PPS School Board: Segregation Now, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation Forever

by Steve, October 27th, 2007

As I’ve written here before, there is no political will on the Portland Public Schools Board of Education to reverse their effectively segregationist open transfer enrollment policy.

The school board knows about the racial isolation brought on by this policy, and the annual shift of tens of millions of dollars out of our poorest neighborhoods into our wealthiest. They know full well that the balkanized “academies” at Jefferson, Roosevelt, Madison and Marshall do not give students adequate educational opportunities, and they know full well that this encourages even more out-transfers from those schools.

But they are certain, from their own “market research,” that “School Choice” is a “strength” of the district.

This is all becoming more clear as the Student Support and Community Relations committee continues to meet, and prepares for the November 5 board meeting, where this will be a major agenda item. Look for committee recommendations to “tweak” the policy to make it simpler. But don’t expect any recommendations to ameliorate the devastation this policy has caused to our poorest neighborhoods.

Simplifying the lottery can mean only one thing: removing or relaxing any kind of weighting that might have given advantage to poor or minority students.

I think it’s safe to say that there is a deliberate pattern here, foisted upon our district: in tight times, screw over the populations least likely to complain, and make sure the middle class neighborhoods get the best of the best.

The school board is creating a time bomb. In the neighborhoods expecting the most demographic growth, they’ve closed schools, sold or leased the buildings, and have completely gutted the high schools. In ten years, everybody’s going to be saying “What the hell happened?” and everybody will pretend they don’t know. I’m telling you right now who’s responsible: Ruth Adkins, David Wynde, Bobbie Regan, Dan Ryan, Sonja Henning, Trudy Sargent, and Dilafruz Williams.

None of them has the political courage to stand up to the corporate-dominated Portland Schools Foundation and say “Enough!”

Portland Through the Eyes of a Saskatonian

by Steve, October 26th, 2007

Met a little girl, her name was June
A little bit south of Saskatoon

— Sonny James
Saskatoon StarPhoenix reporter Cory Wolfe got on the bus with the Saskatoon Blades for their ten day, five game road trip a lot south and west of Saskatoon, through the US Division of the Western Hockey League. The trip included a stop in Portland this week, the southern most city in the league. He’s posting a diary of his trip on the StarPhoenix Web site.

It’s very interesting in a number of ways. First, it’s a behind-the-scenes look at life on the road for these student athletes, who not only play their junior careers away from home in most cases, but also endure a grueling 72 game schedule with at least one lengthy road trip each season. (It’s 1,200 miles from Saskatoon to Portland. The Brandon Wheat Kings, who are here this weekend, are traveling 1,500 miles from home ice.)

It’s also interesting to see our city, our team and our aging facility (Memorial Coliseum) through the eyes of a visitor.

After a 3-1 loss to Tri-City in Kennewick, Wash. on Saturday night, Wolfe and team rode the bus through the Columbia River Gorge to Portland.

2:10 a.m. Bus arrives at Portland’s Memorial Coliseum. Players unload their bags and leave their gear to dry overnight. Blades forward Ondrej Fiala, who played in this building plenty as a member of the Everett Silvertips, points out the arena’s quirks: tiny benches and springy boards.

On a two-day layover in Portland, Wolfe and crew ate twice at the Portland City Grill, and appreciated the view. They made a trip to Lloyd Center, where they got a few chuckles about the ice rink there and the general lack of knowledge they discovered in the locals.

2:38 p.m.: The hotel shuttle delivers the elders – coaches, trainers, etc. – to the Lloyd Center shopping mall. The complex features a skating rink with boards but no glass. Curling rings are painted on the ice surface.

“Do people actually curl here?” I ask a guy in a nearby kiosk.

“Yeah,” he says enthusiastically.

“But the ice isn’t even pebbled,” I reply. “Curling ice has to be pebbled so the rocks will slide.”

His smile drops. I don’t think he knows what I’m talking about.

“Well,” he says after a pause, “I think it’s just a bunch of guys who come early in the morning to get away from their wives.”


4:05 p.m.: Blades trainer Graham (Spike) Watt feigns giddiness when he sees the Zamboni resurfacing the mall’s skating rink. Even though we’ve witnessed this routine thousands of times before, we sidle up to the boards and watch. Beside us, a retired couple really is in awe of this magical machine.

“I’ve seen them on TV,” says the woman, “but I didn’t know what they did, so I asked the driver. I didn’t know if they polished it or put water on it.”

We play dumb.

“So what DOES it do?” I ask.

“It sprays water on it and then it freezes!” she says as if she’s discovered the Caramilk secret.

