, but that’s their only option for a comprehensive high school, and it’s being taken away.

That’s “school choice” for you, folks. If you choose to live in a wealthy neighborhood, you get good schools. If you choose to be poor, or choose to live in an economically and ethnically diverse neighborhood, you get to fight over the crumbs.

If we stop and change direction right now, we might have some comprehensive, traditional high schools in North Portland in six years.

But the school board is not changing direction. To the contrary, they don’t even seem to recognize the train wreck they’ve set in motion. If and when they finally notice, it’s going to be too late for my children. Witness the giddiness of the board at their meeting last night upon approving the expansion of a special focus program into a building formerly occupied by a neighborhood school that was forced to merge with another school to avoid closure. Board members’ words of caution about how this might affect neighborhood schools ring hollow, considering their support of policy that is diametrically opposed to support of neighborhood schools.

Given this blatantly anti-neighborhood schools atmosphere, why shouldn’t I look at Beaverton, where neighborhood schools are the norm?

Pick a high school — any high school — in the Beaverton School District, and compare and contrast to our options in North Portland. Let’s just take Aloha High, for example. Aloha is 42% free and reduced-price lunch, 11% ESL and 66% white. Hardly what you’d call a “rich” school.

But they’ve got several bands, choir, theatre arts, visual arts, film making, wood shop, and drafting. They’ve got lots of advanced placement classes. They offer French, Spanish, Japanese, physics, calculus, a newspaper and yearbook and a full suite of athletics and extracurricular activities.

Most readers of this blog know about the travesty that Portland Public Schools has foisted upon Roosevelt and Jefferson in North Portland. At Roosevelt, they’ve created three academies that are self-segregated by race — one black, one white, and one Hispanic. At Jefferson, district policies have created a segregated “black” school. As if that weren’t bad enough, they’ve made it even worse, with gender-segregated academies, two campuses miles apart, and extremely stripped-down academic offerings across the board.

Nobody — I mean nobody — on the school board is willing to honestly address the source of the problem, our free-market open transfer policy. This is the sacred cow of Portland Public Schools. We’re going to need a wholesale turnover on the board — all seven members — before this gets addressed, and that’s not going to happen in time for my kids. It’s also not going to happen as long as the corporate-dominated Portland Schools Foundation has so much influence in PPS policy and school board politics.

So it’s looking like “cut and run” is the best option for my family. It doesn’t mean I can’t still write about the problem, but the urgency will be considerably less for my family. Sorry folks, as much as I’m flattered by the invocation of MLK and Gandhi, this is not British-occupied India or the civil rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s (even if it is a civil rights issue).

I am not in this for the fight; I’m in this for my kids. Though I am civic-minded, I don’t appreciate having to fight tooth and nail for basic educational opportunities in my neighborhood. I would much rather take my son to a hockey game or my daughter to the symphony than stay up late crunching numbers to convince the school board of the obvious: their policy is destroying the last vestiges of Portland’s crown jewels.

More Hockey, Less School!

by Steve, October 5th, 2007

hockeyThat’s the word from Jeff over at ClearTheCrease.net, a new Portland hockey blog. I told him, yeah, I’m sick of this shit, too. And nothing cleanses the political palette like a good hard skate or a night of hockey.

We’ve got junior action this weekend in Portland, with the Canadian Major Junior Portland Winter Hawks taking on the Everett Silver Tips Saturday night at the Memorial Coliseum, and the USA Hockey Tier III Junior A River City Jaguars hosting Tri-City at Valley Ice Arena in Beaverton. The Jags have a rematch with Tri-City on Sunday.

If you’re looking for some intense entertainment this weekend, you might want to check out some of what the Portland hockey scene has to offer. Jaguars tickets are $7, general admission. Valley Ice Arena is old school, with the hard wooden benches and disgusting restrooms, but it’s a more casual viewing experience. They’ve even got a mascot this year, and my five-year-old had fun at the season opener a couple weeks back.

Winter Hawks tickets start at $10 for the cheap seats, and go up to $21 for the best (kids’ tix are $5-$14, I think). That’s a bargain to see some of the best junior hockey players in the world.

Go Hawks! Go Jags!

A Serious Look at Beaverton

by Steve, October 5th, 2007

schoolsGiven that there seems to be little political will on the Portland Public Schools Board of Education to do anything serious about the stark inequities in funding and program offerings in Portland neighborhood schools, we’re giving serious thought to moving to Beaverton. I started looking at real estate in Beaverton yesterday, and what I saw illustrates the stark differences between how PPS and the Beaverton School District operate.

The first house I looked at is in one of Beaverton’s poorer neighborhoods. The elementary school is Beaver Acres, where 61% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The students are 51% minority, with no one group in the majority (white student have a plurality). This reflects the neighborhood demographic, since Beaverton does not have open transfer enrollment.

We all know what happens to schools like this in PPS; they are drained of their middle class students, overall enrollment drops dramatically, demographics skew, test scores drop, and they are threatened by PPS with closure and by the federal government with sanctions under No Child Left Behind. Special programs are cut, with site administrators focusing dwindling Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) budgets on literacy and testing.

Not so in Beaverton. Quite to the contrary, Beaver Acres school is getting a 14-classroom addition to accommodate growing enrollment. All special programs remain intact.

Beaver Acres feeds to traditional, comprehensive middle and high schools, just like every elementary school in Beaverton.

