Following the Money: the Big Picture

by Steve, September 2nd, 2007

Folks have asked me to enhance my neighborhood divestment map with demographic data and the locations of schools. Great ideas I intend to work on as I have time.

But I want to keep looking at another important angle for a bit. At the macro level, a level removed from the complicated business of actually educating the unwashed masses (a.k.a. tomorrow’s tax payers), it’s all about economics. Specifically real estate.

Our school board is vested with the power to distribute state general fund money. As I’ve clearly shown, they currently take tens of millions of dollars a year out of our poorest neighborhoods and lavish it on neighborhoods with some of the most expensive real estate in town. Any real estate broker will tell you that one of the critical elements in pricing and selling a house is neighborhood schools. (Even with open transfers, it’s rare to see a real estate listing that doesn’t mention schools.)

The bottom line, intended or not, is that PPS policy is enhancing property values in our richest neighborhoods and holding down values in working class and poor neighborhoods.

Everyone who owns property in Portland has a dog in this fight, even if they don’t have school-aged children.

So, who’s got the most interest in keeping the existing transfer policy? Those who own property in the green zone, with or without children in school.

(Click image for a larger view, including a key to school board members)

Here’s my map with school board members superimposed over the zones they live in and represent. No surprise that David Wynde and Bobbie Regan are mostly in the green. They were among Vicki Phillips’ strongest supporters, and seem to have bought in to her corporate grant-funded, market-based schools agenda more than anybody. Now that we see graphically how this policy benefits their net worth, it’s really no surprise they’ve been so unfailing in their support of it.

Most other board members have small pieces of green in their zone (with the notable exception of Dan Ryan), but the vast majority of green falls in Wynde’s and Regan’s zones.

What I’d like to see is the other board members making some noise about this. In the most cynical sense, shouldn’t they be trying to bring home some bacon, too?

Honestly, this is a fundamental issue of economic fairness. Beyond the school board’s duty to educate our children, they have an ethical responsibility to distribute state tax revenue in a way that provides the most benefit to the most people. Current PPS policy clearly benefits owners of property in the hottest real estate markets in Portland to the detriment of the rest of us.

Make no mistake, this is about class. How can a “progressive” city like Portland allow this to continue? I know folks who live in the green zone don’t have much interest in changing things, but what about everybody else? Will we continue to let the board steal this economic benefit from us without so much as a peep?

27 Responses to “Following the Money: the Big Picture”

  1. Comment from Zarwen:


    Just as a point of info, Trudy Sargent lives in the green zone too, although her zone of representation is mostly red.

    In fact, that little strip of green on Mt. Tabor is invariably where the Zone 6 rep. lives, regardless of who it is. You don’t see too many low-income folks running for school board (or any other kind of office). When you look at the kind of $ Ruth Adkins and Doug Morgan were raising for the last election, no wonder. They might as well hang out a sign that says “Only rich people need apply.”

    Which brings us to a very important and timely question: we need to find someone to run against Trudy in the next election!

  2. Comment from Himself:

    Nice point, Zarwen, thanks. I didn’t want to get too far into exposing details about where exactly folks live, but it is germane to the discussion (and it is in the public record).

    I would also be interested to know if any board members have real estate investment properties, and where. (Unfortunately, doesn’t let you search by owner, but this is public info if anybody — say, an enterprising reporter — wants to go down the county and do some research.)

  3. Comment from School Marm:

    Great work. You should note that Trudy Sargent lists “Property Manager’ as an occupation. She and her husband own lots of real estate in Portland. (Not sure where.) She lives in a million dollar house in Mt. Tabor and never bothered her sweet self about the problems at Franklin HS (her neighborhood school) since her three sons all transfered to Cleveland.

  4. Comment from Nancy Smith:

    Great work on this post and comments, with one exception: the money raised for Ruth Adkins’ campaign came primarily from numerous small donations, the result of an exhaustive effort by Ruth and many “common folks” – truly a grass-roots effort. It would be unfair to characterize Ruth as “rich”.

  5. Comment from Zarwen:

    You are right, Nancy, and I apologize about the gist of my comment being unclear. The point I meant to get across was that the kind of money being raised and spent on these campaigns, regardless of the source (I recall Doug Morgan borrowed quite a bit of his from a brother in California!) will prevent most middle-to-low-income folks from running because they will be too discouraged even to try.

    On the other hand, it is surely worth noting that Michele Schultz ran her campaign on a shoestring, DECLINING monetary contributions, and still took 42% of the vote. She also received a gracious call from Dan Ryan afterwards, thanking her not only for running, but also for proving that big bucks aren’t necessary to be in the game. (Although I will never stop wondering if a little more dough would have put her over the top.)