“Ohhhh,” I reply. “Crazy!”

Nice read Cory!

His most recent entry as of this writing was last night from Everett, Wash.: “10:53 p.m.: Bedtime. Tomorrow we check out. Then it’s on to Seattle for a game, followed by a 20-hour bus ride home…”

Think about that. Twenty hours on a bus after nine days on the road.

(Thanks to “lionshockey8” on the Oregon Live Winter Hawks Forum for the tip.)

Portland Weekend Hockey Roundup

by Steve, October 26th, 2007

Let’s start off with the newest game in town: the Portland State University Vikings have their inaugural home game tonight and another game tomorrow night, both against the University of Puget Sound at Mountain View Ice Arena in Vancouver Wash. I’m not sure if Portland has ever had college club hockey before, so this is kind of cool. I know a few of these guys from stick time at Valley, so here’s a big shout out to them. Go James! Go Steve! Go Head Butt! Go Vikings! Admission is just $5, so “Get off yer butts and cheer,” as my high school principal once yelled at the nerd squad at a pep rally. But I digress.

The River City Jaguars take their show on the road to Medford this weekend for three games against the Rogue Valley Wranglers. The Jags are the winningest team in Portland, with a 10-4 record. You’ve gotta hope things don’t get too out of hand against the NPHL expansion Wranglers, who have yet to manage a win. The Jags are back in town November 10.

The Jaguars are on a roll this year, led by five skaters with at least one point a game: Rudy Pino (15-7-22), Spencer Murphy (10-8-18), Nick Guzman (6-10-16), Kevin Nighbert (6-7-13), and Everett Mayers (4-9-13).

The WHA league-leading Fort Vancouver Pioneers (7-1-0) are on the road in B.C., for a pair of games against an evidently non-league team in Lillooet. (The WHA site is woefully lacking in information.) The Pios are back in town the weekend of November 2.

Last but not least, the Winter Hawks (2-10-0-0) have a tough three-in-three schedule this weekend, starting with a game in Kennewick, Wash. tonight against the first-place Tri-City Americans (11-3-0-0). They’re back home Saturday, taking on Eastern Conference Brandon (7-5-0-1), and Sunday against a very strong looking second-place Spokane (9-2-1-1). The Hawks got their first home win of the season last Sunday against Saskatoon (3-9-1-0).

The Funniest Thing I’ve Seen in Portland Politics

by Steve, October 25th, 2007

I haven’t been involved in local Portland politics for all that long, so I frequently feel late to the party. But I really haven’t missed much (like most parties, the same stories and jokes keep getting repeated). But somehow I never saw this one until today. Stop me if you’ve heard it before. “Interviews Gone Wild” by Adrian Chen.

Erik Sten Doesn’t Get It, Part II

by Steve, October 24th, 2007

Back in July, I wrote about Erik Sten’s proposal to help schools struggling with enrollment under Portland Public Schools’ effectively segregationist transfer policy. His proposal, now official Portland city policy, gives $950,000 to the Portland Schools Foundation to dole out in $20,000 – $30,000 grants to help schools “create excitement.” This is part of the larger Schools, Families, Housing Initiative.

Sten was at the school board meeting Monday night, and went on at length about how cool it will be to “create excitement” (he used this phrase several times). He assured the board that the Portland Schools Foundation grant application process wouldn’t be daunting, and grants wouldn’t be denied on technicalities. He gushed about how he’d like to see a full-time organizer in every school in Portland.

Uh huh.

I can’t get over the feeling that Erik Sten has a very strange relationship to reality. What planet is he from?

Anyway, here’s an open letter to Sten.

Dear Commissioner Sten:

I appreciate your work on affordable housing, and also your efforts to link this issue with public schools. But I’m afraid your Schools, Families, Housing Initiative misses the mark.

The neighborhoods with the most affordable housing in Portland are in the high school clusters that have been hardest hit by the inequities of Portland Public Schools’ student transfer policy: Jefferson, Roosevelt, Madison and Marshall. If you are serious about encouraging middle class families to move into or stay in these neighborhoods and attend these schools, you need to pressure the school board to change the policy that allows literally tens of millions of dollars of public investment to flow out of these schools and into schools in neighborhoods with the least affordable housing, and then balkanizes the gutted high schools into narrowly focused “academies” with extremely limited academic offerings.

These schools don’t need organizers to “create excitement.” They need full funding and academic and extracurricular programming on par with schools in wealthier neighborhoods.