Our neighborhood elementary in PPS has a co-located dual-immersion Spanish program. There are numerous problems with this, too many to get into here. Suffice it to say, the administrator is far more engaged with her special focus program than with the neighborhood program. The school is transitioning to K-8, so we are no longer assigned to the special-focus middle school across the street from the 24-hour sex club, which is nice. But our assigned high school is Jefferson, which has suffered more than any school in the district under the open transfer enrollment policy. No other high school has had its programs cut as dramatically, and no school is less racially and economically diverse.

Let me emphasize something here: Not one of our assigned schools, from pre-K through high school, is a stand-alone, traditional neighborhood school.

Sure, we can apply for the lottery to transfer to one of the traditional high schools, all of which are sited in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods. But why should my kids have to commute across town just to get a full range of educational offerings?

Initial murmurs from the school board on the issue indicate that we’re probably not going to see any changes to the transfer policy any time soon, if at all. Hopefully they can start addressing the funding equity issues at least, but there’s only so much they can do given that funding follows students.

Meanwhile, my kids aren’t getting any younger. When we moved to the Jefferson cluster in 2000, our oldest child was five years away from starting school, and we said to ourselves, “A lot can change in five years.” Not much did. Actually, things have gotten worse. Now our oldest is in third grade, six years away from high school. Will things get better by the time she hits high school? If recent history is any indication, things will get worse.

Look out Beaverton, here we come!

Circling the Drain

by Steve, October 3rd, 2007

schoolsFifteen months after a city and county audit requested a justification for Portland Public Schools’ open transfer policy, a committee of the school board will take its first look tomorrow. The student support and community relations committee, chaired by new school board member and Neighborhood Schools Alliance founding member Ruth Adkins meets tomorrow at four p.m. Dan Ryan and Dilafruz Williams are the other members of this committee.

This has been my main cause on this blog for a few months. I have crunched the district’s enrollment numbers, and shown that the open transfer policy effectively redlines the poorest neighborhoods of Portland, transferring tens of millions of dollars of public investment annually to wealthier neighborhoods.

I have reason to be concerned that the school board will attempt to tweak things around the edge of this policy, and will not consider the simplest, most reasonable response, which would immediately address the issue of neighborhood funding inequity: curtailing neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers.

Here’s an analogy for you. You’ve got a bathtub full of water. Somebody pulls the plug. You get a group of people debating how to keep the water in the tub, and they’re throwing out all kinds of ideas. Perhaps we can convince the water that it’s better to stay in the tub. Maybe we can make it more complicated to leave the tub. But as the water circles the drain, nobody suggests the obvious.

Put the plug back in the drain.

The fundamental problem is the open transfer policy. There is no justification for it. Why keep it?

Here’s another thought. We’re screwing the pooch all across the district, not just in the redlined neighborhoods, where educational opportunities are limited, and schools are left with disproportionate numbers of poor and minority students. Things are bad in the green zone, too, where overcrowding also limits and degrades educational opportunities. Things have gotten so bad, we’re verging on driving out the middle class. Which is ironic, given that open transfers (according to a popular argument) have supposedly kept the middle class in PPS schools. This is one middle class parent giving Beaverton a serious look.

We have a perfectly good example in our western suburb, where there are no special focus or magnet programs in elementary school, and no transfers, either. They have a similar demographic to Portland, but none of the problems of racial isolation or funding inequities.

It’s time to put some pressure on our school board, and particularly the members of the committee taking a first look at this problem. If you care about this, give a call or drop an e-mail to Ruth Adkins, Dan Ryan and Dilafruz Williams.

How Much Is Health Care Worth to Bush?

by Steve, October 3rd, 2007

warAnswer: Not very much.

With a veto of a five-year, $35 billion bipartisan expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), Bush has shown he doesn’t give a rip about the health of our nation’s children.

If you think this veto is really about rejecting expansion of government or Bush being a deficit hawk, compare and contrast his weekly $2 billion spent on his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s $520 billion over five years. In other words, our children’s health isn’t even worth 6% of what we’re spending to expand the part of our government that’s blowing shit up in Iraq.

New PPS Chief: Jefferson’s Going to be Great

by Steve, October 1st, 2007

PPS School Board Hires Superintendent From Within

by Steve, October 1st, 2007

schoolsI’m very happy to see that the Portland Public Schools Board of Education has hired from within for the next superintendent. Not only did Carole Smith grow up in Portland, she hasn’t pissed off the community in her tenure at PPS. This is a very good starting point for our next leader, something certain other candidates did not have in their favor.

I don’t know much about her, but I’m cautiously optimistic and hopeful that she will value community input in her policy making.

The school board will meet tomorrow morning to formalize the hire, and there is a press conference scheduled later today at Franklin High School to formally introduce our next superintendent.

Oregonian’s School Choice Boosterism Goes Live on the Web

by Steve, October 1st, 2007

schoolsIf it wasn’t bad enough for Portland parents to choose a school, what with open transfers, totally uneven implementation of educational programming across the district, and a flood of money pouring with students out of our poorest neighborhoods into our richest, here comes the Oregonian with an online tool to help encourage this flow.

According to an e-mail leaked to this blogger in advance of the debut,

As part of The Oregonian’s continued efforts to evolve beyond the printed word and provide web savvy readers with more expanded coverage, Steve Suo has created a comprehensive school guide on OregonLive.com – a feature Oregonian editors have long been wanting to create in print.

…the Oregon Schools Guide offers readers a comprehensive report card on public schools in Oregon grades K-12, with two easy search functions that let viewers search by school name or to compare school rankings by grade and district.

Not to leave out the hard working folks in the real estate community, who pay a lot of bills at the Big O, they also include homes for sale near schools.

The site doesn’t quite live up to its hype, but there it is.

The crappiest Web presence in the Portland media universe now includes a school choice promotional site.