    Now, back to my original question: where can we find a new Zone 6 candidate for 2009?

  6. Comment from Nancy Smith:

    Zarwen: I understand and absolutely agree that most middle-to-low-income folks are prevented from mounting a viable campaign.

    Michelle should run again. She would be much more likely to receive key endorsements next time around, would be in a better position for fundraising and can take advantage of name recognition.

    Any interested Zone 6 candidates out there?

  7. Comment from Himself:

    I should have linked to the PPS school board zone map in my original post. Here it is.

  8. Comment from Zarwen:


    One more thing I noticed about your map. The ZIP codes shown stretch east as far as 122nd Ave., but the district actually ends closer to 92nd Ave. (with the exception of a few small pockets), which is west of I-205. I know it was unintentional on your part, but it makes both the overall district and the red zone look larger than they actually are, since a 30-block-wide swath actually lies in the David Douglas district. Also I think a big chunk of 97266 lies in the North Clackamas district.

    (This might also apply on the south and west sides; I do not know where those district boundaries are.)

    None of this is to take away from the point you originally made about $ flowing from poor neighborhoods into rich ones. The fact that these posts have been drawing so many comments is a testament to how important the issue is.

  9. Comment from Zarwen:

    I meant to add that the easternmost school in the district is Lent, which is on SE 97th.

  10. Comment from Himself:

    Thanks, Zarwen.

    There are a lot of factors to consider in compiling this data, and I knew there would be some fuzzy edges. Attendance areas do not follow ZIP codes, for example, nor do school board zones (David Wynde’s central east side zone stretches north to include part of 97217, including Jefferson).

    Demographic data is available block-by-block, so conceivably somebody with a lot of time could correlate all of this down to a very fine grain.

    I thought it was a sufficient start to do it by ZIP codes, though, since we all have a general sense where they lie. It would probably be better to do it by attendance area, and I may get to that someday (or maybe one of the newspapers will pick up the ball and run some slicker info graphics).

    I really do appreciate folks fact checking me, so thanks for that.

  11. Comment from Terry:

    Considering that Dilafruz lives on the edge of Zone 1 in Eastmoreland and that Sargent lives on Mt. Tabor, nobody on the board truly represents outer Southeast. Or inner Southeast for that matter. And given Dan Ryan’s fawning relationship with Vicki Phillips, it’s doubtful that North Portland is well-represented either.

    That’s democracy at work, friends. Or is it plutocracy?

    I think the Hockey God ought to run for Ryan’s seat in 2009.

  12. Comment from Himself:

    I’m flattered, Terry, but I think I’m actually in the northern end of zone 2. So unless I move, David Wynde resigns, or there’s a recall campaign, I won’t be entering electoral politics any time real soon.

  13. Comment from Zarwen:

    Sorry, Hockeygod, but Michele Schultz still has dibs on the Zone 2 seat!

    For what it’s worth, Ryan was one of three, along with Williams and Henning, who voted against a lot of VP’s stupid proposals. He was also the sole board member who insisted that some of the levy money be used to put some music and PE back into low-income schools that didn’t have any. Had he not proposed to amend VP’s self-serving budget, those schools wouldn’t have even that much. And, he was gracious enough to call Michele after the school board election to thank her for running.

    His remark about “someone at the Gates Foundation who is your best friend” did make me nervous, but overall, I believe that his good deeds have outweighed the bad, at least thus far.

    I recommend we put our efforts into finding a replacement for Sargent.

  14. Comment from Himself:

    I supported Michele (if belatedly) in her race against Wynde. I’d support her again.

    But we’ve got zones 4, 5 and 6 coming up well before we’ll have another crack at Wynde’s seat. I’m with you, Zarwen, zone 6 would be a good one to put some serious energy into.

  15. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Now, school board politics is something I know a little about. The key is getting Stand for Children and The School Foundation to endorse you. That is where the money comes from for school board races. You may think Ruth Adkins got a lot of little donations from people who had good intentions toward the “have nots” in PPS. But she would not have stood a chance without the endorsement of Stand for Children (and therefore The School Foundation) because she couldn’t have raised the money needed to beat Morgan. He wasn’t particularly popular but if he had gotten the endorsement (and Ruth hadn’t gotten the co-endorsement) he would have clobbered her. She couldn’t have raised anywhere near the money she needed to win. That is the way it works.

    When I ran against Dan Ryan, who had no platform and no real background in PPS and knew very little, he still raised $70,000. The most ever for a school board seat. I out worked him. Had way more experience. Had a serious platform. Knew the schools. Etc. Etc. Then why did he beat me in every precinct in Portland, including the ones in far out SE where you could legitimately call me their champion? Because he could put 3 pieces of literature in every home in Portland. I couldn’t. If I could have I would have beaten him.