As somebody well-versed in affordable housing and poverty issues, I know you can appreciate the importance of public investment in our hardest-hit neighborhoods. Unfortunately, our school board’s policy does the opposite: it shifts public investment away from our poorest neighborhoods and into our wealthiest. For anybody concerned with issues of equitable public policy, the open transfer enrollment policy of Portland Public Schools should be an embarrassment.

Here’s a report (383 KB PDF) I presented to the school board in September, you are interested in following up on this issue.

Another problem with your initiative is the use of the Portland Schools Foundation (PSF) to disburse the funds. This organization has a serious credibility problem within parent communities in our schools. There is concern that PSF has allowed schools with large fund-raising capacity to essentially “double dip” by winning grants from the equity fund. There also been concern about the propriety of the foundation awarding a grant to one of its board members. Why are these grants not administered directly by the Bureau of Housing and Community Development?

I am also concerned that parents in our poorer schools will be intimidated by the grant writing process. Even if the process is streamlined, it is still daunting, especially to a single parent working two jobs to make ends meet. And honestly, what’s in it for them anyway?

My family has decided to leave Portland because of the inequities I’m talking about. Our neighborhood high school is Jefferson, a school I would be proud to send my children to — if it were a comprehensive, fully-funded high school. It is not, and without a fundamental change to the school board’s transfer policy, it’s not going to be. Placing a full-time community organizer there isn’t going to change this fundamental fact.

Again, I can appreciate your efforts, but trying to “create excitement” about our schools in their current state is akin to making beds in a burning house. The Portland Public Schools board of education has created a two-tiered system of public education. Fix that problem, and the excitement will come naturally.

Show Your Support for PPS Custodians and Food Service Workers

by Steve, October 21st, 2007

Here’s a printable sign (53 KB PDF) you can put in your car, home, or business window to show your support for Portland Public Schools’ custodians and food service workers. (Here’s some background on the issue.)

The More Hockey Less War Oregon Voters’ Guide

by Steve, October 20th, 2007

Ballots are starting to arrive in the mail for the November 6 special election in Oregon. It’s pretty simple this year, with just two ballot measures and no candidates.

More Hockey Less War and Wacky Mommy endorse “Yes” votes on both measures.
Measure 49 - Our one chance to save Oregon!Measure 49: Yes. Measure 49 would fix Measure 37, which in 2004 threw a monkey wrench in the works of Oregon’s strong land-use regulations. Measure 37 opened up the door for all kinds of development on land previously reserved for forests, farms and open spaces. Though it was billed as a remedy for old folks banking on subdividing their property to fund their retirement, it was mainly a huge windfall for commercial property developers.

Measure 49 would restore some balance to our land-use regulations, allowing grandpa and grandma to build a few houses on their land to feather their retirement nest. But it would prevent helter-skelter, large-scale commercial development.
Yes on Measure 50Measure 50: Yes. Measure 50 would raise cigarette taxes to pay for children’s health insurance. I think both things on their own are good, but have issues with coupling them. But since our Democratic-controlled state house and Democratic governor can’t seem to get it together to fix our broken state revenue stream, this is currently the best hope we have for insuring the 117,000 Oregon kids who currently lack access to basic health care.

Big tobacco is spending millions to defeat this one. For some people, that’s all they need to know.

Time to Turn up the Heat on PPS re. Custodians

by Steve, October 18th, 2007

Anne T. has a nice post up on Wacky Mommy’s blog about supporting the SEIU Local 503 custodians and cafeteria workers in their contract negotiations with a seemingly intransigent Portland Public Schools that wants to drastically cut their wages. I covered this the other day, and the Willamette Week had good coverage yesterday.

The Very Important Problem: Three Parables

by Steve, October 17th, 2007

In the spirit of “Remember: we’re here for the children,” I thought I’d present three parables about Portland Public Schools’ transfer policy and the Very Important Problem that it solves. Here goes.

Little LuLu and the Very Important Problem

Little LuLu lived with her Mommie and Grammie in her Grammie’s house. She had lived there since she was a baby. She went to kindergarten at the school two blocks away. She liked her teachers, especially her music teacher.

That’s why little LuLu was so sad when she started first grade and found out that her music teacher didn’t work there any more. Her music teacher was working at the coffee shop on the corner now, along with the former gym teacher. The art teacher got a job at Fred Meyer, and LuLu saw her there sometimes. She never did find out what happened to Mr. Miller, the friendly custodian who had kept her school clean.

LuLu asked her mommie, “Why don’t we have music and art and gym anymore?” and her mommie answered “Because too many people transferred out of your school, and the school board says we can’t afford those special things at such a small school.”

“But Mommie,” asked little LuLu, “Why did the school board let all those people transfer out?”

