Open Letter to School Board re. Charter Schools

by Steve, November 13th, 2007

To the Members of the Portland Public Schools Board of Education:

I am writing to you in lieu of public testimony at the hearings today on the applications for the Ivy Charter School and New Harvest Charter School. I strongly urge you to reject both applications.

This recommendation is both general and specific.

At the higher level, we must look at the proposed siting of these schools in North and Northeast Portland, and place it in the context of what has happened to the neighborhood schools in these areas. These are the areas suffering the greatest declines in enrollment due to out-transfers, and that have subsequently suffered school closings and cuts in program offerings.

As neighborhood schools in these areas have been gutted or shut down, private and charter schools have sprung up like weeds to replace them, glimmering illusions of hope for beleaguered families wanting smaller classes and basic educational enrichment.

Our first priority as a district needs to be the restoration of equity in the neighborhood schools across Portland, a move that would reduce the demand for charter schools and neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers. If we instead ignore the equity issue and approve more charters, we perpetuate a cycle that is deadly to our goal of strong neighborhood schools.

More specifically, you should oppose Ivy Charter School on the basis of its overlapping board with an existing private school. Though supporters may assure you they have no plans to convert the private school, it seems they are using a loophole to establish a new school that will eventually absorb the private school. This may be allowed under the letter of the law, but it is certainly against the spirit of the law. This alone should be enough for you to reject the application. If you need more reason to be concerned, Ivy would be located two blocks from the closed Meek school, and half a mile from Rigler Elementary (61% capture rate) and a mile and a half from Scott Elementary (59% capture rate). This application is an affront to anybody concerned with strong neighborhood schools.

Please reject the Ivy application on these grounds. Let them appeal to the state if they want; at least it won’t be on your conscience.

The New Harvest application was a mess, as you know, and there should be no reason to approve this school. Their lack of budget expertise, their shambles of a curriculum proposal and failure to articulate plans to achieve their lofty goals show a general lack of skills and knowledge necessary to run a school.

I know all of you can appreciate the external pressure schools like this can place on enrollment at neighborhood schools. At the last board meeting, you discussed ways to reduce this kind of pressure. I hope you see this as an opportunity to do so. A “no” vote on these charters is a “yes” vote for strong neighborhood schools.