    Now it is true that the teachers union (PAT) went for Ryan also. Interesting since I had been a PAT member for 10 years and taught school for 38. My theory is that they know how the district runs and didn’t want to go against SFC and TSF who, in essence, they bargain against.

    And The Oregonian went with SFC and TSF writing things that were totally untrue about my campaign, that they know were totally untrue. So if you get SFC and TSF you also get The Oregonian.

    My point. You can only truly challenge these groups if you have the money. If Michelle had had $60,000 she would have won. Don’t delude yourself into thinking there is some great movement which is going to rise up and support people who are not in the hip pocket of Wilson, Lincoln, and the well-to-do parts of Grant and Cleveland.

    The number of people who truly follow PPS politics is miniscule compared to the people who vote who know very little. Hopefully there is a rising tide of people who are fed up with a school district of the west hills, by the west hills, and for the west hills. Who at least would like to see some serious effort at making schools in the poorer neighborhoods work. It is nice Ruth and Dan Ryan have made some gestures in the direction of being more fair. But when it comes to really focussing on serious improvement in these neighborhoods we have seen nothing important and probably won’t either.

    I didn’t know how it worked when I ran last time. I remember telling a friend who works in the district offices and has been around for years that I was going to run for school board. She just laughed in my face. A rough quote would be “They are never going to allow you on the school board, Steve.” I thought, oh yeh, I will out work them, will dazzle people with progressive programs, will take them on in the debates, will inspire people to get behind a serious change in the way it works, will give the have nots hope their schools can work again. I could have too, if I had only had the money.

  16. Comment from Zarwen:

    Sadly, you are correct, Steve, esp. about the SFC and PSF part. Wynde made it obvious at the beginning of the campaign that he wasn’t taking Michele seriously. The truth of the matter makes her 42% showing all the more impressive.

    This is one of a number of reasons why I think the PSF should be dismantled; the other, more immediate reasons have been detailed elsewhere. You are right, Steve; in spite of our glorious 7-zone system, it’s still a bunch of well-off westside parents running the District while us eastsiders wait for the crumbs to fall from the table.

    I’d love to be able to move out to Corbett!

  17. Comment from Jeff:

    Absolutely! Dismantling the Portland Schools Foundation would be one of the best things that could happen for Portland’s public schools. Let me know how I can help with that.

  18. Comment from Zarwen:

    So, Steve, why do you think Ruth Adkins was able to get a co-endorsement from SFC? Did she have some connections going in? Did Doug Morgan offend someone over there, or did they see the handwriting on the wall and figure he would probably lose? Given your experience, I am really interested in your take on this.

    Concerning PSF, I am afraid my comment was just wishful thinking. I do not know of any way to dismantle a “charitable” foundation, short of turning up some legal issue.

    Oh, wait. Didn’t they give a grant to one of their own board members, Tony Hopson? Seems like that should at least merit an investigation on the basis of conflict of interest, if nothing else. Anyone out there know a legal eagle who would be interested in taking this on?

  19. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Zarwen, the Ruth Adkins endorsement is an interesting question. Here is my opinion. Ruth actually fits the profile of who SFC and TSF likes a little better than Morgan. But they couldn’t just turn their back on Morgan. So by going with both of them they didn’t make any of their supporters mad. They don’t really have to control the school board, just make sure they get like-minded people on it. Don’t get me wrong, I like Ruth, but she is not about to support the type of radical decisions necessary to make the lower economic schools work well. SFC knows that.

    Go back two elections and the PAT supported John Ball and Richard Garrett, while SFC and TSF went for the other guys. This was a telling election in that the PAT found out they couldn’t beat the power structure. This solidified the powers to be. Both Garrett and Ball would have taken into account the entire school district so, of course, they wouldn’t get the SFC and TSF endorsements.

    I missed something in my election analysis which I remembered later. SFC and TSF can run a slate. They will send out brochures with say 3 candidates on them. Hence, they pay only one third of the cost for many of their mailers. So a challenger has to pay three times as much for many of their mailers. Or can send out only a third of the mailers for the same cost. So in actuality you need a lot more money than a SFC candidate to do the same amount of campaigning. Good luck.

  20. Comment from Jeff:

    Yes indeed, Zarwen. The Portland Schools Foundation did give a grant to one of their own board members. And the outcome of that grant (which was supposed to increase parent and community involvement in the school) was a signed agreement with the district giving that Portland Schools Foundation board member a formal role over school decision-making and spending.

    And guess what? Not a peep of opposition or concern from a single PSF/SFC backed school board member.