“Because,” answered her mommie, “They’re solving a Very Important Problem.”

In second grade, little LuLu noticed that some of her friends didn’t go to her school anymore. She also noticed that more and more of her classmates were being taken out of class for special help every day.

By third grade, little LuLu noticed that her teacher was spending most of her time telling her how to take tests. At the end of third grade, the school board announced that little LuLu’s school was closing, and she would have to go to a different school with more kids.

“Why are they closing my school?” LuLu asked her mommie.

“Because so many kids transferred out, and the school board can’t afford to keep such a small school open,” answered her mommie.

“But Mommie,” asked little LuLu, “Why did the school board let all those people transfer out?”

“Because,” answered her mommie, “They’re solving a Very Important Problem.”

When she started fourth grade at her new school, LuLu was very sad. Some of the same teachers were at her new school, but she didn’t feel right. All of her friends from her neighborhood had transferred to different schools, and she didn’t have any friends at this new school.

“Mommie,” she asked, “Can we transfer to a different school?”

“No,” replied her mommie, “Mommie has to work two jobs and can’t drive you across town for school. And you know Grammie is sick and can’t drive.”

Several years later, little LuLu went to register for high school. She had to choose between academies. One was for girls only, and it was miles away from the rest of the school. She liked some of the classes there, but she wanted to take some of the classes at the main high school. She also wanted to be a journalist, but her neighborhood high school didn’t have a newspaper or yearbook. One of the classes she wanted to take was only offered in the boys’ academy. She played the flute, but her neighborhood high school didn’t have a band.

Little LuLu’s adviser told her she would have to transfer to a different high school if she wanted all of these things. But her mommie didn’t think it would be safe for her to take the city bus across town into an unfamiliar neighborhood.

“Why can’t my high school have the same things high schools in other parts of town have?” little LuLu asked her mommie.

“Because so many kids transferred out, and the school board can’t afford to keep so many programs at such a small school,” answered her mommie.

“But Mommie,” asked little LuLu, “Why did the school board let all those people transfer out?”

“Because,” answered her mommie, “They’re solving a Very Important Problem.”

“I guess that must be a very, very, Very Important Problem,” said LuLu.

“It must be,” said her mommie. “Besides,” she added, “the principal of our school says we’re different, and we need different kinds of programs than kids at those other schools.”

So little LuLu went to the great big high school with a very small student body, and felt very small and unimportant compared to the kids taking French and Band and Journalism and College Prep English at the schools across town. But she knew she was helping the school board solve a Very Important Problem, so she felt better.

Mike Mackelhoody and the Very Important Problem

Mike Mackelhoody lived with his mom and dad and baby sister in a big old house in a part of town his parents called “transitional.” He always heard his dad telling relatives and family friends about what a great deal he got on the house.

There was a school three blocks away, but Mike Mackelhoody didn’t go there. His mom drove him several miles every morning to a bigger school. Mike Mackelhoody didn’t like getting up in the morning, and when he was eight, he realized that he would be able to sleep longer if he went to the school three blocks away.

So he worked up his courage and asked his mom and dad about it one day.

“Mom, Dad,” he said, “Why don’t I go to the school that’s just three blocks away? That way I could walk to school and sleep later in the morning.”

“Because,” answered his dad, “that school doesn’t meet AYP!”

Mike Mackelhoody wasn’t sure what that meant, but his dad and mom didn’t want to talk much about it.

Every day after school, Mike Mackelhoody noticed the neighborhood kids playing in the street. He didn’t know any of them, since they went to different schools. He asked his parents about this.

“Why do all the kids go to different schools?” he asked.

“Because,” said his father, “the school board is solving a Very Important Problem.”

When Mike Mackelhoody was old enough to go to high school, his parents made sure to get him transferred to a “good” school across town, one that had Advanced Placement classes and foreign languages and an instrumental music program. But his mom told him she couldn’t drive him to school anymore, since it was too far out of her way.

Instead, she got him a bus pass from the school board, and he had to take three different buses to get to school every morning. He had to get up very, very early, and he had to wait in the rain at two different bus stops along the way. If he missed one bus, he might have to wait an extra fifteen minutes. If he missed two buses, he might be very, very late to class.

“Why,” Mike Mackelhoody asked his parents, “don’t we have a ‘good’ high school in our neighborhood?”

“Because,” answered his father, “the school board is solving a Very Important Problem.”

So Mike Mackelhoody took three buses to his “good” school every day, and he took three buses home every afternoon. He never did learn the names of the neighbor kids, but he wouldn’t have had any time to hang out with them anyway, since he was always riding the bus. But at least he was helping the school board solve their Very Important Problem.