  21. Comment from Zarwen:

    Steve Buel wrote:

    “I like Ruth, but she is not about to support the type of radical decisions necessary to make the lower economic schools work well.”

    Sorry for being dense here, but what “radical decisions” do you mean? Ruth campaigned as a champion for neighborhood schools at ALL income levels. And it wasn’t just hype! She really has the credentials. She actively fought the proposed closures of Humboldt and Kellogg (lost on the latter, unfortunately, but not her fault). And she supported the parent group at Jefferson that fought (and is still fighting!) so bitterly against the way they were/are being treated. I did not succumb to the post-election euphoria about a “new board majority” that would magically undo all of VP’s damage, but what “decisions” do you think Ruth would not support for the betterment of these schools?

  22. Comment from Hyacinth:

    The President of the Portland Schools Foundation resigned today.

    Read about it here
    and here

    It provides some insight into the Foundation’s molestation of Jefferson.

  23. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Zarwen, good question. A long, long answer but I will hit the high spots.

    1) Serious resources into electives, athletics, music, the arts, computers, counselors, activities etc. at the four remaining middle schools in the N. and SE. 2) Serious resources into making sure kids who can’t read or write in these schools can read and write decently (the testing doesn’t work for the kids who are really behind) 3) A radical shift in how the most important in-school issue is handled — discipline. which includes setting up classrooms which have no disruptions (kids who are willing to buy in) and moving out the major disruptive kids (about 3 per class) the 1st week of school into classes where they are not in the main stream of the school until they are willing to not be disruptive 4) Serious recruitment which would result in a cadre of excellent young teachers who are hyped to work in these schools 5) Using a focussed testing strategy in the midst of a broader general education model which genuinely educates kids 6) Hiring principals and vice principals who are willing to spend the time it takes to put forth a program similar to the one outlined — these are some of the ideas, and as I said I like Ruth a lot, but pitch these 6 things to her and see which she is willing to get behind and champion. (maybe #4, but they are all important).

    People can come back and say why the district can’t do these things, but I believe they can and have talked for years about how you can get them done. Doesn’t do much good to keep a Kellogg around if it is not that good a school. What needed to happen is a committment to make it work. Sure, the people who are running it, the teachers who often don’t know any difference and who are working their tails off, and the main parents who are involved and making sure their kids get a decent education would all tell you it was working decently well. But the middle schools in these neighborhoods are not structured to work well and the school board (including Ruth) should have been hammering on the necessity to make improvements, and not in a piecemeal way, so the school could work for most of its kids.

    Thanks Zarwen for holding my generalistic comments accountable.

  24. Comment from Zarwen:

    But Steve, you still haven’t answered my original question: what has Ruth said or done that makes you think she would not support these ideas? All you said was “pitch these 6 things to her and see which she is willing to get behind and champion.” What evidence do you have that she wouldn’t? Have YOU (or anyone else) pitched these ideas to her and gotten a negative response?

  25. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Zarwen, I talked to her about an hour during her campaign (sent her some money) and explained how important these types of initiatives are for these middle schools. Haven’t heard a thing from her or seen anything she has done that moves in these directions. So, yes, I have pitched them to her. Also, she heard me discuss these at length during the supt. search forums. Nadda.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. I think she has a lot of good attitudes and the right ideas on lots of stuff affecting PPS. But, the problems in poorer neighborhoods are seldom addressed by the board (or the administration for that matter) in a way which might REALLY make a difference. Just doesn’t happen. And now that there are the supposed 4 votes for doing things differently I am waiting for any serious attempt to truly address the problems in these neighborhoods. I am not holding my breath since SFC and TSF still control what takes place in most instances.

    Also, I don’t want you to get the idea I thought it was a good thing to close any schools, including Kellogg. But that is a neighborhood thing, not an educational one. Remember, every person on the school board ran on a two part platform (well, if you count being accountable with tax money, three part): student achievement and stronger neighborhood schools. (Pretty innocuous when you think about it, which few people evidentally did.)

    Thanks, Zarwen.

  26. Comment from Lisa:

    Hey Everybody!

    I am planning to run for the Zone 6 seat in May 2009.

    I attended PPS (Woodmere, Lane MS, and Marshall HS).

    You can read a bit more about me at

    If you’ve got any questions for me, feel free to ask. However, please be patient, I am a classroom teacher, and my extra time is next to nil right now.

    An interesting tidbit of trivia, Steve Buel was one of my 8th grade teachers many years ago.



  27. Comment from Steve:

    Cool. It’ll be good to have a serious challenger for that seat.

    We’ll have to get all the dirt on you from Mr. Buel. :)