Caitlin Kurzweil and the Very Important Problem

Caitlin Kurzweil lived in a very large house in a very nice part of town. She lived there with her mummy and her daddy, her two Weimaraner dogs, and her big brothers who often Didn’t Play Nice with her.

She went to the very nice little school down the street with a very involved PTA. Her mummy told her that the school board once talked about closing her very nice little school, but the very involved PTA stopped them. So she got to stay at her very nice little school, and she learned music from Mrs. Melnaker, art from Mr. Josephson and P.E. from Mr. Jakes.

The yard of her very nice little school was always well cared for, thanks to the very involved PTA. There was a very nice playground, with a very nice play structure, built with money from the very involved PTA’s annual auction.

Everything about Caitlin Kurzweil’s school was very nice indeed, and Caitlin enjoyed playing with her friends after school.

Caitlin Kurzweil was very good at soccer. Her daddy coached her team when she was five, and as she grew older, her coaches always told her how very good at soccer she was.

When Caitlin Kurzweil was old enough to go to high school, she was excited to be on the soccer team. But when she went to try-out, she found there were one hundred girls who also wanted to be on the soccer team. Some of them were also very good at soccer. So good, in fact, that Caitlin Kurzweil didn’t make the team.

So Caitlin Kurzweil went home crying to her mummy, who called her daddy on the phone right away. “How can this be!” Caitlin Kurzweil heard her mummy say to her daddy on the phone, “Caitlin’s always been the best player on the team!”

Caitlin Kurzweil’s father called the soccer coach that evening to find out why she didn’t make the team. He was amazed to hear that there were so many girls at the school who where very good at soccer, and he tried as best he could to explain it to his dear daughter.

“But why are there so many kids at my school?” asked Caitlin Kurzweil.

“Because,” answered her daddy, “so many kids have transferred in from other neighborhoods.”

“But why does the school board let them transfer in?” asked Caitlin Kurzweil.

“Because,” answered her daddy, “the school board is solving a Very Important Problem.”

Eventually Caitlin Kurzweil got over her disappointment at not playing soccer, and focused on her classes. But many of her classes had so many students in them that kids had to sit on window ledges or the floor, and there weren’t enough text books to go around. So she asked her parents about this.

“Why are my classes so crowded?” asked Caitlin Kurzweil.

“Because,” answered her daddy, “so many kids have transferred in from other neighborhoods.”

“But why does the school board let them transfer in?” asked Caitlin Kurzweil.

“Because,” answered her daddy, “the school board is solving a Very Important Problem.”

So Caitlin Kurzweil went to her very full school, and attended her very full classes, and took pride in knowing she was helping the school board solve their Very Important Problem.

Hey PPS School Board: Why Do We Have Open Transfers?

by Steve, October 16th, 2007

Now that the transfer and enrollment office has produced data revealing the racial and economic segregation brought on by Portland Public Schools’ open transfer enrollment policy, bolstering my earlier research (383KB PDF) showing a massive shift of public investment away from poorer neighborhoods, I have one little question for the school board. (I know some of you read this blog, so don’t be shy about responding here.)

It’s a three parter:

  1. What problem is open transfer enrollment designed to solve?
  2. How exactly (please cite data) do neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers solve this problem?
  3. How is this unnamed problem more important than the increasing racial and socio-economic segregation and multi-million dollar annual neighborhood funding inequity caused by open transfer enrollment?

It is becoming increasingly clear, through correspondence and conversations I’ve had with board members, unpublished remarks by superintendent Carole Smith to the press, and comments by Ruth Adkins on Terry Olson’s blog, that we aren’t going to see any changes to the transfer policy for at least another year.

When the Flynn-Blackmer audit (230KB PDF) was released in June 2006, it requested that the school board explain the purpose of the open transfer policy. Vicki Phillips waved her hands around about the importance of “School Choice,” and the board punted, claiming it was too late to do anything for 2007-08. Now, over a year later, I’m hearing the same kind of murmurs: It’s too late to do anything about it for 2008-09.

And still nobody on the board can articulate, in simple, clear terms, what the purpose of the transfer policy is and why it is of such paramount importance.

Obviously there is more here than meets the eye. The board seems to be protecting some hidden constituency that is more important than public divestment and reduced educational opportunities in the red zone and overcrowding in the green zone. Either that, or it’s just entropy, and nobody on the board has the political courage to admit mistakes and propose a course correction.

The devastation caused by open transfer enrollment is clear. If the school board has to invent a purpose for this policy after the fact, isn’t it time to start dismantling it?